Stephen Lawrence Winwood on May 12, 1948 in Handsworth, Birmingham, England
Having been a major early classic rock figure from his emergence as a teen fronting The Spencer Davis Group during the mid '60s, Winwood was an established veteran and near-legend before he even embarked on an official solo career in 1977. That fact may make his massive solo success - especially during the '80s - even more remarkable and noteworthy. Across the years, Winwood's grasp of and creative variations on R&B, blue-eyed soul, folk, pop and rock styles have established him as one of rock music's most beloved and impressive singer-songwriters. Here's a look at Winwood's long and adventurous musical career.
Winwood was born into a musical family, joining his father and brother in performance before he reached double figures in age. Influenced initially by jazz before taking part in the early '60s Birmingham R&B scene, the young Winwood displayed immediate signs of being a bit of a musical prodigy. After playing back-up briefly for various American blues legends on tour in the U.K., Winwood joined The Spencer Davis Group at 14, immediately making a mark with his instantly recognizable, soulful tenor and his talents on the Hammond B-3 organ.
Rock Standards & Musical Exploration:
Before long Winwood had co-written major hits for his first group - in the form of "Gimme Some Lovin'" and "I'm a Man." By 1967 a searching Winwood formed his own band, Traffic, with Jim Capaldi, Dave Mason and Chris Wood. Despite artful album releases with that group and intriguing creative fusion, the restless Winwood joined Cream's Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker in supergroup Blind Faith by 1969. Eventually, these short-lived collaborations dried up and allowed for a resurgence of Traffic (generally minus Mason), into which Winwood placed most of his efforts during the first half of the '70s.
Winwood's Initial Solo Years:
Somewhat burned out from the previous decade of near-constant touring, recording and collaborating, Winwood was actually reluctant to even begin a solo career, emerging in 1977 with his self-titled debut only at the urging of his record company. During this time, he continued to work closely with former bandmate Capaldi, as each mutually supported the other's solo career with session and songwriting assistance. On his second solo LP, 1980's Arc of a Diver, Winwood achieved his first taste of solo stardom with the keyboard-fueled hit "While You See a Chance."
Eventual Conquest of the '80s:
Winwood insisted on recording in near seclusion at his home studio, which may have kept his third solo LP, Talking Back to the Night, from making a bigger splash commercially in 1982. Further, his rather finicky, perfectionistic way of working probably helped account for the lengthy gap between that recording and his 1986 solo breakthrough, the massive-selling Back in the High Life. Featuring deserving hits in the spirited pop of "Higher Love," "Back in the High Life Again" and "The Finer Things." Winwood's music dominated 1987, with good reason.
One Last Hit... Then a Rock Dignitary:
Winwood switched record companies - from Island to Virgin - before the release of his 1988 hit album, Roll With It. While not as strong musically as its predecessor, this album did produce hits in the title track and the beer advertising anthem "Don't You Know What the Night Can Do?". During the '90s Winwood returned to his roots, reconnecting with Capaldi for a pseudo Traffic album and later joining mates for that band's 2004 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Meanwhile, he hasn't rested on his laurels as an eclectic performer of challenging pop/rock.