Dave Mason Is ‘Feelin’ Alright’

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Dave Mason talks with Pollstar about his new album, “Futures Past” and his “Traffic Jam” tour.

This isn’t a just a trip down memory lane for Mason.  The Traffic co-founder has re-worked some of the songs from the band’s glory days and has added new material as well.  Futures Past” arrives May 13 on Something Music/MRI.

Photo: Chris Jensen

The tour is billed as “Dave Mason’s Traffic Jam.”  Of the songs you wrote for Traffic, what were some of your favorites?

I sort of like them all.  Some of them have been more successful than others, obviously “Feelin’ Alright” with its 60-some cover versions.  That one stood the test of time.

It seemed as if almost everyone covered “Feelin’ Alright” within a few years of its release, including Grand Funk Railroad, Three Dog Night and Lulu.

I was just looking on YouTube watching the Jackson 5 do it, yesterday.

Were you able to hang on to publishing rights for that song?

No.  I was too young.  I was 19 when I wrote that.  I get royalties.

Does writing a song that’s covered as many times as “Feelin’ Alright” add to the retirement fund?

Well, it helps, that’s for sure. … I would have to credit [Joe] Cocker with that, his version. He sort of got the definitive version of it.  He turned it into “Feelin’ Alright” instead of merely being about “Not feelin’ too good, myself.”

You have a new album of re-worked Traffic songs.  What can you tell us about that?

I have the new CD called Futures Past. Since this “Traffic Jam” tour is basically my tenure [with the band] revisiting the stuff from the first two albums, I thought it would be kind of cool to have these tracks to tie in, sort of revisiting the past.  There’s a rewritten version of “Dear Mr. Fantasy” on there.  There’s a completely revised version of “World In Changes” on the CD. And “As Sad And Deep As You,” which is just a great live recording. … It’s a pretty diverse song collection, and (includes) an arrangement of Robert Johnson’s “Come On In My Kitchen.”  Then there’s two songs I took from a CD that came out about seven years ago called 26 Letters 12 Notes that really sort of flew under the radar but the songs are so good. “How Do I Get To Heaven” I think is starting to exercising the chart on some of the radio stations, which is the first time that has happened to me in God knows how many years. Then there’s one brand new song on there called “That’s Freedom.”

Cover art illustration by Graham Nash (click on image for complete photograph). 

Are you writing as much as you used to?

Compared to someone like Bob Dylan, my output, as far as writing, is never really that [much].  I still do when something pops into my head, a melody or something that seems worth pursuing.  I have a lot of stuff at home.  Pretty much whatever is going to be the next release is already done.

When you hear your songs covered by someone else – is that an odd feeling to hear your work reinterpreted?

No, it’s great.  Just the fact that somebody else is doing it, that it’s good enough, that they like it enough that they would do that.

Do you ever hear a different arrangement of one of your songs,  and think, “I wish I had thought of doing it that way?”

Yeah, the Cocker version (of “Feelin’ Alright”).  Sometimes the writer is not the best interpreter. … You might be too close to it.  [but ] saying best, or better or worse is kind of the wrong way to look at it.  It’s just the interpretation of the song.  It can be a lot more impactful, I think.  Cocker’s interpretation is what spawned the other 49 cover versions, really.  I wouldn’t say they came from my original version.

During the 1970s you had a string of very radio-friendly hits, such as “We Just Disagree” (written by Jim Kreuger) that were sometimes categorized as “soft rock.”  Do you think that kind of label misidentified you to a larger audience?

I would have been misidentified anyway because my stuff is very eclectic.  You can’t call it rock, you can’t call it blues, you can’t call it ballads.  It [includes all of those genres] so it’s very hard to hang a label on me that way.  I’ve always been like that, I’ve always made music that way, what the songs called for.  It’s not any one style.

What keeps Dave Mason going these days?

Well, it’s a bit too late to change jobs now. (laughs).  I like playing.  It’s fun, so why not do it until I can’t do it anymore?

You had some crowd-funding for Futures Past.

I’m financing the whole thing myself, there’s no label involved.  On PledgeMusic.com we’re doing a campaign where people can purchase it and goes towards basically promoting the album.  I’m the Fuller Brush Man at your door.

Plus fans can buy VIP tickets for meet-and-greets after the show.

Usually we do them before the show. People can come back, spend some time, take some pictures, ask questions … a little more personal contact.

Can you imagine doing that back in the days of Traffic?

I suppose we could have done it.  It was never part of the whole thing at the time.  Nobody was doing that. … [We were] somewhat more distant from the audience.

For someone like me … we’re not teenagers anymore.  Most of my core audience has grown up with me – They’re 40, 65 up to 70-years-old.

What are you planning after this?

I don’t know. The Traffic Jam tour [has] dates coming in through March 2015.

Having been a teenager when you wrote “Feelin’ Alright,” if you could give 19-year-old Dave Mason any advice, what would you tell him?

 (laughs).  Hang on to your publishing.

Photo: Alan Duckworth
Maryland Hall For The Creative Arts, Annapolis, Md.

Upcoming dates for Dave Mason’s Traffic Jam:

May 8 – Knoxville, Tenn., Bijou Theatre
May 9 – Lewisburg, W.Va.,  Carnegie Hall
May 10 – Rocky Mount, Va., Harvester Performance Center
May 16 – Woonsocket, R.I., Stadium Theatre
May 17 – Glenside, Pa., Keswick Theatre
May 18 – Newton, N.J.,  The Newton Theatre
May 21 – Boston, Mass., Wilbur Theatre
May 22 – Beacon, N.Y., Towne Crier Café
May 23 – Falls Church, Va., The State Theatre
July 10 – Ottawa, Ontario, Lebreton Flats Park (RBC Bluesfest)
July 13 – Ann Arbor, Mich., The Ark
July 19 – Cortland, N.Y., Greek Peak Mountain Resort
July 23 – Sylvania, Ohio, Centennial Terrace
July 25 – Selbyville, Del., Freeman Stage At Bayside
July 27 – Westhampton Beach, N.Y., Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center
July 29 – New York, N.Y., City Winery NYC
July 30 – New York, N.Y., City Winery NYC
Aug. 5 – Iowa City, Iowa, The Englert Theatre
Aug. 7 – Taos, N.M., KTAOS Solar Center
Sept. 20 – Long Beach, Calif., Carpenter Performing Arts Center
Oct. 22 – Austin, Texas, One World Theatre
Oct. 23 – Dallas, Texas, Granada Theater
Oct. 24 – San Antonio, Texas, Riverwalk Plaza
Nov. 5 – Chattanooga, Tenn., Fine Arts Center at UTC
Nov. 13 – Durham, N.C.,  Carolina Theatre
Nov. 15 – High Point, N.C., High Point Theatre
Nov. 28 – Harrisburg, Pa., Whitaker Center
Nov. 29 – Collingswood, N.J., Scottish Rite Auditorium
Feb. 19-23 – Fort Lauderdale, Fla.,  Royal Caribbean Cruise Line – (Liberty Of The Seas Rock Legends Cruise) 

Please visit DaveMasonMusic.com for more information.