New Jim Capaldi Box Set Showcase’s the Remarkable Songwriting Talent From One of Rock’s Unsung Heroes

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Local Music, National Music,   From Issue 730   By: Davjd Asher

11th August, 2011     0

Nicola James "Jim" Capaldi (2 August 1944 – 28 January 2005) was a rock drummer, songwriter and founding member of Traffic, along with Steve Winwood, Chris Wood and Dave Mason.

Jim Capaldi counted among his many friends and collaborators, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix and many other legendary musicians. He was a five-time winner of either BMI or ASCAP awards, in respect of most played compositions in America, and inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame with Traffic.

Born to a musical Italian family in England, Jim was a ruggedly handsome man, with a striking face. He looked a bit like an ancient stone carving of a curious lion. Part pirate, part seer, Jim Capaldi's features cut an impressive figure.

His often overshadowed solo career is the primary focus of a newly released four disc box set "Dear Mr. Fantasy, The Jim Capaldi Story" by Island/Universal Recordings. Covering almost all of the many phases of his varied career, the box set is to me, the most compelling compilation since Bob Marley's "Songs Of Freedom" set several years back.

The box set’ graphics and text are lavishly annotated, and the music is lovingly compiled by Jim's wife Aninha Capaldi and Paul Minkkinen. Most impressive (aside from the sublime songwriting and performances) is the jaw-dropping remastering job which makes each selection a sonic revelation.

The first disc Begins with three selections from Jim's early and mid 60's career. These songs by his groups "The Hellions", "Revolution" and "Deep Feeling", show that Jim was very comfortable in his roll as a front man, singing lead in the band. However, Jim's fate was to take a different turn when he hooked up with Steve Winwood and his Traffic band mates in 1967.

Because of his work with Traffic, Jim's place in rock history as one of its greatest drummers is assured. However, his songwriting partnership with Winwood made for one of the most interesting collaborations in rock.

Steve Winwood's soaring vocals met their perfect foil with Jim Capaldi's sage, mystical lyrics and the bands creative fusion of rock and jazz, was an early precursor of world music. "Dear Mr. Fantasy" features just a few Traffic songs, showing Jim as both a drummer and vocalist and they shine a bright light on his contributions to the band.

Also featured is a selection from Eric Clapton's return to the spotlight, 1973's "Rainbow Concert", with Pete Townsend as bandleader. As stated however, the majority of the box set features recordings from his sometimes overlooked solo career.

The first of these selections are primarily from his 1972 solo LP "Oh How We Danced". Featuring performances from Steve Winwood, Dave Mason and his other Traffic Band mates including the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section and the late Free guitarist Paul Kossoff.  
"Oh How We Danced" is perhaps the best solo album by a rock drummer of the era, but Jim was much more than that, showing himself to be a fully matured, well rounded musical artist. His voice had a warm, welcoming quality, which he used to great effect on these songs.

With his second solo album, 1974's "Whale Meat Again" (recorded before Traffic's breakup), Jim tackled environmental and social issues. The set includes just two compositions from Whale Meat Again and they are seminal recordings.

Disc two begins with selections from Capaldi's third solo album, 1975's "Short Cut Draw Blood".  The record included Jim's UK charting version of the Everly Brothers "Love Hurts" and brought considerable success. The five selections from the album featured, show the depth of Jim's soulful vocal style and evolving songwriting.

Next is a wonderful selection from a Paul Kossoff solo compilation, "You and Me". A heart stirring composition with emotive vocals from Jim, "You and Me" also features a searingly beautiful guitar solo from Kossoff.

Jim's fourth solo recording "The Contender" is represented by two songs, a stirring ballad "Game Of Love" and the funky "Elixir Of Life". Again these track feature Steve Winwood, the Muscle Shoals Swampers and Paul Kossoff.

Jims fifth solo album 1979's "Electric Nights" is showcased here with five songs. Sounding ahead of his time, Jim went from strength to strength on Electric Nights. From his beautiful song for his daughter "Tabitha" to the heart racing title  track, "Electric Nights" is a strong work.

Disc two continues on with three tracks from Jim's Sixth solo album, "The Sweet Smell Of Success". I must confess, that by the time I had made it this far into these recordings, I had a lump in my throat and was holding back tears as I pondered on what a great talent Jim was, and what a gift his work was to us.  "Man With No Country", from that album, exquisitely arranged here, was also performed poignantly by Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens) at a at a memorial to Jim in London in 2007. (Check for it on Youtube).

Disc three kicks off with a half dozen songs from one of Jim's finest albums, his seventh, 1981's, "Let The Thunder Cry". With performances from Winwood and Bad Company's Simon Kirke, the title track is a powerful indictment of the plight of the American Indian, and speaks a warning to the modern world for its treatment of indigenous peoples.

"Favella Music" points out Jim's interest in Brazilian rhythms. He met his wife Aninhia in Brazil and lived there, helping her with charity efforts on behalf of Brazil's impoverished street children, for The Jubilee Children’s Charities.

Jim's eighth solo album (and perhaps my favorite) 1983's "Fierce Heart" featured Van Morrison and Winwood, among other musical luminaries. Four songs are highlighted here, from the album, including the mystical "Gifts Of Unknown Things".

Capaldi's slickly produced ninth solo album 1984's "One Man Mission" has three songs spotlighted on the box set, including the powerful "Warriors Of Love".

In 1988 Jim re-signed to Island Records and produced his tenth album, the excellent "Some Come Running", which featured contributions from Eric Clapton, George Harrison and Steve Winwood. Five tracks from the album are featured here. For anyone who thought Jim's voice second tier to Steve Winwood, you only have to listen to "Something So Strong" to realize that Jim was one of the greatest Anglo-Soul singers of his generation.  The prayerful "Oh Lord, Why Lord" from these sessions would later be shown at the "Free Nelson Mandela" concert at Wembley Stadium in 1990.

After a recording hiatus of six years the box set then jumps ahead to 2001 with the title track of his eleventh recording "Living On The Outside". This excellent album features the talents of Paul Weller, George Harrison, Jon Lord, Steve Winwood and many others. Four songs are featured from "Living On The Outside" including "Anna Julia", which features one of George Harrison's last slide guitar masterpieces.

Most of the material on the final disc is comprised of rare demo tracks, with the exception of a few tracks from 2004's "Poor Boy Blue", Jim's twelfth and final release. One song, "Bright Fighter", written for a friend battling cancer,  could easily be about Jim's brave battle against the illness that claimed his life in 2005.

The other included demos are superbly recorded. Among the stand out tracks are a song composed by Jim and his friend George Harrison. Lifted from Harrison's studio vault, "Loves Got A Hold On Me" features both men harmonizing and more of George's excellent slide guitar work. Another track "Song For George", is Jim's personal tribute to his friend. This song also calls Jim himself to mind, as all of the wonderful qualities he recalls in his friend, are the very qualities he himself possessed.

Jim also penned The Eagles million selling "Love Will Keep Us Alive". The version included here was recorded on tour with Dave Mason in 1999. Jim's soulful voice seeps deep into the song, making it superior to the million selling record, to these ears.

In 2004 Jim was inducted, along with Traffic into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame. The box set closes with a rehearsal of Traffic (Steve Winwood and Jim, with Randall Bramlett), performing "Dear Mr. Fantasy". Winwood’s guitar is spectacular here, and Jim Capaldi's drumming first rate, making one wonder what could have been if fate had taken a different turn.
Traffic was to reform in 2005 but that plan was sadly halted by Jim's untimely illness and subsequent death from cancer.

As he said in his tribute to George Harrison, "Song For George": "Even though you’re gone, all the love you gave like the music still lives on". These words are equally true for Jim Capaldi.
Jim Capaldi was a husband, a father, humanitarian and friend. His songs still inspire and teach us, as humanity strives forward in its struggle of good over evil, we reach for the grace that always seems to be just out of our grasp.

Jim knew that if we never give up, and if we try just a little harder, we will find that grace someday.

“Bright bright fighter, you made everyone's life a little lighter, even though you carried a heavy load” - Jim Capaldi

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The Box Set "Dear Mr. Fantasy The  Jim Capaldi Story" on Island/Universal Recordings is available at Amazon.com

David Asher is the vocalist of THE PROCESS and a Selector at Shaolin Sound System.

Shaolin Sound System pays tribute to the music of Jim Capaldi and Traffic at Whites Bar Wednesday August 17th at 9:30 PM.
White's Bar is located at: 2609 State Street Saginaw, MI 48602 (989) 792-2631.

 

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