The first thing to notice about this song is the question mark in the title. Written and performed by Traffic guitarist and sitarist Dave Mason, he explained:
Basically it’s an unrequited love song. It’s ‘feeling alright’ with a question mark; the song’s really about not feeling too good about myself – I wasn’t feeling alright! That was what it was about.
In fact, this wasn’t even one of Traffic’s highest charting hits. It took Joe Cocker covering it to get a higher placing on the charts. It was released as a single by Traffic, and it reached #123 on the US charts but failed to chart in the UK. Joe Cocker’s version reached #69 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and in a 1972 re-release, it reached even higher to #33.
When Traffic was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, they performed this song with a few friends. Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill of ZZ Top, Keith Richards, Kid Rock, Tom Petty, Jackson Browne, the Temptations, and Jeff Lynne.
It’s rather surprising, at least to me, that Traffic didn’t garner a wider audience considering the immense talent of each of the original members. It’s likely a result of them writing and performing the music the way they wanted to, instead of the commercial considerations of the record companies. Of course, they had to make a few concessions along the way, such as the title of this song. It was originally titled “Not Feelin’ Too Good Myself”, which is more accurate in terms of the song’s meaning, but less marketable.
Traffic was formed in Birmingham, England in April 1967 by Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi, Chris Wood and Dave Mason. They began as a psychedelic rock group and diversified their sound through the use of instruments such as keyboards like the Mellotron and harpsichord, sitar, and various reed instruments, and by incorporating jazz and improvisational techniques in their music. They’ve been labelled as Jazz Rock and Progressive Rock, neither of which record companies believe they can make a large profit off of. Traffic still stands as an important and influential group in the evolution of rock.
Winwood, Capaldi, Mason, and Wood met when they jammed together at The Elbow Room, a club in Aston, Birmingham. After Winwood left the Spencer Davis Group in April 1967, the quartet formed Traffic. Capaldi came up with the name of the group while the four of them were waiting to cross the street in Dorchester. Soon thereafter, they rented a cottage near the rural village of Aston Tirrold, Berkshire, England to write and rehearse new music.
Traffic signed to Island Records label (where Winwood’s elder brother Muff, also a member of the Spencer Davis Group, later became a record producer and executive), and their debut single “Paper Sun” became a UK hit in mid-1967 (#4 Canada).
Traffic’s singer, keyboardist, and guitarist Steve Winwood was the lead singer for the Spencer Davis Group at age 14. The Spencer Davis Group released four Top Ten singles and three Top Ten albums in the United Kingdom, as well as two Top Ten singles in the United States. Drummer/vocalist/lyricist Jim Capaldi and guitarist/sitarist Dave Mason had both been in the Hellions and Deep Feeling, while woodwinds player Chris Wood came out of Locomotive.
Early in Traffic’s formation, Winwood and Capaldi formed a songwriting partnership, with Winwood writing music to match Capaldi’s lyrics. This partnership was the source of most of Traffic’s material, including popular songs such as “Paper Sun” and “The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys”, and outlived the band, producing several songs for Winwood and Capaldi’s solo albums.
Steve Winwood, primarily a vocalist and keyboardist, also plays the Hammond organ, bass guitar, drums, acoustic and electric guitar, mandolin, violin, and other strings. Over Traffic’s history, Winwood performed the majority of their lead vocals, keyboard instruments, and guitars. He also frequently played bass and percussion, up to and including the recording sessions for their fourth album. Winwood was a key member of The Spencer Davis Group, Traffic, Blind Faith, Go, and part of the one-off group Eric Clapton and the Powerhouse. He also had a successful solo career with hits including “While You See a Chance”, “Valerie”, “Back in the High Life Again” and two US Billboard Hot 100 number ones: “Higher Love” and “Roll with It”.
Jim Capaldi’s career spanned more than four decades. Capaldi has performed with Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Alvin Lee, Cat Stevens, and Mylon LeFevre, and wrote lyrics for other artists, such as “Love Will Keep Us Alive” and “This is Reggae Music”. As a solo artist he scored more than a half dozen chart hits in various countries, the most well-known being “That’s Love” as well as his cover of “Love Hurts”. At 16 he took an apprenticeship at a factory in Worcester, where he met Dave Mason. In 1963 he formed the Hellions, with Mason on guitar. The Spencer Davis Group were staying at the same hotel as the Hellions during a tour and it was there that Steve Winwood befriended Capaldi and Mason. Later, in Birmingham, Capaldi would occasionally join his friends Mason, Winwood, and Chris Wood for after-hours impromptu performances at The Elbow Room club on Aston High Street. Early in 1967 they formalised this arrangement by forming Traffic. After several albums of varying commercial success, Capaldi, as well as the other members, would go on to do solo ventures while still supporting and appearing on each others releases. He remained professionally active until his final illness prevented him from working on plans for a 2005 reunion tour of Traffic. He died of stomach cancer in Westminster, London, on 28 January 2005, aged 60.
Over the course of his career, Dave Mason has played and recorded with many notable pop and rock musicians, including Paul McCartney, George Harrison, the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Michael Jackson, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Steve Winwood, Fleetwood Mac, Delaney & Bonnie, Leon Russell and Cass Elliot. One of Mason’s best known songs is the title song of this article “Feelin’ Alright”. As with the other members of Traffic, Mason’s tenure with Traffic was disjointed. He co-founded the group, but left following the recording of their debut album, Mr. Fantasy (1967), only to rejoin halfway through the sessions for their next album, Traffic (1968), after which he left again. In his brief spells with the group, Mason never quite fit in; Steve Winwood later recalled:
We all [Winwood, Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood] tended to write together, but Dave would come in with a complete song that he was going to sing and tell us all what he expected us to play. No discussion, like we were his backing group.
After Traffic, Mason pursued a moderately successful solo career. For a brief period in the 1990s, Mason joined Fleetwood Mac and released the album “Time” with them in 1995. In 1997 Mason was scheduled to be a member of Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band but he was dropped from rehearsals before the tour started. As of 2005, Mason was performing about 100 shows a year with the Dave Mason Band across the U.S. and Canada. As of 2018, Mason was continuing to perform in the US.
Chris Wood had an interest in music and painting from early childhood. Self-taught on flute and saxophone, which he commenced playing at the age of 15, he began to play locally with other Birmingham musicians who would later find international fame in music. Aged 18, Wood joined the Steve Hadley Quartet, a jazz/blues group in 1962. His younger sister Stephanie designed clothes for the Spencer Davis Group, and it was through her that Wood was first introduced to fellow Birmingham native Steve Winwood. A well-known Birmingham club – the Elbow Room – was an after-hours haunt of local bands and musicians and it was here that Wood used to meet up with Winwood and Jim Capaldi. In Traffic, Wood primarily played flute and saxophone, occasionally contributing keyboards, bass and vocals. Wood also co-wrote several of Traffic’s songs, particularly during the earlier period of the band’s recording career. His most notable contribution is as the co-writer (with Winwood and Capaldi), of “Dear Mr. Fantasy”. Wood introduced the 17th century traditional song “John Barleycorn” to the band. It became the title song of their 1970 album, “John Barleycorn Must Die.” Wood played with Jimi Hendrix in 1968, appearing on “Electric Ladyland”. When Winwood temporarily formed supergroup Blind Faith in 1969, Wood, Mason and Capaldi joined Mick Weaver (known as Wynder K Frog) to become Mason, Capaldi, Wood and Frog. He then went on to tour the United States with Dr. John. Wood remained with Traffic from the time of its 1970 reformation until its 1974 breakup. Through much of his life, Wood suffered from addiction to drugs and alcohol, which were initially attributed to a fear of flying. In 1983, Wood died of pneumonia at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, England.
Over the years, as noted, the members of Traffic came and went, while still supporting each other in their solo projects. They left a great repertoire of inspired, artful music which progressed many rock artists and their music. It would be a pleasant and worthwhile venture to seek out their various albums.
The four original members of Traffic were inducted for their contributions in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on 15 March 2004. Winwood, Capaldi, Mason, and Stephanie Wood (standing in for her late brother Chris) all attended the ceremony.