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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Friday, March 24, 2023
Brian Weidy

Steve Winwood shines in pantheon

Quick, name a better rock singer than Steve Winwood. If you answered anyone other than Bob Seger, you’re dead wrong.

About 18 months ago, in one of my seminal columns, I purported Bob Seger was objectively the greatest musician of all time. Six months ago, I included Billy Joel in that pantheon of greatest musicians of all time, with a caveat that one needs to be from New York to fully understand and appreciate the greatness of Joel.

Today, I add a third musician to this exalted plane of people I name the greatest musician of all time: Stephen Lawrence Winwood.

My first exposure to Winwood came when I saw Eric Clapton at Madison Square Garden in February 2008. Clapton was not alone for this performance, as it was billed as Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood.

Being a huge Clapton fanboy at the time, he could’ve been performing with Cher or Creed and I still would’ve gone. But thankfully, it was not Scott Stapp or Cherilyn Sarkisian, but Steve Winwood.

Over the course of the two-hour performance, as mesmerized as I was with the guitar theatrics of Clapton (which weren’t quite as theatrical as they were in say 1969 but still, to my 13-year-old self, this was far and away the greatest school-night of my life to date) it was Winwood who really stole the show.

Opening with the Blind Faith classic “Had to Cry Today,” the nearly nine-minute track that opens the supergroup’s eponymous (and only) album, I was hooked. By the time I got home, I had to go to sleep because I was 13, but the following weeks and months became a full-fledged investigation into Winwood’s catalog.

Being 13 is a good segue here as Winwood joined The Spencer Davis Group at just 14, catapulting him to a level of fame typically reserved for the Macaulay Culkins of the world and other child actors, not usually in accomplished and ground-breaking rock bands of the era.

It was Winwood’s unmistakable organ stabs that accentuate the intro of The Spencer Davis Group’s “Gimme Some Lovin’,” which has been used in every movie and TV show of all time, notably in “The Blues Brothers” and many more. All the more impressive is that the song was written when he was just 18.

After leaving The Spencer Davis Group, still a teenager, Winwood formed Traffic with Jim Capaldi, Dave Mason and Chris Wood. In two stretches, from 1967 to 1969 and then 1970 to 1974, Traffic created some of the most memorable and iconic songs of the era.

Bringing this back to the Clapton/Winwood show I saw, in the absence of playing “Layla,” the biggest song of the night was Traffic’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” an indelible song that seems to sum up the era in which it was written more perfectly than anything that came before or after it.

Winwood went on to an illustrious solo career, adapting his sound to that of the times, playing blue-eyed soul with the best of them—think Hall and Oates for the uninitiated—and then hearkening back to an earlier era in his later career.

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While Winwood may not be able to hit all of the high notes he was once able to, which was a remarkable feat at the time, he’s still not grasping at straws to hit his old high notes (like, say, Axl Rose of Guns N’ Roses fame) but rather has adapted, just like his music, to take the rough edges of his voice and make them sound intentional.

So at the end of the day, while it may just seem like me and Dennis Reynolds are the only ones who profess our fandom for Winwood so proudly, the next time you find yourself on a classic rock radio station, you may very well find that the song getting you to bang on the steering wheel and tap your foot is a Winwood original.

It may be a stretch to say that Winwood is objectively the greatest musician of all time, as saying that would cheapen the value of the phrase, I can say with a firm vote of confidence that his voice stacks up with anyone of any era—even you, Rick Springfield.

Do you agree with Brian on the greatness of Steve Winwood? Believe Brian’s off the mark completely? Send him an email at

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