Tragic Magic: The Life of Traffic's Chris Wood by Dan Ropek

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Tragic Magic: The Life of Traffic's Chris Wood by Dan Ropek

Category: Entertainment
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
Reviewed by John Van der Kiste
Summary: Chris Wood of Traffic, the group formed by Steve Winwood, was a gifted musician best known for his flute and saxophone work. His short and ultimately tragic life has been paid scant attention until now, with the appearance of this splendidly researched, sympathetic yet objective biography named after one of his instrumentals recorded by the group. An excellent read for anybody interested in one of the lesser-known figures of the 1960s and 1970s music world.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 244 Date: December 2015
Publisher: Oakamoor
ISBN: 978-1910773192

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Chris Wood was a member of Traffic, the group formed by Steve Winwood in 1967 after he left The Spencer Davis Group. A gifted musician best known for his flute and saxophone work, he also played keyboards, bass guitar and contributed backing vocals as well as having a hand in writing several of the songs and one or two instrumentals. This biography takes its title from the name of one of his compositions for their fifth album.

A former art student, self-taught musician and member of a few shortlived groups in his home patch of Birmingham, Wood was one of the three who joined Winwood in an isolated farm cottage in Berkshire where they famously 'got it together in the country'. His jazz background had a major impact on the group's musical leanings which added to Winwood's soul and R'n'B influences, and the more mainstream pop/rock stylings of drummer Jim Capaldi and guitarist Dave Mason.

As the one who was most devoted to the countryside, when they were not honing their musical craft together he had a passion for exploring the great open spaces around them, Ordnance Survey map in hand. With his love of all things rural, ley lines, the paranormal and all that went with it, it is significant that he was responsible for introducing them to the old traditional song 'John Barleycorn', which became the title track of one of their albums, and a regular favourite on stage. It also made the group who had until then been considered one of the foremost names of the psychedelic rock genre the darlings of the contemporary folk world for a while.

Unfortunately there was a price to pay. A sensitive soul with an addictive personality who tried to conquer his fear of flying with the bottle, he eventually took the road to alcohol, drugs, and no return. His increasingly shambolic presence and inability to perform properly on stage during an American tour seem to have dealt the death blow to what had become a fragile unity holding the group together on what proved to be their last American tour in 1974. His attempts to resurrect a musical career with others, and to record a solo album, all ended in failure. The deaths of his estranged wife Jeannette and other musician friends, notably Jimi Hendrix and Free guitarist Paul Kossoff, also took their mental toll as his body gradually gave up the unequal struggle.

The book is the product of several years' research, from music press files and also from the recollections of family and colleagues. Ropek brings to life a complicated but talented and evidently likeable personality, treating him with sympathy while not attempting to conceal the flaws. His years as a member of one of the most successful groups of the age is portrayed as vividly as those faltering efforts to make something of himself during the last few years when trying to fight the demons which ultimately won. The first two illustrations are of one of his paintings and a drawing. One cannot but wonder whether he might have been happier as a professional artist instead of as a musician.

The book is in A4 size, which some may find a little physically cumbersome. That apart, this is a very interesting biography throwing light on the life of a man who played a key role in one of the major groups of their age.

If you enjoy this, may we also recommend Ginger Geezer: The Life of Vivian Stanshall by Chris Welch and Lucian Randall, an often funny but sometimes sad biography of the irrepressible Bonzo Dog Band front man who also collaborated with Wood's fellow Traffic member Steve Winwood, and for another portrait of the times in which they lived and worked, In The Seventies: Adventures in the Counterculture by Barry Miles.

Buy Tragic Magic: The Life of Traffic's Chris Wood by Dan Ropek at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Tragic Magic: The Life of Traffic's Chris Wood by Dan Ropek at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Tragic Magic: The Life of Traffic's Chris Wood by Dan Ropek at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Tragic Magic: The Life of Traffic's Chris Wood by Dan Ropek at Amazon.com.