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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2012/10/30
by Mike Gruenberg

Dave Mason

In My Life

It’s not often that you get to see a musical hero of yours perform at a most unlikely place. Recently, my wife and I took a brief vacation in Florida. Our destination was Hutchinson Island, which is north of West Palm Beach. The drive from the West Palm airport to Hutchinson Island took us through the quaint town of Stuart. We often stop in Stuart to shop and sample the food at some of their excellent restaurants as we make our way up to Hutchinson Island.

In Stuart, there is a theater called the Lyric. http://www.lyrictheatre.com/ The LYRIC THEATRE was built in 1925 as a silent movie house and was operated until the depression when it was closed and eventually sold. The story of this theater is a familiar one. Bought and sold numerous times over the years by a variety of buyers who did not realize what a gem this building could be both as an entertainment destination and a tribute to a time when theaters were being built throughout our country in suburban areas so that quality entertainment could be enjoyed by people outside of large cities.

In 1987, a rejuvenation of downtown Stuart got under way and it occurred to the city leaders that the theater represented a significant part of the city’s history and that it should be showcased and used as a destination for the best entertainment that could be offered. Fortunately, through the wisdom and efforts of the Stuart city leaders, the theater has become the focal point for entertainment, fund-raising and local events for the surrounding Stuart communities.

The LYRIC THEATRE seats 500 and has a 22’X30’ stage and features whisper-perfect acoustics. It has a balcony, spacious lobby and entrances on two downtown streets. As of October 1997, over $1.5 million in state and local dollars have provided exciting enhancements to the historic theatre, including structural repairs, new air conditioning, remodeled and improved backstage and dressing areas, new restrooms and office space. The theater has been named to the National Register of Historic Places.

For someone like myself who grew up going to concerts at the Fillmore East and Beacon Theaters in New York, my preference has always been to see live music at smaller venues. Those theaters present a better sound, a cozier atmosphere and closeness to the performers that the large arenas like Staples Center in LA, Verizon Center in DC and Madison Square Garden in NY cannot duplicate. Over the years, on my frequent trips through Stuart on the way to Hutchinson Island, I was always fascinated to see and experience what it was like to see a concert at the Lyric. I had never gone in there until this last trip when I saw that one of my rock ‘n’ roll heroes, Dave Mason was actually scheduled to appear at the Lyric while I was in Florida. How fortuitous was that?

Mason, at age 18 was one of the founding members of the English group, Traffic which is perhaps one of the most influential musical groups in the history of rock music. Although a co-founder of the group, he left following the recording of their debut album, “Mr. Fantasy”. He then returned to the group midway through the recoding of their next album, simply called “Traffic” only to leave again once the album was completed. On this second album, his classic song “Feelin’ Alright” first appeared. And as most of us know, that song became the signature tune for Joe Cocker that defined his entire career.

Interestingly enough, on the inner liner notes on the second album, each song is listed along with the lyrics and the attribution of which musician is singing and what instruments they are playing. Maybe it was an attempt to be humorous or maybe there was some dissatisfaction with Dave’s comings and goings because on two of the songs, when Dave’s name is listed as to what he contributed, the word “nothing” appears.

Anyway, Dave left Traffic and went on to play 12 string guitar on the infamous recording session with his friend, Jimi Hendrix when “All Along the Watchtower” was recorded at Olympic Studios in London. To get an understanding of how incredibly Dave is positioned in the history of rock music, consider this. He is a contributing musician on the following albums, some of which are considered timeless classics:

• 1968 Electric Ladyland – Jimi Hendrix
• 1968 Beggars Banquet – Rolling Stones
• 1969 Lily the Pink – The Scaffold
• 1970 All Things Must Pass – George Harrison
• 1970 On Tour with Eric Clapton – Delaney and Bonnie and Friends
• 1971 Motel Shot – Delaney and Bonnie and Friends
• 1971 Songs for Beginners – Graham Nash
• 1971 Winwood – Steve Winwood
• 1972 Graham Nash David Crosby – David Crosby and Graham Nash
• 1972 Oh How We Danced – Jim Capaldi
• 1974 Wild Tales – Phoebe Snow
• 1974 Phoebe Snow – Phoebe Snow
• 1975 Venus and Mars – Paul McCartney
• 1976 You Can’t Argue with a Sick Mind – Joe Walsh
• 1978 Thoroughfare Gap – Stephen Stills
• 1979 Gimme Some Neck – Ron Wood
• 1983 Airborne – Don Felder
• 1985 Time – Fleetwood Mac

Dave also had a significant solo career, as well. So, when I saw that he was appearing at the Lyric in an “unplugged” evening with guitarist, Johnne Sambataro, the decision to attend was an easy one. Turns out, Dave and Johnne have been performing together for many years.

Johnne is not only a highly sought out session man and has worked with greats like Eric Clapton, Peter Frampton, Barry Gibb, Stephen Stills and the list goes on and on. He also was the lead singer for the group Firefall, which enjoyed considerable success.

So between Dave and Johnne, the audience was treated to a great evening of Dave Mason tunes, anecdotes and conversation. Given the acoustics of the Lyric and the fact that we had balcony seats, the sound was clear, the sight lines were good and the guys put on an excellent show. Dave’s voice is still strong, his catalog of tunes makes for a most enjoyable set and his guitar work and Johnne’s are flawless. Their musicianship was complemented by the excellent Lyric acoustics.

The only downside to the show was a group of unruly folks who kept talking throughout the music. Dave finally asked them if he could interrupt their discussion and fortunately they took the overt hint and they quietly enjoyed the music for the remainder of the evening.

Click here for a listing of the rest of Dave’s tour for this year and next. It’s well worth the admission to see this rock legend.

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