Spectropop remembers


JIM CAPALDI (1944 - 2005)

With his handsome boxer's face and a singing voice of bruised soulfulness, Jim Capaldi might have achieved the degree of fame that fell upon his friend Steve Winwood. Instead, Capaldi, who has died of cancer aged 60, will remain best known as the drummer with Traffic, the group he and Winwood formed in 1967 with two other West Midlands musicians, the guitarist and songwriter Dave Mason and the saxophonist and flautist Chris Wood.

Traffic, who were inducted into the US Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year, pioneered the concept of "getting it together in the country". Their earliest performances took place at a gamekeeper's cottage in Berkshire, outside which they set up their instruments. In the absence of mains electricity, the musicians ran their amplifiers off a portable generator and rehearsed the songs for their debut album, titled 'Mr Fantasy', to an audience of rooks, rabbits and field mice. "Camping out, cooking over an open fire, it was like William and the Outlaws," Winwood remembered.

Born in Evesham, Capaldi came from a family of musicians. His paternal grandfather, Pasquale, had settled in Worcestershire after arriving from Italy. Pasquale was an accordion player, as was his son Nicola (Nick), who performed on stage and on the radio with his wife. Their son Jim started his career in local groups at the age of 14 and it was while playing at the Elbow Room, a Birmingham club, that he met and jammed with Winwood, who was on the brink of leaving the Spencer Davis Group.

Capaldi and Winwood co-wrote many of Traffic's best-known songs, including their first single, 'Paper Sun' (1967), which captured the optimism of the first summer of love and reached No 4 in the UK chart. Tensions within the group were already apparent, however, and Capaldi later dismissed their second single, 'Hole In My Shoe', a winsome fantasia composed by Mason, as "pop bubblegum". A third hit, the theme song to the film 'Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush', preceded Mason's departure at the end of the year. Traffic continued to perform as a trio, making their US debut at Bill Graham's Fillmore East, but in the first weeks of 1969, shortly after the release of their second album, the group broke up amid the news of Winwood's announcement that he would be joining Eric Clapton in a "supergroup" to be known as Blind Faith. Plans for Capaldi to join them were scuppered by Clapton's management, which installed Ginger Baker in the drummer's chair.

Blind Faith lasted less than a year, and in 1970 Traffic returned to action with an album titled 'John Barleycorn Must Die'. Well received by their old fans, it was followed by 'The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys', 'Shoot Out At The Fantasy Factory' and 'When The Eagle Flies' before they broke up again in 1974.

Capaldi's first solo album, 'Oh How We Danced', appeared in 1972, but a widely admired song titled 'Eve' mystifyingly failed to give him a hit single. When he did enter the charts under his own name, it was with an imaginative version of an old Everly Brothers song, 'Love Hurts', which reached No 4 in 1975. Several more solo albums followed, plus one more under Traffic's name when he and Winwood got together (Wood had died in 1983) for a reunion tour in 1994.

In 1975 Capaldi met Aninha, a Brazilian student. They married later that year, establishing homes in Marlowe, Buckinghamshire and Ipanema. She and their two daughters, Tabitha and Tallulah, survive him.

Richard Williams - The Guardian

Nicola James Capaldi, musician: born August 2nd, 1944 - died January 28th, 2005.