Dave Mason was just 22 when he started recording his debut album, Alone Together. Recently departed from his band Traffic, which he co-founded three years earlier with Steve Winwood, and the late Chris Wood and Jim Capaldi, Mason found himself in America in 1969, pulling together tracks he had originally written for the band’s third album. Enlisting an assemblage of top studio musicians, including singers Rita Coolidge and Bonnie Bramlett, pianist Leon Russell, bassist Chris Etheridge, and drummers Jim Gordon, Jim Keltner, and even Traffic bandmate Capaldi, all offered their musical part in Mason’s solo career. Alone Together was a timeless tale of the era, a slight naivete, and the beginning of a massive musical journey.
Honoring the 50th anniversary of the album that started it all for him, Mason reimagined the eight tracks, reviving each in the studio on Alone Together… Again.
“Basically, the whole project started for my own amusement when I started screwing around with some of the songs,” says Mason from his home in Maui. Regularly a Reno, Nevada resident, Mason relocated to Hawaii once the pandemic hit in 2020 and admits he feels fortunate to ride it out in some kind of paradise.
“One day, we were on the road, and we had a couple of days off, so I went into a studio, and cut all the other songs, basically, everything in there, except for the vocals, which were put on afterwards,” says Mason. “Everything else is live. We played everything straight out in the studio, so there’s a lot more energy in this music than the original tracks.”
Originally, Mason wanted to reimagine Alone Together, because he was never satisfied with his original vocals. “I like the songs and I like the performances, but I was so young and it was my first solo album,” says Mason. “The older I got, the more the vocals bothered me and so I finally thought that I would sing the songs the way I first imagined them when I wrote them.”
Through Alone Together… Again there’s a new depth and energy to the original arrangements, and Mason stays mostly faithful to “Only You Know and I Know,” “Waitin’ on You,” and “Look at You, Look at Me,” offering a slightly extended outro to “Can’t Stop Worrying, Can’t Stop Loving” and the lusher soul of “Look at You, Look at Me.” More textured guitar revives the still deeply moving “As Sad and As Deep As You,” a version Mason—who slyly renamed the track from its original “Sad and Deep As You”—says he prefers to the 1970 original.
A reggae-fused “World in Changes,” which Mason originally re-recorded nearly 10 years ago, is the more striking departure on Again. “I really love the way it turned out,” says Mason. “It’s the perfect kind of a change up, and ‘World in Changes’ is a timeless theme song that’s very relevant now.”
Produced by Mason, Alone Together… Again features a new collection of musicians made up of his touring band with guitarist Johnne Sambataro, bassist and keyboardist Tony Patler, drummer Alvino Bennett, along with guests John McFee, Jason Roller, Jonathan McEuen, Gretchen Rhodes, Bill Reynolds, Jesse Siebenberg, Teddy Jack Russell, and Billy Mason.
“Looking back in retrospect, if I’d have had those players out on the road with me for a month or so before I went in and originally cut ‘Alone Together,’ that album would have had a completely different energy to it,” says Mason. “It would have been a little something of players who knew the songs and weren’t thinking about it while they were doing, but ‘Again’ has got that.”
One of the reasons Alone Together always stuck, says Mason, is because it’s timeless. “I guess I’ve always sort of tried to write basically what are timeless themes,” says Mason. “They’re all very personal in some way. As much as things change, nothing really changes. We all go through the same. Everybody’s got their own version of their good times, bad times, whatever loves and losses, so they’re very timeless, in a lot of ways. Most of these songs have been in my set, one way or another, for 50 years.”
Always thinking in terms of live performance, Mason tends to write songs that are also open to some musical improvisation. “‘Look at You, Look at Me’ and ‘Shouldn’t Have Took More Than You Gave’ have lots of room, especially solo-wise, to be different every night, which keeps it interesting for us as a band,” says Mason. “Basically, we’re up there just playing for ourselves. Otherwise, we’re just going through the motions. I always want to keep that room for everybody to have something to add in.”
Admittedly not the most prolific writer, with Alone Together taking two years to finish, songwriting is a typically long process for Mason. “I’m not somebody who just churns out stuff, so it’s there when it’s there,” he says. “And it has to be something that can hold up if it’s just me with an acoustic guitar as a song. Otherwise, I won’t pursue it.”
Inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame with Traffic in 2004, Mason’s own career has crossed genres in his songwriting and production contributions, from his work The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Eric Clapton and a brief stint with Fleetwood Mac in 1995. Surprisingly nonchalant about his entire ride through rock royalty, perhaps a more momentous moment was playing rhythm guitar on Jim Hendrix’s cover of “All Along the Watchtower.”
More remains in Mason’s musical vault, but he admits a hesitancy in releasing new music in today’s climate. “I don’t really write that much at all anymore, but that’s a whole other conversation about the futility of putting out new product,” shares Mason. “These days, there’s no record sales, there are no great DJs and no great terrestrial radio, which is still a hugely powerful medium. There’s nobody there. There’s nobody home.”
In the digital landscape, specifically, music has become more expendable, says Mason. “It’s become disposable, so the road is what you have left,” says Mason. “If you have something new, you take it out on the road with you and hope people will want to listen to it and buy it.”
Mason says there’s this two percent in the so-called superstar bracket in music—and then there’s everybody else. “Touring is how we survive, and a big part of our income has been taken away,” says Mason. “It’s not just for performers, but if you’re just a songwriter, your copyrights have been so diluted, and there’s seemingly nothing you can do about it at this point. Pandora is out of the box. C’est la vie. Onward.”
Maybe there’s something to Mason’s revising the classics. He recently shared a “quarantine” rendition of his 1968 Traffic hit “Feelin’ Alright,” with special guests Mick Fleetwood, Sammy Hagar, Michael McDonald, and The Doobie Brothers’ John McFee, Tom Johnston, John Cowan and Pat Simmons. “Even though we’re in different locations on the planet, it just came out as if we were all there together,” says Mason. “We’re all going through this isolation, so it’s got a group of people in there having fun, and the music is there to pick up your day.”
Working on a book, an autobiography tentatively scheduled for 2022, Mason is also exploring music in film and looking forward to a return to stage. Sometimes it feels like a decade, then there’s the realization that 50 years have passed since Alone Together. Still, time is mostly irrelevant to Mason.
“Sometimes I look back and think ‘wow, World in Changes is magical, and I wrote that,’” says Mason. “It all goes by quickly, so make the most of being in the here and now.”