Born May 12, 1948 in Handsworth, Birmingham, England, Winwood developed an early interest in music. Encouraged by his parents Lillian and Lawrence, Winwood displayed a surprising facility for both the guitar and piano. Heavily influenced by Ray Charles, Winwood continued his musical development at school, studying classical guitar and piano. He was a part of the Birmingham rhythm and blues scene from a young age, playing the Hammond organ and guitar, backing blues singers like Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, T-Bone Walker, Howlin’ Wolf, B. B. King, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Eddie Boyd, Otis Spann, Chuck Berry, and Bo Diddley on their United Kingdom tours (the norm at that time being for US singers to travel solo and be backed by ‘pick-up’ bands).
Excited by the prospect of blending jazz, folk, blues, and R & B into one cohesive effort, Winwood and his older brother, Muff Winwood, joined the Spencer Davis Group in 1963. While only fifteen years of age, Winwood’s striking vocal prowess, imbued with passionate blue-eyed soul, helped propel the group to the top of the UK charts. Shortly thereafter, The Spencer Davis Group enjoyed international success with two unforgettable singles, “Gimme Some Lovin’” and “I’m a Man”.
In April 1967, Winwood left The Spencer Davis Group to form Traffic. Winwood’s affinity for the distinctive sound of the Hammond B-3 organ can be traced back to Traffic. The instrument was a critical component of the beloved ensemble Winwood co-founded in 1967 with Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood. Mr. Fantasy, their landmark debut, launched a steady string of inventive albums and singles that firmly established Traffic as one of the most important and commercially successful groups of their era.
Winwood and Dave Mason of Traffic became close friends of Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix first heard “All Along the Watchtower” at a party he was invited to by Mason, they recorded the Hendrix version later that night in a London recording studio. Winwood played on five Hendrix LPs, including organ on Electric Ladyland in 1968, he played the powerful Hammond organ riffs on Voodoo Chile.
In 1969, Winwood followed Traffic with Blind Faith. Hailed as the first ‘supergroup,’ Blind Faith, the group’s sole output, was an international best seller. Signature songs such as “Can’t Find My Way Home” and “Presence of the Lord” make clear the special chemistry Winwood enjoyed with Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker and Rick Grech.
The following year, Winwood reformed Traffic and of the superb albums that followed: John Barleycorn Must Die, The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys, Shoot Out at the Fantasy Factory, and When the Eagle Flies, each reached the U.S. Top Ten and further expanded the group’s audience.
In 1977, Winwood embarked upon an extraordinary solo career and has continued his creative evolution. His first solo effort, and those that would follow, recruited him an entirely new audience, which coupled with his loyal core of Traffic supporters, made him one of the music industry’s top artists once again. Songs such as “Valerie”, “Freedom Overspill”, “Roll With It”, and “Higher Love”, rank among Winwood’s finest achievements. The album, Back in the High Life, was itself a magnificent accomplishment. The album became his biggest selling effort to date, earning five Grammy nominations and two Grammy Awards—Best Male Vocal and the coveted Record of the Year.
In 2003, Winwood released a new studio album About Time on his new record label, Wincraft Music. His 1982 song, “Valerie” was sampled by DJ Eric Prydz, in a song called “Call on Me”. It spent five weeks at number one on the UK singles chart.
Throughout Winwood’s career, his durability and remarkable capacity to surprise has never diminished. While he is rightfully acknowledged for his many achievements, Winwood forges ahead undaunted, as evidenced by About Time, (2004) to create and perform new and exciting material. He remains, more than thirty years after his recorded debut, one of the most important and influential artists in all of popular music.
Nine Lives (2008) expands on all the many phases and turns of Steve Winwood's lustrous career, filled with his pure joy of music-making. The new songs range from the inspiring “Fly” to the burning “Dirty City” (featuring a guest appearance by long-time friend Eric Clapton to the simmering “Hungry Man”, joining a canon that spans more than forty years to include some of the most beloved songs of modern pop and rock.