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Steven Winwood reunites with Traffic

The British band plans to tour and hopes to create something different during a busy concert summer

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Steve Winwood is the first to admit it: ”My own solo work had gotten a little pasteurized,” he says, looking less like a 45-year-old rock veteran than a country squire in a tweed blazer and gray vest. ”Traffic put a little bacteria back into it.” That’s how Winwood explains the latest entry in the Rock Reunion sweepstakes—the second coming of Traffic, the British band he led from 1967 to 1974. If squeaky-clean solo hits like ”Higher Love” made Winwood the blow-dried prince of lite pop in the ’80s, he’s hoping his latest move-getting back with drummer and Traffic cofounder Jim Capaldi for an American tour (starting May 18 in Omaha) and releasing the group’s first studio album in 20 years, Far From Home—will infect things a bit. ”By bacteria,” he says, ”I mean a certain looseness, nonconformity, freedom.”

Words like those epitomized Traffic in the late ’60s and early ’70s, when the band was known for its jumble of folk and jazz, Motown and the medieval—and more than enough freedom (songs clocked in at more than 10 minutes). Actually, Winwood and Capaldi have collaborated on and off since Traffic’s core trio broke up in 1974. (Reeds player Chris Wood died of liver failure in 1983.) But to re-create the sylvan air of albums like Mr. Fantasy and John Barleycorn Must Die, they hunkered down in an Irish farmhouse-just like in the old days. (The group’s 1967 debut was laid down at an English cottage.) Recalls Capaldi, 49: ”In the ’60s you’d do a gig in San Francisco and the Jefferson Airplane would roll up. We’d be almost silently, telepathically, vibrationally taken to this big warehouse where the amps were set up, and we’d play until it was daylight. Jamming was more important.”

Still, with acts like the Eagles, Pink Floyd, and the Rolling Stones hogging the road this year, Traffic might run into some gridlock on the nostalgia circuit. ”It’s going to be very crowded this summer,” says Gary Bongiovanni of Pollstar, a concert-biz trade magazine. ”If Traffic was touring when no one else was out, there would probably be a much bigger buzz.” But even in an age of Soundgardens and Snoop Doggy Doggs, Winwood isn’t worrying about fitting in. ”We don’t fit in,” he says with a roguish grin. ”That’s the wonderful thing.”