Still In The High Life: The Decade-Spanning Brilliance Of Steve Winwood

Some of the finest recorded work by one of the most distinguished British writer-performer-producers of them all.

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Steve Winwood - Photo: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images
Photo: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

The ever-youthful Steve Winwood, born on May 12, 1948, is in our spotlight as we celebrate the great vocalist, keyboard player, writer and producer with our In 20 Songs playlist.

A mere 20 selections can of course barely do justice to an extraordinary half-century and more at the forefront of the music scene, both in Britain and around the world. We trust it serves as a sampler of his staple hits and key album tracks from which to explore further his unique career.

We start with the teenage Stevie in 1965, on vocals and organ with the Spencer Davis Group. The group had formed in Birmingham when he was barely 15, and he often had trouble gaining admission to the group’s own gigs because of his tender years. But there was nothing green about his performances on “Every Little Bit Hurts,” their cover of Brenda Holloway’s Motown tearjerker of the year before, or their breakthrough UK No.1 “Keep On Running.”

Winwood added further to the group’s catalog of distinctive hits with the irresistibly high-octane “Gimme Some Lovin’’’ and “I’m A Man.” But before that, he took time for the first of his countless splinter groups, side projects and collaborations that have always informed his approach. In 1966, he joined forces with Eric Clapton for his short-lived Powerhouse “supergroup” of blues aficionados. It also included Jack Bruce, fellow SDG member Pete York, Paul Jones and Ben Palmer.

When Steve called time on his tenure with Davis, he immediately found a rich new vein of creativity. With experimental album rock coming ever further to the fore, Traffic (also featuring his longtime friend Jim Capaldi, Dave Mason and Chris Wood) became instant tastemakers.

Dear Mr. Fantasy

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The band could turn their hands to pop radio-friendly hit singles such as “Paper Sun” and to the innovative, alternative style of pieces such as “Dear Mr. Fantasy.” Then came another switch, as Steve segued from his first era with Traffic into another supergroup setting with Blind Faith.

Reuniting here with Clapton in a dynamic line-up with Ginger Baker and Ric Grech, the band released a landmark self-titled album in the summer of 1969 which sadly proved to be their sole release. But it lives on in the memory of millions of admirers with its combination of rock, folk, blues and rock’n’roll styles, on such songs as Winwood’s opening “Had To Cry Today” and “Can’t Find My Way Home.”

Winwood then returned to Traffic for some more fruitful years, represented here by the John Barleycorn Must Die and The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys albums. After the group disbanded in 1974, Steve detoured again to work with, among others, Japanese composer Stomu Yamashta, on the 1976 album Go.

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The fact that Winwood delayed his official debut as a solo artist until as late as 1977 was testament to the notion that he has always placed musical validity far above personal celebrity. That self-titled Island Records album, which contained “Time Is Running Out,” tested the waters for the later triumphs of Arc Of A Diver and Talking Back To The Night, and on to the multi-million-selling, MTV-friendly years of Back In The High Life and Roll With It.

More recent years have seen Winwood continue his prolific work rate, both on studio and on stage. We end our playlist with another fine Winwood-Clapton collaboration, “Dirty City,” from Steve’s 2008 album Nine Lives. 2017 brought the excellent double album Greatest Hits Live, a fitting reminder of his catalog and his stirring ability to bring it to life on stage. In May 2023, he won another generation of new admirers with his performance of “Higher Love” at the Coronation Concert for King Charles III at Windsor Castle.

Listen to the best of Steve Winwood on Apple Music and Spotify.



  1. Monika

    May 13, 2015 at 6:19 pm

    Happy Birthday Steve Winwood!!! I hope you have a wonderful day celebrating. Thank you for the many years of excellent and masterful music. I wish you many additional years of good health and happiness so you can continue collaborating and producing! ❤❤❤❤

  2. Julie Longfellow

    May 13, 2015 at 7:19 pm

    Add “Low Spark of the …” to your playlist!

  3. john hagans

    May 13, 2015 at 7:21 pm

    Thanks for the energy and variety you brought to your body of music.

  4. Eric Priebe

    May 14, 2015 at 2:44 am

    Love your music Steve. I wish this site would have acknowledged the fact that you’re a great guitarist as well as the amazing songs such as Low Spark of high heel Boys and Dear Mr Fantasy. Also loved your singing and piano playing on In the Presence of the Lord. Wish Blind Faith could be reunited. Look forward to your next concert in Cincinnati,Ohi

  5. gary hollingworth

    May 14, 2015 at 4:48 pm

    Mr Fantasy an absolutely tour de force of a song. I also feel Steve is an amazing guitarist.

  6. PeteR

    May 15, 2015 at 12:28 am

    Saw Traffic while at University in the early 70’s. Wonderful show!!
    Dear Mr Fantasy will always be magic to my ears.
    But Steve, my wife and I are forever grateful for your inspiration, and so is our daughter, Valerie.

  7. Naresh

    June 22, 2015 at 5:32 am

    Stevie Winwood is one of the legends of rock / blues. His humility is even greater than his music. In the DVD of his concert at Madison Sq Gardens, he admits that Clapton mentored him. For me thats truly amazing modesty, even though true. Another rock legend with the same character is Ringo Starr.

  8. Greg

    July 24, 2015 at 1:56 pm

    What about “Sometimes I feel so uninspired”

  9. Geoff Doy

    October 26, 2015 at 9:56 pm

    Loved all his early stuff, plus Roll with it. Played that album to death!

  10. Francesco Cubeddu

    May 13, 2016 at 7:18 am

    Tanti auguri dalla Sardegna!

  11. Francesco Cubeddu

    May 13, 2016 at 7:20 am

    A chent’annos cun saludi! Translation from the Sardinian: I hope you get to a hundred years in good health!

  12. Nicole Sullivan

    May 12, 2017 at 3:32 pm

    this man is one of my very favorite musicians, I have listened to him since the days of Blind Faith and through out the years still one of the best.

  13. Nicole Sullivan

    May 12, 2017 at 3:32 pm

    A very Happy Birthday to Steve

  14. Stan Cakdwell

    May 13, 2017 at 2:06 am

    Decent list, but I’d include a couple of more Traffic songs, especially Rainmaker & Glad-Freedom Rider.

  15. cruz

    May 13, 2017 at 11:51 pm

    Son 21-Dream Gerrard best ever.

  16. Laurie Fergusson

    September 15, 2017 at 9:16 am

    Used to see you in the Birmingham clubs when I lived in Eddington, great band

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