The son of an Italian music teacher, Jim Capaldi probably felt his given name wasn’t ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ enough to suit his own forays into the business. His father encouraged Capaldi in his attempts to master the drums, although it was clear the young boy had considerable talent even at the age of twelve.
As a teenager, Capaldi became a well-established though still very fresh face on the Worcester music scene, forming his first band, The Sapphires, in 1961; two years on, he met guitarist Dave Mason and started up The Hellions – an oft-renamed band that was to form the basis of Traffic. The major breakthrough for Capaldi arrived as The Hellions went to Hamburg – a noted destination for would-be British stars – as backing musicians to singer Tanya Day. (Also in tow were The Spencer Davis Group – months away from their brief but spectacular success in the UK – Capaldi and Mason befriending the band’s wunderkind singer, Steve Winwood.)
The Hellions (later The Revolutions/Deep Feeling) becoming something of a local legend, Capaldi – who had also tried his hand successfully as vocalist – played with another friend, Jimi Hendrix, before reconvening with Winwood to fashion Midlands-based psychedelic supergroup Traffic at the start of 1967.
The band (completed by flautist/saxophonist Chris Wood) achieved instant success with the great Top Five singles "Paper Sun" and "Hole in My Shoe", plus the hit debut album "Mr. Fantasy". The group was forever wracked by personnel upheaval, however, with pretty much all members leaving at one point or another to start other projects. In Capaldi’s case, it was Wooden Frog, an aborted sideline affair that occurred only when Winwood disappeared to work with Blind Faith in 1968.
Somehow, the nucleus of Traffic rallied to release two of their best albums, "John Barleycorn Must Die" (1970) and "The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys" (1971), by which time the hit singles had dried up. Simultaneously, Capaldi embarked on a reasonably successful solo career that spawned the acclaimed album "Oh How We Danced" (1972) and later even included a couple of UK chart hits in "It’s All up to You" (1974) and, most notably, a Top Five cover of Roy Orbison’s "Love Hurts" (1975).
Over the course of the next three decades, Capaldi issued twelve albums of his own, recording with some serious names, including Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Bob Marley and Carlos Santana. Traffic – sans Wood, who had died ten years before ( July 1983) – even joined in with the fine comeback, "Far From Home" (1994), that saw Capaldi tour once again with Winwood.
Jim Capaldi will always be remembered as a selfless individual, unspoiled by rock fame and ever ready to assist others. The environmentally conscious musician had married his Brazilian girlfriend Aninha in 1977, moving to South America where he became active in ecological issues and also his partner’s Jubilee campaign to assist Brazil’s thousands of street children. Capaldi remained involved with these projects (as well as another prospective Traffic reunion following the band’s 2004 induction into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame) until struck down by the stomach cancer that was to claim his life early on the morning of 28 January 2005.
The Encyclopedia of Dead Rock Stars -Jeremy Simmonds, 2nd Edition, Chicago Review Press, Incorporated, 2012, page 828
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