Dave Mason – Headkeeper

Underrated release from one of rock’s quiet achievers

Dave Mason first made a name for himself as a member of Traffic, during which time he penned one classic tune, “Feelin’ Alright,” perhaps better known thanks to Joe Cocker’s own memorable interpretation. He is also famous for having contributed acoustic guitar on Jimi Hendrix’s definitive cover of Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower,” a recording which in itself needs no introduction.

As a solo artist, Mason got off to a fine start with 1970’s Alone Together, an album that remains one of his best, followed by an collaboration with Cass Eliot in 1971, where soon after he began work on what would be released as Headkeeper, an album fraught with difficulty due to a dispute Mason was having with his record label, Blue Thumb, resulting in only enough material being recorded for one side of an LP. Therefore in order to release something, Blue Thumb added several live tracks recorded at The Troubadour in Los Angeles.

Now despite Mason’s denouncement, Headkeeper is not at all a bad record, even if the half-studio/half-live combination does seem a little Jeckyll and Hyde. The majority of the studio material (recorded at Sunset Sound with Rita Coolidge, Graham Nash and Spencer Davis) would have fit nicely on Alone Together, or perhaps one of Stephen Stills’ early solo albums, particularly the breezy CSN-like “To Be Free” and “In My Mind.” “Here We Go Again” could also be another Stills outtake, with its acoustic guitars and pleasant harmonies.

“A Heartache, A Shadow, A Lifetime” drifts along inoffensively, thanks to some pretty piano courtesy of Mark Jordan, while the album’s title track is probably the closest Mason ever got to space-rock.

However it’s the second side most fans will likely remember, and purchase this LP for, due to decent renditions of well-known numbers such as the Traffic-era “Feelin’ Alright” and “Pearly Queen,” as well as other quality compositions from Alone Together (“Just A Song” and “World In Changes”).

That Blue Thumb went behind Mason’s back to release this album proves just how ruthless the music business could be in the old days. In fact, Blue Thumb even used two-track copies of the original stereo masters when compiling it, much to Mason’s disapprobation. So much so that he would totally disown it and advised people to avoid it, since it was issued without his approval.

Nevertheless, Headkeeper is what it is, a somewhat flawed if agreeable document by an often underappreciated artist. Surely a deluxe edition, supervised by the man himself, is long overdue.