Touring Winwood plays to older audience with older songs


It's easy to assume Steve Winwood knows everything about the music business.

After all, the British rocker has been at it professionally since before he was old enough to drive. He scored his first big hit, "Gimme Some Lovin'," when he was just 18.

For nearly three decades, Mr. Winwood has been making music -- on his own, with groups such as Traffic and on recording sessions. The singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, who was to perform last night at the Merriweather Post Pavilion, has enjoyed hit singles, big-selling albums and Grammy awards.

But don't look for any books from him on how to succeed in the music biz.

"I think I just understand things in the business less now," says Mr. Winwood, 42. "It never ceases to amaze or fascinate me. I still think that, one of these days, I'll really crack it.

"I never really wanted to be a big star; I mostly wanted to be a good musician and make some good records. The nice thing is I've been around long enough that the record company doesn't bother me. Basically, I just try to do stuff that I like and that pleases me. . . . In the end, that's the way you please most of the people."

But theory and reality are colliding on Mr. Winwood's latest album, "Refugees of the Heart." Released last November, the record has trundled to gold status but has not yielded a hit single. Clearly, it's a commercial disappointment.

"When we first got it," says Mike Rosenberg, Mr. Winwood's product manager, "we knew it was a listen album [but] the mainstream Top 40 audience was not going to jump on it. But at this point, Steve Winwood is not the kind of guy who lives or dies by the hit. Over the years, his commercial fortunes have gone up and down."

On his current tour, Mr. Winwood is delighting older fans by dipping deep into the Traffic well. He's going beyond the obligatory "Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys" to include such favorites as "Smiling Phases" and "Medicated Goo."

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