Steve Winwood – A Higher Love

Steve Winwood is a much loved British singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who is probably best remembered nowadays for his string of hit singles and albums in the 1980’s. This included seven chart-topping singles in the US with ‘Higher Love’, Back in the High Life’, ‘The Finer Things’, ‘Roll With it’, ‘Don’t You Know What the Night Can Do’, ‘Holding On’ and ‘One and Only Man’. He also scored two number two hits with ‘While You See a Chance’ and ‘Valerie’, along with other top twenty hits in the US, which is the world’s biggest music market.

An exceptionally talented all-round musician, older music fans will remember that he started his popular music career back in 1962 as the fourteen-year-old singer, guitarist and keyboard player for the Spencer Davis Group. The band were very popular in the mid 1960’s across Europe and Australasia in particular. 

The Swinging Sixties

In 1966, the Spencer Davis Group reached number one in the UK singles chart with ‘Keep on Running’ and ’Somebody Help Me’. The even better known ‘Gimme Some Lovin’ (also covered by The Blues Brothers in the 1980’s) reached number two later that year. In 1967 their iconic psychedelic jazz-rock single ‘I’m a Man’ became a big hit around the world. It also reached the top ten in 1970 when covered by ‘Chicago.’ Although the earlier singles did not break through across the Atlantic, ‘Gimme Some Lovin’ and ‘I’m a Man’ both made number one in Canada and reached the top ten in the US in 1967. Steve’s soulful voice was likened to one of his own favourite vocalists – the legendary jazz/blues singer Ray Charles.

From The Spencer Davis Group, Steve formed Traffic. They produced more hit singles with ‘Paper Sun’, ‘Hole in My Shoe’ and ‘Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush’, which was the title track from the 1967 coming of age movie of the same name. This era was fast becoming the age of the album for serious musicians and Traffic released eight hugely popular albums. ‘Mr Fantasy’, ‘Traffic’, ‘Last Exit’, ‘John Barleycorn Must Die’, ‘The Low Spark of the High Heeled Boys’, ‘Shoot Out at the Fantasy Factory’, ‘When the Eagle Flies’, and the 1994 reunion album ‘Far From Home.’ 

Church Background

Alongside jazz, Steve’s earliest musical influences came from the Anglican Church in Birmingham. He says, 

“I was brought up a Christian in the Church of England. As a young boy I was a choir boy and a server at St John’s Church, Perry Bar… and in fact many of my musical influences come from Hymnals, Psalters and organ music from the English church.

This Christian influence has remained in the background throughout his life. Steve adds,

Around the age of fourteen I drifted away from the church, although I have always been interested in anything religious and spiritual.

Enter a musical career spanning more than six decades with The Spencer Davis Group, Traffic, Blind Faith, Ginger Baker’s Airforce, a mostly solo career from 1977, and a vast amount of studio and live work backing the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and many others. 

Going Solo

In 1977, Steve released his first solo album ‘Steve Winwood’ which reached number 12 in the UK and number 22 in the US. In the same year he married singer Nicole Tacot-Weir. He then took a break from the music business and concentrated on his farm in Oxfordshire, indulging in clay pigeon-shooting, dog training and horse riding. Steve spent 1979 recording and producing his second solo album. ‘Arc of a Diver’ which was released in 1980 reaching number one in Canada, number three in the US and New Zealand, and number thirteen in his native UK. It also brought a return for Steve to the singles market with the worldwide hit single ‘While You See a Chance’ which reached number two in the US and number three in Canada.  

‘Arc of a Diver’ was followed in 1982 by ‘Talking Back to the Night’ which was also a commercial success. The single ‘Valerie’ hit the charts twice in 1982 and 1987 reaching number two in the US. Steve’s vocal in ‘Valerie’ was also sampled and used two decades later for a hit ‘house music’ track by Swedish musician Eric Pridz. ‘Call On Me’ reached number one in the UK in 2004 and was a big hit in many countries.  

With the breakdown of his first marriage, Steve took another break from music. It was four years before his next album was released. Things changed for him in 1985 after meeting Eugenia Crafton. She was a dedicated Christian. Thoughts of a new marriage and starting a family directed Steve back to his Christian roots and brought a fresh zeal for music. He says, 

It wasn’t until I met Eugenia in 1985 and began to think about a family that I became again interested in Christianity. 

Bring Me a Higher Love

With the 1986 album ‘Back in the High Life’ and the 1988 album ‘Roll With It’ came a new level of success. The renewal of his Christian faith and the positive, spiritual themes in these two particular albums are more than coincidental. Writing of the 1986 album, the music information contributor ’Rockportraits’ notes, 

“The acoustic-based title track, ‘Back In The High Life’, seems filled with resolve and self-assurance. ‘My Love’s Leavin’ comes from this album as does the horn-infused neo-soul of ‘Freedom Overspill’. However, the most important track is ‘Higher Love’. Bolstered by backing vocals from funk diva Chaka Khan, this is a prayer of soulful aspiration: 

Think about it, there must be a higher love
Down in the heart or hidden in the stars above
Without it, life is wasted time

Lyricist Will Jennings (who also had a church background in the United States) seems to be tapping into Steve’s own renewed Christian faith. ‘Wake Me Up On Judgement Day’ has a deep spiritual overtone.” (‘Rockportraits – Steve Winwood’ – 2014)

Steve’s music from that period took on a much greater spiritual depth;

Wake me up on Judgment Day
Let me hear golden trumpets play
Give me life where nothing fails
Not a dream in a wishing well

Say a prayer for the stranger
Listen to the stranger

Wake me up on Judgment Day
Let me hear golden trumpets play.

Roll With It

“Holding on” was the second US chart topping single from the album “Roll With It” which is widely considered to be Steve’s finest Solo project.

You turned night into day
And showed me how my soul could sing
You took my hurt away
And showed me love conquers anything

When two hearts both feel the same
There’s a way to beat the game

Holding on now I’m standing in the light
Holding on and this time I’ll get it right
Holding on every day and every night
Holding on…

Living in a state of grace

‘State of Grace’ is a track from Traffic’s 1994 reunion album ‘ Far From Home’:

Sometimes your life can be sidetracked
getting lost in things you don’t need
But we all lose direction in a world of greed

Some people’s lives end in ruin
some people’s lives never start
Someone knows what you’re doing deep in your heart

In the hour of need you stood ready
looked danger right in the face
Your heart is moved by the spirit when you’re living
living in a state of grace

There’s a world never ending
sorrow and pain don’t exist
We can live there together, you can’t resist

Just when you think you can’t take it,
dreams disappear into space
Trust in your heart, you can make it, when you’re living
living in a state of grace

There’s nothing worse than the sorrow of loved ones you have lost
You can’t face tomorrow, you can’t bear the cross
But just remember that darkness in this world has no place
You’ve got so much to give now.

“Real Love”

‘Real Love’ from Steve’s 1997 solo album ‘Junction Seven’ is another song brimming with spirituality:

“In my life there was emptiness
Where I was going I couldn’t guess
Then one day into my life you came
And from then on nothing seemed the same

You gave me strength when I thought I could be wrong
Hey now I know, here is where I belong
With your real love to hold on to
Real love to pull me through

And I know with all my heart
Here I’m gonna stay
And here I’ll always stay
Inside your real love, real love

You make things right with no uncertainty
I know this kind of love will always be realised
And I’m now quite sure
Real love is what we all are lookin’ for

Now I’m ready to be just what you want me to
With you right here, oh to guide me through
I need your real love to hold on to
Real love to pull me through

And I know with all my heart
Here I’m gonna stay
And here I’ll always stay
Inside your real love, real love

“Someone Like You”

Someone Like You’, also from ‘Junction Seven’, is a deeply reflective song with Christian imagery referring to answered prayer;

I’ve tried to live my life alone
Independence, freedom was my own
But there was a loneliness I could not ignore
I knew deep down I needed more

In my life I needed a feeling
Of a love to come over me
I felt the truth and so I prayed for
Someone like you to hold my hand

Someone like you to understand
Someone like you to stand by me
All my life, yeah, all my life, someone like you

Christian Marriage

Therefore tell the people: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Return to me,’and I will return to you,’ ” (Zechariah 1:3)

Steve’s return to his Christian faith was sealed in January 1987 when he and Eugenia were married. Together they have four children. Steve continues to tour, to record, and to produce great music. 

In an interview with French TV in 1994 about the new Traffic album ‘Far From Home’, Steve said,

If, through my music, I can make people perhaps stop and think… about where they stand in spiritual terms… perhaps give some positive input there, if I can do that on just the smallest level, I feel that I’ve achieved something.

Steve’s Christmas song ‘Christmas is now drawing near at hand’ was written in 1997. Unlike most of his work, it was not co-written with a lyricist, so it is Steve’s personal thoughts on the meaning of Christmas. It is an abundantly clear message about the celebration of Christ’s birth. With phrases such as, “Oh, teach [the children] to rely on Christ the sinner’s friend, who reigns on high” the theme has a plain, evangelical tone:

“Christmas is now drawing near at hand
Come serve the Lord and be at His command
And God a portion for you will provide
And give a blessing to your soul beside

Down in the garden where flowers grow in ranks
Down on your bended knees and give the Lord thanks
Down on your knees and pray both night and day
Leave off your sins and live upright, I pray

So proud and lofty is some sort of sin
Which many take delight and pleasure in
Whose conversation God doth much dislike
And yet He shakes His sword before He strikes

So proud and lofty do some people go
Dressing themselves like players in the show
They patch and paint and dress with idle stuff
As if God had not made them fine enough

Even little children learn to curse and swear
And can’t recite one word of Godly prayer
Oh, teach them better, oh, teach them to rely
On Christ the sinner’s friend, who reigns on high.”

Full Circle

Steve’s return to his Christian faith has virtually led him back to where he started. He is again attending his local Anglican Church and singing in the choir when he is at home and not on tour.

WATCH Steve Winwood ‘Higher Love’


Story by Ralph Burden

With special thanks to ‘Rockportraits’ and Dave Scott-Morgan

Photo: Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License

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