Dave Mason: On Music, Racing, and ‘Live at Belmont Park 1978’

by | 04.08.2014 | 1:55pm
Dave Mason (photo by Chris Jensen)

Most fans of our sport know 1978 was the last year a horse won American racing's Triple Crown. The rivalry between Affirmed and Alydar reached a dizzying crescendo on the afternoon of June 10, 1978, when the two horses locked horns for almost every step of the mile and one-half journey around Belmont Park. Affirmed and jockey Steve Cauthen emerged with a narrow victory and the accolades that accompany horse racing's most prestigious achievement: a sweep of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes.

The 1978 Belmont Stakes truly was one for the ages.

But Affirmed-Alydar wasn't the only 1978 Belmont Park performance that included a future Hall of Famer. One month after the stirring classic, the Long Island, N.Y., racetrack played host to a concert by Dave Mason, the English rocker who in 2004 was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a co-founder of the late 1960s/early ‘70s group Traffic.

He has played thousands of concerts in the interim, but somehow “Dave Mason Live at Belmont Park 1978” has survived the decades and is now available for the first time as a free download with the purchase of Mason's latest album, “Future's Past.” For more information on these new and old recordings, click here.

The 1978 concert at Belmont Park was not Mason's first trip to a racetrack. Far from it. Before he picked up his first guitar at age 15, before he played alongside music legends like Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and others, he was a kid growing up in Worcester, England, who tagged along to racetracks with his father, Edward Mason.

“My dad was mostly a punter, but he owned some racehorses at one time,” Mason said in a recent interview with the Paulick Report. “He'd been at one time a bookmaker. He made his money in ‘the running' (betting during the race as the odds shift).

“It's unfortunate they don't do that in the United States,” he continued. “It was kind of like betting on the stock exchange before it went electronic. You've got the guy with the white gloves, the tic-tac man, calling the odds out with his hand signals. My dad would take the bets, and it was on everybody's word; they'd settle up at the end of the month. He knew a lot of the big trainers and well-known jockeys. He was very entrenched in that world.”

Mason himself has not been tempted to jump into racehorse ownership. “I don't have enough discretionary dollars for that,” he said. “You need a good deal of fun money.”

He continues to go to racetracks on occasion when he's not on tour, mostly visiting tracks near his Southern California home. “I was friends with Scott Lavin (the late son of Glen Hill Farm owner Leonard Lavin) and we went to Santa Anita a good bit,” he said. “And I'd go to Del Mar with my sister, but she passed away a couple of years ago.”

The current “Dave Mason's Traffic Jam World Tour” takes him through Ohio, only a couple of hundred miles from Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., on the first Saturday in May, but Mason is playing concerts both on Oaks and Derby day.

Traffic Jam_Mason“That's one thing I've always wanted to do and I've never been,” Mason said of the Kentucky Derby. “I would love to go there. I never got to Royal Ascot, either. My home town, Worcester, had a racetrack, and I've been to Cheltenham, which is a beautiful place, along with Wolverhampton and quite a few others.”

Mason also put the Breeders' Cup championships on his list of horseracing events he'd like to attend, if time allows.

Now 67, Mason enjoys his music and touring as much as ever, playing songs both from his time with Traffic – tunes like “Dear Mr. Fantasy” – and a solo career that produced such hits as “Feelin Alright,” “We Just Disagree,” and “Only You Know and I Know.” When he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2004, Mason said rock and roll “is not an age, it's an attitude.”

Ten year later he elaborated on the comment. “You could apply that to anything,” he said. “Attitude is everything. There's nothing that says as you get older you can't enjoy things you did earlier in life. I wouldn't want to lose that feeling of the first rock and roll record I ever heard. I still love that stuff. To me it's the real thing: Eddie Cochran, Little Richard, Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps and the early, early Presley. It started with rockabilly, guys like Carl Perkins and Dorsey Burnette. Rock and roll, jazz, gospel and the blues – all of that comes from this country. Us English, we just copied it.”

I asked Mason about music's past and its future, specifically where he thinks the music industry is heading.

“After watching two robots (Daft Punk) get Album of the Year on the Grammys, I don't have a lot of hope,” he said.

And when asked what deceased musician from his past he would like to play with one more time, Mason didn't hesitate.

“Hendrix,” he said. “When I first heard him play, my first thought was, ‘I need to look for a different instrument.' There was no keeping up with him. I was lucky, got to spend some time with him, and do some recording with him, including All Along the Watchtower and Crosstown Traffic.”

When he's not touring, Mason lends his time to a charity he and a friend, John Niekrash, helped form in 2008 that helps returning war veterans start their own businesses or complete career education. Called Work Vessels for Veterans, it began when Niekrash, a lobster fisherman in Connecticut, bought a new boat and had to decide what to do with his old one.

“John thought, ‘Maybe I can find a veteran who could use this boat and do something with it,” Mason recalled. “It went from there to discovering that a vessel doesn't have to be a boat. It's a term for whatever gets you from here to there. So we help veterans start businesses so they can stand on their own two feet. That's our mission: a lending hand, not a handout. We refurbish laptop computers and give them to veterans.

“We helped one Iraqi war vet start a blueberry farm (Veterans Farm in Jacksonville, Fla., whose owner, Adam Burke, received the Presidential Citizens Medal from President Obama) and someone else started a cleaning business. The common denominator in a lot of things is ‘work.' It's helped a lot of them get through post- traumatic stress quicker, gives them some pride and dignity by being able to support themselves.”

It's been a long journey for Dave Mason, from the town of Worcester to the bright lights of a rock and roll star to the endless hotels and restaurants of the road. One of those stops, long ago, was Belmont Park in New York.

“I remember that day specifically because they were just overwhelmed with the number of people,” Mason said of the 1978 concert. “There's only a handful of shows that I still have (recordings of),” said Mason. “I was going to do something with this a long time ago but never did. There are some songs on here that I haven't performed in years, some cool moments.”

  • Tinky

    Terrific read. Thanks.

  • Figless

    Great stuff, great musician, good man, was hoping he might be part of the entertainment NYRA is promising on Belmont Stakes Day.

  • curbys

    Two of my favorites

  • coruptoarat

    Man, he could at least listen to RAM, before speaking about Daft Punk. Kind of annoying, when people trying judge them just because they wear helmets and produce electronic music. They’re shy. They’re not new group. They’re pioneers. More than 20 years in business. What he’s problem. And why he step so low to diss them. Who knows. Still respect him, but this part make me feel a little bit disgusted. IMO.

  • Hamish

    Mason is a cool cat. Plays with a feeling.

  • Danzig

    Saw him in concert in February and he is an incredibly talented musician. Wonderful concept and the charity work for our veterans is inspiring. Maybe if he plays Belmont Park again, it will bring good karma and produce another Triple Crown winner.

  • Chris Lowe

    Saw him in Binghamton, NY in 1977. He was pissed at Heart for playing too many encores before he went on. (I came within inches of catching a towel Ann Wilson wiped her face with and tossed to the crowd!)

  • Vudu

    Good profile. He is interesting, involved & the music’s good.

    The pre-release sample of the new album has my attention. Always enjoyed the “Certified Live” recording after Traffic.

    The article itself is extremely well written, flowing from beat to beat. Thanks.

  • jponyplayer

    Always loved this guy`s music. I still have some of his albums, “Let It Flow” “Mariposa D`oro”
    “Best Of Dave Mason” etc. Saw him live many times. He played at a club in my home town with Robby Krieger. When he introduced him there weren`t 3 people in the place that knew Krieger was the guitarist for the Doors.
    Great article, thanks

  • Figless

    Since his bucket list include attending the Derby be nice if next year they could add him to the infield entertainment schedule.

  • Stephanie Morse

    great story, thanks Ray

  • I think I just had a little “Low Spark of the High Heeled Boys” moment. Great read Ray.

  • Marlaine Meeker

    Thoroughly enjoyed reading! Great job Ray and thank you Dave Mason.

  • Dago44

    He came on stage and played at a Linda Ronstadt concert I saw once. Great guitar player. Alone Together is a brilliant pop album.

  • Michael Mckay

    I was there. I remember it being hot and crowded and people started throwing ice cubes, from their coolers, up in the air . Unique experience and he was terrific.

  • Sue M. Chapman

    Thanks for the memory, Ray. The “Backyard Concerts” at Belmont Park were great fun. Watch a few races on a warm sunny day, followed by followed by Dave Mason or Stevie Nicks up close and personal at beautiful Belmont Park.

  • Bellwether

    Love his music and my favorite line of his is “we shouldn’t have took more than we gave”…Think he was referring to the planet we live on???…They need to play his stuff on the air waves instead of that same old crap over and over!!!…ty…

  • Dr. Fager

    Excellent article!

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