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Traffic - John Barleycorn Must Die RIAA Certified Gold! Click here to see this CD at!

By John Milward

Traffic's third studio album is also its third best, ranking below the band's superb second record (1968's Traffic) and its psychedelic debut (1968's Mr. Fantasy). The depth of those albums came from having two superior songwriters, Steve Winwood and Dave Mason; by John Barleycorn, Winwood was leading a trio that included Chris Wood on horns and Jim Capaldi on drums. Winwood now supplied guitar as well as keyboards, and songs like "Glad" and "Freedom Rider" reflected the trio's fondness for instrumental jams. But the 1970 album is remembered most for the title tune, a traditional folk tune blessed with one of the finest vocals of Winwood's long career.

1. Glad4. Stranger To Himself
2. Freedom Rider5. John Barleycorn
3. Empty Pages6. Every Mother's Son


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Is John Barleycorn Must Die one of your favorite albums? What interesting or amusing stories can you tell? Wanna write a review? Share your stories (or your reviews) with the world! (We print the best stories right here!)

Your Memories Shared!

" Getting out of the Navy in 1970, I found myself free to indulge into the "Culture' unhampered by scrutinizing authorities. A night I will always remember was going to the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. It is one of the premier acoustical theatres in the country and we were all pretty high on natural substances that evening. The warm up act was Cat Stevens doing his newly released, "Tea for the Tillerman" album solo which was a treat in itself, but the best was yet to come. Traffic, with Rick Grech on bass, hit the stage and took us on a tour visiting all of "Barleycorn" peppered with previous stuff. Starting with "Medicated Goo", they covered "Feelin' alright", "Forty Thousand Headmen", "Shanghai Noodle Factory" and finished with a mind-blowing "Mr. Fantasy". People were screaming out requests at the top of their lungs but as soon as the first chord was hit the din died and Traffic performed their magic with no interuptions. During the jams Winwood would be building on the organ and Chris Wood put his sax down and slowly worked into things with the piano. In turn Winwood would hop over to the guitar and start setting a grove when Chris turned and began building with his sax/wah wah set-up. While all this was happening Grech and Capaldi were laying down the base and rythym pattern as a foundation. The mesmerizing peak of the set was when Jim C. and Steve W. did "Barleycorn" with Wood's haunting flute work in the background. You could hear a pin drop, the audience was practically hipnotized. This happened 33 years ago and I still get chills thinking about it. What a night. I caught them at Cornell's fieldhouse when they expanded the band with "ReeBop" and others when "Low Spark" was released. They shared the bill with "Fairport Convention" [post Sandy Denny]which was another of my favorites and it was a great concert, but the steaming fieldhouse was not the Academy and the young student body didn't reflect the same as the inner city Bohemian eclectic electric drop-out tribe of Philly.

In any case, I hope anybody who reads this can relate to what I've shared. Back in those days demographics weren't squat and the "hype" machines hadn't trained their guns on that part of the music scene yet. Hell, FM stations were basically underground with not much commercialization of any kind to ruin the experience like the present. I'm glad I was a part of it.

PS- I later named one of my dogs, "Barleycorn". He was as unique as the tune."


"I bought this album when it first came out after seeing Traffic at the old Mother's club in Erdington High Street, Birmingham, circa 1969/70. It has to be one of my all time favourite albums - sounding just as relevant now as it did then. Love it!"


"Your review is very good. In the slavishly copyist band scene of early Super70s Melbourne, Australia, Traffic was a mainstay. However, John Barleycorn was not copied. The earlier albums are undeniably popier and broad based acceptable.

I want to add that there is another album called, "Here we go round the Mulberry Bush" from the same era. It is from the film of the same name. Traffic and other likewise artists fill the ledger. The film sound track and initial psychedelic sequence is out of kilter and vastly superior to the subsequent show. I saw the film in 1969 and bought the album. Unfortunately I think I have played it to death, despite upgrading my record player in the last few years.

I worked in a record shop in Sunshine, Australia during Christmas 1968. We sold a few Traffic records, "Shanghai Noodle Factory" was the most popular. Music hall influenced songs were very popular, we also sold many copies of The Small Faces "Renie".

I can say that John Barleycorn was a tad inaccessible to the youth of the district where I lived. I only got a copy recently. I would say that the remarkable lyrics and unique-English folkiness were probably seen as elitist and quaint in a hard-edged 'protest' and HM scene."


"Traffic's "John Barleycorn Must Die" is indeed the group's third best album -- behind "The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys" and "Welcome to the Canteen" studio and live albums respectively, that were powered by Jim Gordon's hurculean drumming, Rick Grech's fat bass and Reebop Kwaku Baah's incredible percussion. John Barleycorn's strength lies in Winwood's ability to play everything (he even tackles the drums on "Starnger to Himself"), Capaldi's thought provoking lyrics and workmanlike drumming, and, in particular, Chris Wood's sax and flute solos. It was Wood who discovered the Waterson's version of John Barleycorn and brought it to the attention of the others. Wood shines on "Glad" the instrumental opening track. His foghorn sax soloing provides the foundation "Freedom Rider". His flute solos are jazzy and and bird-like, almost in direct contrast to those of one of the era's other renowned flute players Ian Anderson, who tended to sound more traditional.

As if to prove he can play in an old english style, Wood's whispery solos give the title track a feel reminicent of the best of Fairport Convention. "Empty Pages," the third track on the album has an infectious beat provided by Capaldi, who gives one of his best performances onb drums. Wood provides sweeping chords on the organ, while Winwood tickles the electric keyboard and resurrects the soulful Motown singing style he used in Spencer Davis. "Stranger to Himself" is an eerie guitar driven piece that shows Winwood was not only a superb keyboard player, but could bend the strings as well.

The album's closer, "Every Mother's Son" is another underappreciated highlight combining gospel/soul and rock that features a lengthy Hammond organ solo by Winwood and more surprisingly solid drumming from Capaldi. An excellent album (Five stars out of five), but I'd have to give the nod to "Low Spark" as their best album being it not only combines jazz/rock/folk/African/Latin influences (sometimes all in the same song)-- it has a real band. (The group found playing as a trio so taxing, they quickly hired Rick Grech to play bass).

John Barleycorn is a must have for any would be Traffic fan, but go out and get "Low Spark," "Welcome to th Canteen" and Jim Capldi's first solo album, "Oh How We Danced" is you want to hear the group at it's best."


"The title track is a haunting song, with so many meanings. It can most easily be seen as allegorical, with "John Barleycorn" really being barley personified. It is much more subtle than one might expect from a folk tune over 500 years old. Gotta luv it."


Looking for a rare import-only single, a gold record, world tour book, hard to find magazine, an autographed guitar, or simply this CD? You'll find them at eBay!



Artist: Traffic

Released: January 8, 1970

Availability: CD, Vinyl

Awards:  Gold

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