Nearly 25 years after he hit the British pop music scene as a teenage vocalist, Steve Winwood is recapturing the popularity of his youth with the help of Nashville and Memphis session men.
The Grammy Award-winning artist's new album and hit single of the same name, "Roll With It," harken back to his days in the mid-1960s with the rhythm and blues-styled Spencer Davis Group.The move to Tennessee, he says, gave him the chance to go back to his musical roots on the new album.
"It certainly reflects the fact that I've been in Tennessee," Winwood said in an interview. "It has a Memphis feel to a lot of the songs. Since I've been down here I've had a strong interest in the musical history of the area."
Winwood had his first taste of stardom at the age of 16 when he was the lead vocalist on the Spencer Davis Group's hit "Gimme Some Lov-in.' " He later had stints with Traffic and Blind Faith before going on to a solo career.
Two recent albums, "Arc of a Diver" and "Back in the High Life," went platinum, and the single "Higher Love" from the latter won Winwood Grammys for record of the year and best male pop vocalist in 1986.
He calls his latest release a "happy album."
"There's nothing melancholic about it," he said.
Winwood credits several factors for the upbeat mood of the LP.
"At 40 years old, I'm having the best album and the best part of my career that I've ever had. I'm also very happily married and I have a beautiful little girl," he said.
Winwood married Eugenia Crafton of Nashville in January 1987. They have a baby daughter, Mary Clare, and keep homes in Nashville and Britain.
On his latest work he tapped trumpeter Wayne Jackson and saxophonist Andrew Love of the Memphis Horns for the album. Nashville's Mike Lawler plays keyboards and Michael Rhodes plays bass on the album and during Winwood's 31-city tour this summer.
Winwood and his band will perform at 7:30 p.m. July 18 at ParkWest.
Winwood loves the rhythm-and-blues sound that first made him popular with the Spencer Davis Group, and he still listens to it. But when asked if a reunion was possible, the veteran rocker said it isn't likely.
"There are no plans at all for a reunion. I couldn't say it isn't entirely impossible, but my brother (former band mate Muff) hasn't played bass in 10 to 12 years," he said.
"Roll With It" has a distinctive rhythm-and-blues sound that comes with the gutsy brass of the Memphis Horns and the bop of the Hammond B-3 organ. Winwood is unsure if renewed interest in the blues among American audiences is contributing to his success.
"I'm never quite sure about audiences," he said. "I am getting more influenced by rhythm and blues. But about audiences, I don't really know. I tend to think it's a mistake to aim for a certain audience."
Though he now lives and works in the country music capital of the world, Winwood seemed a bit surprised by the diversity of musicians available. He plans to collaborate with more Nashville musicians, although he hasn't decided who.
"I will use, and am using, musicians from Nashville, but I don't think it will have the obvious effect. I won't be using a fiddle player or steel guitar," he joked. "But there are great musicians here not only in the country field but great rock 'n' roll players.
"I don't think it will affect the music so much. It won't affect the writing. Wherever I go it usually comes out sounding like a Steve Winwood album."