Winwood is a multi-instrumentalist who plays the electric organ, synthesizers, bass, drums, guitar, mandolin, violin and other stringed instruments.
His trademark style is singing in a tenor voice and playing the Hammond organ. In addition to his solo career, he was a member of the bands the Spencer Davis Group, Traffic, Blind Faith and Go.
In 1986, Winwood went to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 with his song "Higher Love," and with this earned the year's Grammy Award for Record of the Year and another Grammy for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance.
In 2005, Winwood was honored as a BMI Icon at the annual BMI London Awards for his "enduring influence on generations of music makers."
In 2008, Rolling Stone magazine ranked Winwood #33 in its 100 Greatest Singers of All Time.
In the beginning...
Born Stephen Lawrence Winwood in Handsworth, Birmingham, England. Winwood's father was a semi-professional musician, playing mainly the saxophone and clarinet. Winwood himself first became interested in swing and Dixieland jazz and began playing drums, guitar, and piano as a boy.
He first performed with his father and older brother Muff in the Ron Atkinson Band at the age of eight. He was also a choirboy at St John's Church Perry Bar and later admitted to having "sneaked a few plays" of the organ at the church.
While he was still a pupil at the Great Barr School, Winwood was a part of the Birmingham rhythm and blues scene, playing the Hammond B-3 organ and guitar, backing blues singers such as Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, T-Bone Walker, Howlin' Wolf, B. B. King, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Eddie Boyd, Otis Spann, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley on their United Kingdom tours, the custom at that time being for US singers to travel solo and be backed by pickup bands.
At the age of 14 Winwood joined the Spencer Davis Group, along with his older brother Muff, who later had success as a record producer. Steve's distinctive high tenor singing voice and vocal style drew comparisons to Ray Charles. At the end of 1965 the group had their first number one single with "Keep On Running." His success allowed Winwood to buy his own Hammond B-3 organ.
|The Spencer Davis Group|
Baker, Winwood, and Grech stayed together to form Ginger Baker's Air Force, but it turned out to be just another short-lived project.
Winwood soon went into the studio to begin work on a new solo album, tentatively titled Mad Shadows. However, Winwood ended up calling Wood and Capaldi in to help with session work, which prompted Traffic's comeback album John Barleycorn Must Die.
In 1972, Winwood recorded the part of Captain Walker in the highly successful orchestral version of The Who's Tommy. In 1973 Winwood recorded an album with Remi Kabaka, Aiye-Keta, for Antilles Records. In 1976, Winwood provided vocals and keyboards on Go, a concept album by Japanese composer Stomu Yamashta.
Constant artistic differences and personnel changes led to Traffic's final break-up and Winwood's release of his self-titled first solo album in 1977. This was followed by his 1980 hit Arc of a Diver (which included his first solo hit, "While You See A Chance") and Talking Back to the Night in 1982. Both albums were recorded at his home in Gloucestershire with Winwood playing all the instruments.
In 1986, he enlisted the help of a coterie of stars to record Back in the High Life in the US, and the album was a hit. He topped the Billboard Hot 100 with "Higher Love," and earned two Grammy Awards: for Record of the Year and Best Male Pop Vocal Performance.
At the peak of his commercial success, Winwood moved from Island Records to Virgin Records and released Roll with It and Refugees of the Heart. The album Roll with It and the title track hit #1 on the album and singles charts in the summer of 1988.
He recorded another album with Jim Capaldi released under the Traffic name, Far From Home, then resumed his solo career with his final Virgin album Junction Seven.
In July 2007, Winwood performed with Eric Clapton in the latter's Crossroads Guitar Festival. Among the songs they played together were "Presence of the Lord" and "Can't Find My Way Home" from their Blind Faith days.
In February 2008 Winwood and Clapton released a collaborative EP through iTunes titled Dirty City. Clapton and Winwood released a CD and DVD of their Madison Square Garden shows and then toured together in the summer of 2009.
A new studio album, Nine Lives, was released in April 2008 on Columbia Records. The album opened at #12 on the Billboard 200 album chart, his highest US debut ever.
Also in 2008, Winwood received an honorary doctorate from the Berklee College of Music to add to his honorary degree from Aston University, Birmingham.