Nightline Playlist: Steven Winwood

Grammy winner Steve Winwood may be famous for his 1986 hit "Higher Love" and his collaborations with Eric Clapton, but at age 14, his music teachers certainly didn't foresee the British pop star's potential.

"I was dismissed from music school because I liked and enjoyed the wrong kind of music," Winwood told "Nightline" at New York City's Buddha Bar. "I liked Igor Stravinsky, but I also liked Fats Domino and Ray Charles ... and they [the teachers] said well, you've either got to forget about Fats Domino and Ray Charles or you have to leave."

Not willing to forget about either one of these jazz and rock sensations, Winwood said he was "happy to leave" music school and rightfully so. His departure gave him the freedom to pursue the "wrong" kind of music he enjoyed -- the kind that ultimately propelled him to fame.


Career in Music: 'Just a Matter of Fact'

Winwood grew up Birmingham, England, surrounded by music. His grandmother, grandfather, father and uncles on both sides were musicians. His father played '20s, '30s and '40s dance music, and blues and jazz were constants in the Winwood home.

"I was very interested in music right from the start, from the age of 7, 8, and I learned to play the guitar when I was 9," Winwood said. He also played the drums and piano, and he sang in his church choir as a boy.

While he didn't necessarily dream of being a music star from Day 1, it became clear from a young age that that was where Winwood was headed.

"I'm not sure it was a conscious decision that I wanted to make music my life for my career. I suppose it was a gradual thing. ... It just became a matter of fact that I just went and became a musician."

Music School Dropout to Grammy Winner

Shortly after he was kicked out of music school at 14, Winwood and his older brother, Muff, formed the Spencer Davis group. Winwood sang and played the piano and churned out a couple of singles under the alias Stevie Anglo, including hit "Gimme Some Lovin'."

Hoping to expand his repertoire, Winwood left the Spencer Davis group in 1967 and formed Traffic, a quartet that combined jazz, R&B, British folk and pop sounds.

It was during his time in Traffic that he met up with his old friend Eric Clapton, and they began collaborating.

Anticipation of Winwood and Clapton's collaboration was so great that concert promoters rushed to book the group before they had finished recording their album prompting them to name the band Blind Faith. Their first self-titled album was an enormous hit, but the pressures were too much, and the group disbanded before the end of the year in 1969.

Winwood continued to sing with Traffic until the band broke up in 1974. After an unsuccessful solo attempt and a break from music, Winwood came back bigger than ever in 1986 with the album "Back in the High Life." The album featured his first No. 1 hit single, "Higher Love," which sold three million copies and earned him a Grammy for best record of the year.

Winwood is now 60 years old, and still rocking. Last month, he released his ninth album, aptly titled "Nine Lives." The album represents much of what Winwood has been trying to do throughout his career, combining diverse genres such as jazz, rock, pop and international music.

'Well All Right,' Buddy Holly

Winwood credits Buddy Holly with helping him to form his musical ideas at a young age. Winwood grew up listening to jazz, but he was particularly struck by Holly's hit "Well All Right."

"It had a great effect on me. It was a great song, a lot of energy," Winwood said. It seemed to bring together lots of elements of pop music but with more urgency and rawness of some of the early jazz that I'd been hearing."

'What'd I Say,' Ray Charles

Ray Charles is perhaps one of Winwood's greatest musical influences. Winwood said Charles' music had a "profound" effect on him, introducing him to jazz as well as inspiring him to combine elements of different genres into one song.

"Ray Charles had a particular something about his voice that was really special," Winwood said. "There was an element of country music in there, blues and jazz. The way he played songs embodied all these elements. And I realized that was something that I wanted to do in music."

His favorite Ray Charles album is the 1960 live album "Ray Charles in Person."

"I remember that I used to skip school and go listen with a friend. ... We started to hear this Ray Charles, and it was like something we'd never heard before. So it certainly was a music that just created a whole change."

'The Sermon,' Jimmy Smith

Winwood was not only influenced by jazz and pop but also by the Anglican Church music he sang when he was a choir boy. One of Winwood's favorites is the 1957 R&B, soul and gospel song "The Sermon" by Jimmy Smith. Winwood admired how Smith revolutionized the traditional church instrument, the Hammond B-3, by using it in a jazz song.

"One particular influence was the great landmark recording, Blue Note recording, that Jimmy Smith made of 'The Sermon,'" Winwood said. "This was something that was the way of playing the organ, which from that point forward every other organist had to recognize that this was the definitive organ track."

'In a Silent Way,' Miles Davis

Winwood counts Miles Davis among his influences because Davis took risks and blurred the boundaries between jazz and rock. Winwood's favorite Miles Davis album is the 1969 "In a Silent Way," which is widely regarded as one of the first jazz-fusion albums.

"He was using lots of elements of rock music. He was using gadgets, and of course, lots of mainstream jazz enthusiasts condemned him for it," Winwood said. "But I think that 'In a Silent Way' was a landmark piece of music ... not only for me but for the world in general."