|"True Brit", In Style, October 1997|
At his historic manor in the English countryside, classic rocker Steve Winwood enjoys a nineties kind of wild and woolly life.|
Standing in a spectacular amphitheater, Steve Winwood awaits his cue while several background singers finish belting out some saucy two-part harmony. "Talk about great pipes!" says the 49-year-old rock singer, whose stage companions break occasionally to nibble on hay and cut grass. A chorus of moos and baas resonate in the vanishing winds; held motionless against the breeze, a flock of rooks call overhead. "When you live in such a spiritual place," says Winwood, "you can't help appreciating all the natural music in the air."
Those melodies are familiar to Winwood, who grew up a distance north of this Cotswold farm. They sound particularly sweet to him because he has spent so much of the last 35 years on the road. Winwood left school at the age of 15 to be the soulful lead singer of the Spencer Davis group, whose hit singles "I'm a Man" and "Gimme Some Lovin'" remain vital rock anthems. Later, he formed the exotic, progressive band Traffic, and in 1969 cofounded the short-lived , high-voltage supergroup Blind Faith with his longtime pal Eric Clapton. He went on to perform on his own and produced some highly acclaimed solo albums, including last summer's Junction Seven.
|The need to make music without having to worry about the neighbors propelled him to buy this ancient manor house nestled among the mist-capped hills of the British Midlands. "Here, we could get home after a gig and jam all night or all day if we wanted," he recalls. "That made living in the country pure, selfish bliss."|
The explanation, much like Winwood's music, is so much understatement. The property, which is listed in the Historic Register, offers vast pleasures as well as privacy: more than 300 acres of sylvan farmland inhabited by a case of, well, thousands. Herds of cows and sheep roam the pastures, goaded playfully by Winwood's golden lab, Charlie. Two horses, Rupert and Honey, laze about in a dusty corral. The chicken coops are bare - "for now," Winwood says expectantly. It is a near-storybook world for his American-born wife, Eugenia, 38, daughters Mary Clare, 10, Eliza, 8, and Lily, 2; and son Cal, 4. Leaving his state-of-the-art recording studio - situated in a quaint cottage a few steps behind the house - he encounters his doe-eyed son, who wants to discuss their upcoming visit to an antique steam train. "Working at home requires more discipline, " says Winwood, whipping Cal high onto his shoulders. "I record early so I can be with the children when they get home from school, then I go back to the studio after they're in bed. It's the only way a working rock musician can help raise a family."|
His country crash pad turned into a home again 10 years ago, after Winwood met Eugenia at New York's Lone Star Café, then a fabled mecca for musicians. "It was my first time in New York," she says, betraying a delicate Nashville twang tweaked by a hint of the King's English. "I'd gone to see Junior Walker and the All Stars, and Steve was at the next table. We were introduced and have been together ever since." At home, they resemble the Beverly Hillbillies, she jokes, coaxing their 2-month-old pet lamb, Darla, out from under the family station wagon. "I'm a country girl, and Steve's a gentleman farmer."
A second home in Nashville that they visit frequently has helped them bridge any cultural gaps. "It was very hard," Eugenia says of the early years of their marriage. "It's a different pace here in England, and people are slower to accept strangers. But it's the best place to raise children. And once I knew I could go home anytime, then everything was fine." Although Winwood appreciates Nashville's country music and says that the down-home food "beats anything we have here," Eugenia suspects that her husband misses real British ale (he calls American beer "gnat's piss") and jaunts to his local pub, the Seven Tons.
|Their sprawling English home began in the 11th century as a one-room cottage with massive walls, which was called the dairy. Today, the dairy has been transformed into a cozy family room, buried under stacks of records and CDs, but the original owner, says Winwood, "probably has animals in the house." In the Middle Ages, the area experienced a wool boom, and with the prosperity it brought, various owners began adding on rooms: The drawing room, with its gnarled wooden beams, materialized before 1500, followed by the medieval entry hall, with its view of the pebbled front drive, where carriages once deposited guests attended by their resplendent footmen.|
|"This is the youngest room," Winwood says, pushing open the telephone-book-thick wooden door to the grand dining hall. "Here the owner would show off his wealth with high ceilings, a fancy fireplace and big windows." Before Eugenia moved in, the room was, in her words, "quite cold," with a huge pipe organ and a grand piano cluttering the center. "We used to jam in here," Winwood says. "Once we had 20 Brazilians going at it - Airto Moreira, his wife, Flora Purim, and all their friends. Fabulous musicians with rhythms echoing off the bare walls - it was just great!"|
|That was before Steve and Eugenia "debachelorized" the house. Eugenia redecorated the rooms with the help of Nashville-based designer Kathy Anderson. The two old Music City girlfriends - mindful of the stigma attached to Americans renovating an English manor ("We stayed away from pinks and turquoises," she jokes) - scoured neighboring Gloucestershire antiques shops for indigenous "chunky style" furniture, as Eugenia casually describes it. Although dark, hand-carved pieces tend to dominate the rooms, the woman added cheerfully colored accent pieces and made the drawing room more intimate, with twin sofas, an upright piano that was a gift from Eric Clapton, and a gallery of family photographs. The pictures are of the family's frequent ski adventures, of Steve and "his girls" in Ireland, of Eugenia's grandparents, of Steve and famous falconer Roger Upton ("He's a great bloke!") on a Hebrides falcon outing, as well as bumper-to-bumper shots of Traffic. In the dining room, a soft powdery finish on the walls serves as a backdrop to a Belgian tapestry and the landscape paintings that Winwood has collected.|
"The house is English formal, but we still have jams - every Sunday," Eugenia says. For these occasions, she specializes in one-pot meals that she serves up to the friends - among them, some of England's rock elite - and family members who drop by to play. Sometimes, with a bit of coaxing, Steve's brother Muff, formerly of the Spencer Davis Group, picks up an electric bass. Winwood's nephew Sam, Muff's grown son, often takes over the drum chores, stationed opposite Mary Clare, who sings or provides dulcet violin accompaniment, to Dad's delight.|
Fortunately, Winwood, who hits the big five-O next year, doesn't suffer the vanity of many aging rockers. "I actually enjoy getting older," he says, with an innocent gaze that belies a life spent in the fast lane. "It's more relaxed. Besides, you can go on making music until you're 90. And now there's a rock audience the same age as I am." He hopes to ring in his second half-century with an all-star bash on the front lawn next May. "I'd like to have three bands going all day and night - maybe a folk band, and R&B band, and a Latin band."
"Can't Find My Way Home," one of Winwood's signature pieces, may be among the songs performed, but from the looks of his life today it no longer rings true.
-- Bob Spitz
Page created October 22, 1997.
Last updated October 22, 1997.
© 1997 by the author; reproduce only for non-commercial purposes and with full attribution.