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The History of Fleetwood Mac
Finding Fleetwood Mac
My conscious introduction to Fleetwood Mac occurred in the summer of 1977. I had just graduated from high school and purchased my first really nice stereo system. My friend John had recently bought a new set up too. We decided bring our new amps and speakers to one place to see which of them we liked best. The recording we chose to make our comparison was Rumors. We hooked up John's monstrous Klipsh Horn speakers to his Harman Kardon amplifier and put the LP on the turntable and cranked up "Second Hand News". Wow, what a great song. Wanting to be fair we thought we should switch the turntable over to my Powered Advent speakers and pre-amp then listen to the same song while it was still fresh. I remember there being a marked difference in the audio quality and we never went back to John's components.
The rest of the afternoon was spent listening to the Rumors album over and over. We were amazed by what we were hearing. The entire record was incredible. The range of songs was so vast for one band and the fact that three very distinct voices took the lead so well, had us marveling. I was so intrigued had to hear more of this band that I had just discovered. I quickly found "Fleetwood Mac" the album released two years earlier and realized that I had heard many of the songs before. Upon further digging I found out that Fleetwood Mac had been around since the late 60s. With each new album I came across I realized there were songs I had heard and loved without knowing who the band was.
Fleetwood Mac has a history as storied as any band with roots in the British invasion and branches as American as Grand Funk. In this lens I hope to pique your interest and remind you of the phenomenal talent that have called themselves Fleetwood Mac for forty-five years. There are always Rumors that the band will reform but until then...
Go Your Own Way
The Early History of Fleetwood Mac
Could it be a proper Rock n Roll story if Eric Clapton wasn't involved somewhere? For Fleetwood Mac Mr. Clapton was involved at the very beginning. Eric was the guitar player in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers from March 1965- July 1966, after having left The Yardbirds. Early in the summer of '66 Clapton was unavailable for a few Bluesbreakers shows and Peter Green was asked to fill in. Shortly after Green's fill in stint Eric Clapton left the band and Peter was asked to take his place for good.
"A Hard Road" was the first album Peter Green played on with Mayall's band. He was lauded for his work on the recording. John McVie was the Bluesbreakers bass player at the time and he and Green got along famously. After a number of months in the band Peter asked John Mayall if they could replace the Bluesbreakers drummer with Mick Fleetwood. Green and Fleetwood had played together in two previous groups. Mayall went along with the request and the Fleetwood-McVie rhythm section was formed. Green, McVie and Fleetwood developed a strong friendship in the ensuing months.
For Green's 20th birthday in October of 1966, Mayall gave him some free studio time. Peter, John McVie and Mick used the gift to record 5 songs together. One of the songs, an instrumental, Green entitled "Fleetwood Mac". Some months later Peter Green resigned from the Bluesbreakers and shortly thereafter Mick Fleetwood was fired for drunkenness. Green asked Fleetwood to join his new band; they both desperately wanted John McVie to come along. Peter called the band Fleetwood Mac in an effort to convince McVie to join them. McVie was reluctant to leave the security of the Bluesbreakers and declined.
The first incarnation of Fleetwood Mac consisted of Peter Green on Guitar and vocals, Jeremy Spencer on slide guitar and vocals, Mick Fleetwood on drums and Bob Brunning on Bass. Brunning was well aware that his tenure with the band was completely contingent upon McVie. This version of Fleetwood Mac made its debut at the Windsor Jazz Festival on August 13th, 1967 not many weeks later McVie left the Bluesbreakers to join his friends.
"Fleetwood Mac" was the name of the band's first album, a straight ahead blues recording and was released in February 1968. The record was successful in Britain hitting number 4 on the album charts as it did not have any singles. Later that year the band released two singles "Black Magic Woman" (later a big hit for Santana) and "Need Your Love So Bad".
"Mr. Wonderful" was the band's second album which came out in 1968. The recording was once again all blues though they went for an old-school sound by micing the instruments in the studio rather than the accepted method of plugging directly into the audio board. A horn section was also brought in along with a keyboard player named Christine Perfect who we will hear much more from for years to come.
Following the band's second album, eighteen year old guitar phenom Danny Kirwin was added to the band. Though young, Danny was an accomplished player with a unique style that was a result of teaching himself the instrument. With three guitarists the musical possibilities for the band were greatly expanded and it didn't take long for Kirwin's influence to take the band to new heights.
In 1969, after Danny joined Fleetwood Mac, Peter Green's song Albatross became the bands first number one hit in Europe. Recorded and released as a single before ever making it onto an LP, Albatross is one of very few tracks from this era to make it onto the later greatest hits packages. Peter had been working on the song for some time but with Jeremy Spencer uninterested in collaborating, was having trouble finishing it. Kirwin came into the picture bringing just what Albatross needed for completion. The song was recorded without Spencer present and a Kirwin instrumental number was chosen as the B side. One other really cool item of interest concerning Albatross is that it was a major influence for the Beattles song Sun King found on the Abby Road LP which came out later in '69.
Trying to keep one foot in the blues genre, Fleetwood Mac went to the US in January of 1969 to record some tracks at the legendary Chess Records Studio. They recorded with the likes of Buddy Guy, Willie Dixon and others. These would be the last blues only recordings the band would make. Rock and Roll was beating at the door and Fleetwood Mac was about to let it out.
At the same time the group was going through this musical metamorphosis they were in search of a new record label. There were a number of suitors, not the least of which was the Beatles' Apple Records (George Harrison's wife at the time, Pattie Boyd (Layla) was the sister of Mick Fleetwood's then spouse Jenny). They ended up signing with Warner Bothers' Reprise Records who they are still with today.
In September of 1969 the first Reprise recording "Then Play On" was released. The American album contained Oh Well which is still one of my favorite songs of all time. Oh Well is a classic that's stood the test of time through all the incarnations of Fleetwood Mac. It has been sung by Peter Green, Bob Welch, Lindsey Buckingham and Rick Vito. Other bands to cover the tune are Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, The Rockets, Joe Jackson, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and even Jimmy Page playing with The Black Crowes.
By now (the fall of 1969) Fleetwood Mac was very popular in Europe and that poularity brought with it problems. While in Munich Peter Green was given LSD which soon put him into a state of schizophrenia. One of the ideas that came out of this state was that the band should give all of their money away to help those less fortunate. Needless to say, the rest of the band didn't agree and the resulting rift led to Peter leaving the band.
Peter's last hit with Fleetwood Mac was The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Prong Crown) recorded in February of 1970, the song was later covered by Judas Priest. Green's last performance with FM was in May 1970 at a show that fittingly ran too long and had the power to the stage cut off. The night ended with Mick drumming away.
Fleetwood Mac no longer had its founder and a new season was on the horizon.
Peter Green still plays today, frequently touring as Peter Green and Friends. He is well known in the guitar community and is considered a legend. His tone and style of play are often imitated and he makes it onto "all time lists" often.
Fleetwood Mac on Amazon
And the Band Played On
Danny Kirwin and Jeremy Spencer were now charged not only with the task of filling the holes left by the departure of Fleetwood Mac’s founder Peter Green but also taking the lead on the future musical direction of the band. Kirwin’s style was in line with what was about to become ‘70s rock while Spencer was set on reliving the country twang of 50s rock. The first Album released after Green’s resignation was “Kiln House” and the contrast of the varying styles was evident, you could definitely tell who’s songs you were listening to.
Another development at this time was the reappearance of Christine Perfect. Christine had some minor success with a band called Chicken Shack but was considering retirement. She was asked to sing backup on “Kiln House” and drew the album cover as well. Around this time, Christine and John Mc Vie fell in love and were married. Christine Mc Vie did not become an official member of Fleetwood Mac until August of 1970.
From here we can pick up the pace a little bit. In Early 1971 Slide guitarist Jeremy Spencer told the band he was going out to get a magazine and never came back. After days of anxious searching they found out that he had joined a religious group then known as Children of God. Desperate to continue their tour without interruption, they asked Peter Green if he would be willing to fill in for the remaining dates and he obliged.
Following the tour, in the summer of ’71 the band began auditioning guitar players hoping to replace Spencer. A close friend suggested Bob Welch, an American guitar player, singer and songwriter who was living in France at the time. After just a few conversations and without having played with or listened to Welch’s recordings, Fleetwood Mac hired him, once again taking the band in another musical direction. The most successful and well know album from Fleetwood Mac’s Bob Welch years was the “Bare Trees” record. The song, Sentimental Lady enjoyed some success on the charts though not nearly as much as it would five years later when Welch recorded it on his solo record “French Kiss”. French Kiss was backed by the Mc Vies, Mick and yet to be mentioned members of FM.
Danny Kirwin was fired from the band in the fall of 1972. He had been struggling with alcohol and was drifting away from other members of the band. After an altercation with Welch during a sound check, Fleetwood was forced to ask Kirwin to leave. Danny’s guitar playing was replaced by Bob Weston and his vocal slot was filled by Dave Walker both of whom had been in the band Savoy Brown. The now six member Fleetwood Mac released the album “Penguin” in early 1973. They followed with a tour but shortly after the tour closed Walker was let go as it wasn’t felt his style fit well with the rest of the group.
Fleetwood Mac was once again a five piece band. They recorded another LP that came out in the summer of ’73 but the supporting tour fizzled before completion under personal stresses. John and Christine were not getting along and Bob Weston and Mick Fleetwood’s wife Jenny Boyd had an affair. Weston was sacked and the tour died.
From here things got really strange not just Fleetwood Mac strange, which is saying a lot but in the history of Rock n Roll strange. In 1974 “Fleetwood Mac” started a tour through the US. The tour was set up by Clifford Davis the bands manager. When the tour started there were no members of the actual band in the lineup. In fact no one on the tour had ever been in FM. The story that was being told was that John McVie and Bob Welch had left the band and that Christine and Mick were taking a brief rest and would join the tour soon. John Courage, the band’s road manager, realized after the first show that something wasn’t right and hid the equipment being used for the tour that belonged to the real FM. The Fake tour ended up folding but a huge lawsuit followed.
The story diverges from here for a bit, one version is that no one in the real FM knew anything about the Fake Mac tour and that Clifford Davis set it all up himself based on his belief that he owned the name “Fleetwood Mac”. The real FM sued Davis to establish ownership of the name. Another version of the story is that Mick Fleetwood had been involved with Davis in setting up the Fake US tour, that he had planned on joining and was hopeful that Christine would come along with him. When things fell apart Fleetwood denied involvement and joined with the rest of the real band in the lawsuit.
The legal troubles kept the group from doing anything for nearly a year. During that period Bob Welch returned to LA to keep up with all of the lawyers. The band was also without a recording contract at this time. Bob was able to convince the rest of the band that moving to CA was their best move to re-sign with Warner Bros. who was based in LA. The label was hesitant to enter into a new contract without knowing who owned the name “Fleetwood Mac”. A letter from the hugely famous promoter Bill Graham was instrumental in convincing WB that FM was indeed Mick Fleetwood, John Mc Vie, Christine Mc Vie and Bob Welch. A contract soon followed and the band was allowed to begin recording again.
This did not end the lawsuit but at least music was back in the mix. “Heroes are Hard to Find” was the first album after the new contract. For the first time in Fleetwood Mac history the band had only one guitar player, Bob Welch. For the ensuing tour the band added a second keyboard player to fill in for the lack of another guitarist. The tour succeeded in selling “Heroes” better than any other FM record in the States but proved to be the end for Bob Welch as he tired of the touring and was fed up with all of the legal battles. In December of 1974 Welch left the band but continued to be managed by Mick Fleetwood.
The Welch years came to a close but Bob played an important role in setting the band up for the success that was on the horizon. The move to LA and the influence Welch had on the music of the group was so important but often overlooked.
The Buckingham Nicks Era
With Bob Welch now gone, Fleetwood Mac was without a guitar player and was missing a key ingredient in their artistic direction. Mick Fleetwood began to look for someone to replace Welch. His quest led him to the Sound City Studios in Van Nuys, California where audio engineer Keith Olsen played Mick a song called “Frozen Love” by a band named Buckingham Nicks. Lindsey Buckingham and his girlfriend Stevie Nicks had recently moved in with Olsen, as they were short on cash. The pair had met Keith as the Buckingham Nicks album was being mixed at Sound City. Fleetwood loved the song and asked about the guitarist and was told that he could meet him since Lindsey Buckingham was down the hall recording some demos. Fleetwood and Buckingham hit it off immediately and Mick asked Lindsey to join Fleetwood Mac. Before accepting, Buckingham let it be known that unless Stevie Nicks was also offered a position in the band he would not be interested. Mick wisely agreed and would soon take in the benefits of the best decision he ever made. Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks became official members of Fleetwood Mac on New Year’s Eve 1974, less than a month after Welch left the group.
In 1975 the new Fleetwood Mac released “Fleetwood Mac” again a self-titled album. The first “Fleetwood Mac” is sometimes called “Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac” to avoid the confusion of two recorded collections bearing the same name. The ’75 album became a huge hit and brought the band to a level of success that they had never come near. “Fleetwood Mac” sold five million copies and put the group at number one on the charts for the first time. The singles you will best remember from this recording are Christie McVie’s “Over My Head” and “Say you Love Me”, and Stevie Nicks’ “Rhiannon” and “Landslide”.
It’s a shame but all too often professional achievement comes at the cost of personal loss. 1976 was a great year for the sales of Fleetwood Mac but was tragic to the relationships within the band. John and Christie McVie were divorced, Mick Fleetwood and his wife Jenny ended their marriage and Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks closed out their long-term romance. The pressure that comes with wealth and fame combined with the self-imposed need to top “Fleetwood Mac” with a more successful LP led the band to heavy drug and alcohol abuse. No wonder the personal tension was more than they could handle. This is where the story ends for many bands.
Fortunately for Fleetwood Mac broken hearts often result in great art. “Rumours” was the result of the emotional roller coaster each of the members of FM had experienced and it was a masterpiece. The pain they had been through resulted in fantastic music. The list of hits from this album doesn’t skip a title from the label. Buckingham’s “Go Your Own Way” and “Second Hand News”, Nicks’ “Dreams” and “Gold Dust Woman” along with Christie McVie’s “Don’t Stop” and “You Make Loving Fun” are just the beginning of the classics on this record. Remember “The Chain”? It was the only song on “Rumours” written by all five members of the band. The album made it to number one on the charts, as did many of the singles. “Rumours” won the Grammy award for album of the year in 1977 and has sold over forty million copies worldwide making it one of the most successful recordings ever. As I mentioned earlier in this article this album was my introduction to the phenomenal career of this amazing band.
In 1979 Fleetwood Mac released the follow-up to “Rumours” The album was titled “Tusk” and can be considered the bands most ambitious album. Lindsey Buckingham took the creative lead on “Tusk” and did most of the writing for the record at his home and then would bring the songs to the band to work on in the studio. It’s said that “Tusk” reflects Buckingham’s affinity for New Wave Music. “Tusk” was a twenty song double album that produced three hit singles, Buckingham’s “Tusk” which featured the USC marching Band, Christie McVie’s “Think About Me” and Stevie’s “Sara”. The LP sold four million copies but was considered a failure by the record company, as it came nowhere close to the sales figures that “Rumours” had produced. The label blamed Buckingham while the band sited poor marketing as the culprit. Sales of four million records is not a failure and would be celebrated by nearly anyone. Besides it was a double album so let’s call it eight million. Fleetwood Mac supported “Tusk’ with an eighteen month world tour and caught much of the tour on tape that resulted in the 1980 release “Fleetwood Mac Live”.
In 1981 Stevie Nicks put out a solo album called “Bella Donna” while Lindsey Buckingham released “Law and Order” as a solo project. They then hooked back up with FM to work on “Mirage”. “Mirage” was a return to the style of music that had launched the band to the top of the charts. The album was recorded at a chateau in France and had four songs make the charts, “Hold Me” and “Love in Store” by Christine, “Gypsy”, a Stevie song and Buckingham’s “Oh Diane” and “Eyes of the World”. “Mirage" sold over two million copies in the US and the band was once again at the top of the charts. The tour that followed the album only visited 18 American cities.
Fleetwood Mac took a five-year break following the “Mirage” tour. Stevie resumed her hugely successful solo career. Christine and Lindsey each released well received solo projects while rumors circulated that Fleetwood Mac was history. Mick Fleetwood filed for bankruptcy during this time, John McVie suffered from drug problems and Stevie went to the Betty Ford Clinic to get help with her substance abuse. Though the future didn’t look bright for the band, Buckingham was not willing to let “Mirage” be the last offering from the group.
The Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Christine McVie, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks roster of Fleetwood Mac would release one more album, 1987’s “Tango in the Night”. “Tango” would be the band’s most successful release since “Rumours”. It was a huge hit in the UK hitting the number one spot on three different occasions, sold over three million copies in the US alone and had four hit songs, “Little Lies” and “Everywhere” by Christine, Stevie’s “Seven Wonders” and Lindsey’s “Big Love” all charted highly.
Burned out from the pressure to make “Tango in the Night” successful. Lindsey Buckingham announced he was leaving the band shortly before the ensuing tour. Many of the songs on the album were written for a solo project Buckingham was working on. He played all of the instruments on some of the songs and felt like he just didn’t have it in him to continue with the band. This marked the end of an era but not the end of Fleetwood Mac.
This is is an amazing video of Stevie Nicks getting make-up done before a show in New York. She starts singing "Wild Heart" and someone puts the instrumental demo recording on, then she really takes off. I love this video as it gives us an insight in to just how much Stevie loves to sing. We can clearly see how it makes her come alive and how truly talented she is.