Strictly speaking, there were really several versions of Fleetwood Mac. But in reading about them, you can really break them down into three phases – Peter Green (blues-based), Bob Welch/Christine Perfect McVie (pop and rock), Buckingham/Nicks (rock, soft-rock.) I’m calling the Bob Welch version Mark II.
I’ve already written about the Peter Green version way back when I first started blogging. In this post, I’m going to start by showing the transition and then in the next one deal with the Welch (and Bob Weston) years.
Fleetwood Mac had been a very successful blues band both in the States and especially in the UK. They were very true and very faithful to blues and the late Sixties were a very fervent time for that genre. There was no reason to believe that they wouldn’t or couldn’t continue in that vein for a while.
But if you read Mick Fleetwood’s autobiography, while Peter Green was a great blues guitarist, he was also a highly sensitive man who was never quite comfortable either with the trappings of fame or even with material possessions.
According to Fleetwood, when they’d be on the road in a hotel or even when they were in the middle of playing, he would try to harangue the band into giving all their material possessions away. “I had conversations with Peter Green around that time,” said Fleetwood, “and he was obsessive about us not making money, wanting us to give it all away. And I’d say, ‘Well you can do it, I don’t wanna do that, and that doesn’t make me a bad person.”
Even though the guys in the band didn’t know it at that point, Green’s days in the band were numbered. Now, the following song was released several years prior to Peter’s departure. But I am including it here not only because it’s a cool, dreamy song but also because it begins to point the way to a different, non-bluesy Mac
“Albatross” was a success in several countries and remains Fleetwood Mac’s only number-one hit in the UK Singles Chart, spending one week at the top in January 1969:
Wikipedia: “Green’s bandmates began to notice changes in his state of mind. He was taking large doses of LSD, grew a beard, and began to wear robes and a crucifix. While touring Europe in late March 1970, Green took LSD at a party at a commune in Munich, an incident cited by Fleetwood Mac manager Clifford Davis as the crucial point in his mental decline.”
The last Mac single with Green in the band was called “The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown).” Mick Fleetwood: “A sinister throb, majestic blues chords, a howling banshee guitar powered this appalling song about the temptation to descend into madness – the relentless hellhound on Peter Green’s trail.
This descent into the maelstrom was written after a terrifying nightmare, Pete told me. He had woken up in the middle of the night transfixed with fear, unable to move or breathe. It was Peter’s awesome valedictory, his way of saying goodbye to Fleetwood Mac.”
After a final performance on 20 May 1970, Green left Fleetwood Mac. Needless to say, this left the other guys in a bit of a panic. It’s always tough to lose your leader especially one with as powerful a presence as Green. However, Green had had the presence of mind to name the band after his rhythm section. Who knows? Maybe he figured he’d be leaving one day. And one cannot overlook the incredible determination of Mick Fleetwood to keep this band together.
Guitarists Danny Kirwan and Jeremy Spencer were left with the unenviable task of replacing Green. In September 1970, Fleetwood Mac released their fourth studio album, Kiln House, so named for an Oast house, a building designed for kilning (drying) hops as part of the brewing process. The band was living communally there at the time.
Kiln House is a good album but it is decidedly not a blues album. It’s fascinating to see how bands change over time based on the composition of its members and perhaps the dominance of one. In the same way that the Allmans got a little less bluesy and more country on Duane’s death and Dickey’s ascendance, so too did Fleetwood Mac change.
Jeremy Spencer had always been an outlandish live performer to the point of doing Elvis impressions while wearing a gold lame suit. (And hanging milk-filled condoms off his guitar pegs.) And so on this album, you begin to hear his strong 50’s influence with songs like “This is the Rock” and “Buddy’s Song,” inspired by Buddy Holly. (And with the writing credited to his mother.)
This is the first album without Green. It is also the first appearance of Christine (Perfect) McVie, who had married bassist John McVie a few years prior. She was not a member of the band and isn’t even credited. But she drew the album cover, played piano and provided backing vocals. They’d known her since her days in a fairly popular band called Chicken Shack.
Even though Mac wasn’t playing as much hardcore blues as before and probably lost a few fans, over the years they managed to maintain a pretty good fan base. Blues-rock was still popular at least into the mid-Seventies. But by 1970 you had artists like Elton John, Carole King and James Taylor plying their trade. So there was a built-in audience of people likely completely burnt out from the Sixties.
That said, there’s some pretty good rockin’ numbers on this album and I think it deserves a listen. But I kinda like “Station Man” with its distinct laid-back Delaney and Bonnie feel:
And just in case you were afraid that Big Mac forgot how to rock, I leave you with the tasty guitar-driven blues of Danny Kirwan’s”Tell Me All the Things You Do.”
Next (and last) – Fleetwood Mac get Hypnotized.
Sources: Wikipedia; Fleetwood – My Life and Adventures in Fleetwood Mac. Mick Fleetwood.