Bob Welch saved Fleetwood Mac – Mick Fleetwood.
The way I left was wrong and a mistake. I should’ve told them right away but I was desperate – Jeremy Spencer
Wikipedia: “During a tour of the United States in February 1971 with new keyboardist Christine McVie now having joined the band, guitarist Jeremy Spencer grew disillusioned with his life in Fleetwood Mac. Spencer apparently had difficulty recovering from a mescaline trip he had experienced very early on the US tour. Shortly before a journey of the band from San Francisco to Los Angeles, LA experienced a major earthquake. Being in a fragile mental state and filled with strong negative premonitions, Spencer was very apprehensive about having to travel to LA.
He unsuccessfully pleaded with Fleetwood to cancel this leg of the tour. Shortly after arriving in LA, Spencer left his hotel room to visit a bookshop on Hollywood Boulevard. He did not return, forcing the cancellation of that evening’s concert while the band and members of their entourage went searching for him.
Some days later, he was found to have joined the religious group the Children of God, and he declared that he no longer wanted to be involved with Fleetwood Mac. Despite appeals from the band’s manager, Clifford Davis, to fulfill his obligations Spencer could not be persuaded to rejoin the band and they had to struggle on without him, first recalling Peter Green out of retirement as an emergency measure, and later recruiting new guitarist Bob Welch.”
Peter Green was convinced to join the band to complete their six-week tour but insisted on only free-form jamming. John McVie would remember that, “We were scared stiff. We would go on stage every night, look at the audience and not have a clue what we were going to play.”
Green could not be cajoled into rejoining the band and they needed another guitarist. Bob Welch, a California native, was brought to Mick Fleetwood’s attention by a friend of the band. Welch came from more of an R&B than blues background and – important for the band – was a cool guy and the “fit” was right. They toured around the UK doing a mix of blues and the stuff on Kiln House.
They started working on their next album Future Games, named for a Welch song. This was the first album to feature Christine McVie as a full member and the first of five with Bob Welch. Anybody looking for blues from this album should look elsewhere. This 1971 album is much closer in feel to the soft-rock Mac would evolve to later.
According to Allmusic, In the U.K., where the original lineup had been more successful, Future Games didn’t chart at all; the same fate that would befall the rest of its albums until the Buckingham/Nicks era.*
Christine’s “Morning Rain” is a perfect example of where they were headed. She has the lead vocal but harmonizes with Welch. There’s some nice guitar here (Kirwan?).
The album was doing pretty well in the States so off the band went to tour, not without incident. Fleetwood: “John McVie was drinking quite heavily. One night there was a terrible row. I poked my head out the door and saw Chris shouting at john. ‘I don’t have to take this bloody rubbish from you,’ she shouted. Her husband’s response was to throw a big woodworker’s awl at her which barely missed her and landed in the doorjamb with a murderous thunk.” (Who carries a woodworker’s awl around? – ME).
The band – and the McVies – survived this traumatic incident and spent the better part of the next year touring. Their next album (1972) was called Bare Trees. Danny Kirwan contributed about half the songs and the opening tune “Child Of Mine,” is a rockin’ good tune:
You’ll also recognize “Sentimental Lady,” a Welch tune which he later re-recorded and had a pretty big hit with. It sounds nice here with Christine singing harmony. My thought is you may not always like every iteration of Mac. But as a band overall they have great taste:
You are here and warm
But I could look away and you’d be gone
‘Cause we live in a time
When meaning falls in splinters from our lives
And that’s why I’ve traveled far
‘Cause I come so together where you are
The UK press dubbed the album “another nail in the coffin of the UK’s greatest blues band.” Maybe so but in the US I suppose nobody really gave a shit as long as it sounded good. And in 1972 we still had plenty of blues and blues-rock bands to listen to.
Now things were going just great, just fine and dandy. Except, well, for whatever reason, Kirwan and Welch did not get along on a personal level. It all came to a head – as these things apparently have to do for rock bands – when over a dispute in tuning their guitars (!), Danny smashed his Les Paul and refused to go on. (Not for the first time may I say that I have zero regrets about ever becoming a professional musician and opting for a life on the road. No thank you – ME.)
This was mid-1972. I’ll spare you all the details but according to MIck, “for the next two and a half years we went through hell.” Musically, glam-rock was starting to become popular in the UK so they had to rethink their approach. Plus when they decided to take a break and go off the road for a while, their manager put a fake Mac on the road to tour!
Anyway, they needed another guitarist so they got Bob Weston from Long John Baldry’s band. And for a while they brought on singer Dave Walker who had been with Savoy Brown.
Their next album (1973) was called Penguin, a nod to John McVie’s favorite animal. Dave Walker sings on a couple of tunes but it was later decided it wasn’t a fit and he was eventually dismissed. (Frankly, I kinda like his style on “Road Runner” ME).
I’m going with Welch’s tune “Night Watch” here. It is a good tune in his somewhat typical spacy vein. But I’m featuring it largely because it is (to the best of my knowledge) the last Fleetwood tune that Peter Green plays on. If you’re a Green aficionado you’ll recognize his reverb-heavy, echo-y sound in there somewhere:
According to MIck, Mystery to Me (1973) was “probably the best Mac album since Peter Green left the band.” Welch’s writing is all over this album. And for my money, if Welch had never written anything but “Hypnotized” it would have been sufficient.
“Hypnotized” is one of my very favorite Mac songs and got -and still gets – a lot of FM radio airplay here in the States. Welch: “‘Hypnotized’ was originally written for Dave Walker as a blues screamer. At the time I was very influenced by Carlos Castaneda and books on the Bermuda Triangle – that whole area where the paranormal intrudes upon reality.” Christine told Bob the song gave her the willies. It’s wonderfully weird and spooky.
They say there’s a place down in Mexico
Where a man can fly over mountains and hills
And he don’t need an airplane or some kind of engine
And he never will
Now you know it’s a meaningless question
To ask if those stories are right
‘Cause what matters most if the feeling
You get when you’re hypnotized
More drama! Mick was married to Jenny Boyd, sister of Patti ‘Layla’ Boyd. Mick, by his own admission, wasn’t very attentive. Bob Weston – notorious ladies man – was. If you know what I mean. If you catch my drift. So over the side of the ship he was tossed.
Bob Welch then convinced the band to relocate to California which at first they hated, then resisted, then loved. It turns out that California weather is a lot less dreary for one thing.
In 1974 the band released its final album (Heroes are Hard to Find) with Bob Welch. Interestingly by now the vaunted two-or-three guitar lineup was down to one guitarist and would stay that way until the post-Buckingham era.
For the finale, I chose this Christine McVie title tune as it is emblematic of the direction Big Mac would take in the next couple of years. Blues? What’s that? But doesn’t Christine have a wonderful voice?
Nothing bad happened between Bob Welch and the band. But after five albums he knew the time had come to strike out on his own. Just prior to that, Mick had been invited to check out Sound City studios in Van Nuys, CA. While there, the engineer demonstrated the sound of the studio by playing him a tune called “Frozen Love.” He liked what he heard and found out the guitarist’s name was Lindsay Buckingham.
“Who’s that pretty girl laying down vocals in the next room?” he wondered. The engineer told him her name was Stevie Nicks. But we’ll save that particular story for some future post.
*The band could reliably be counted on to sell about 300,000 albums consistently. The first album with Buckingham/Nicks tripled that. The next album, Rumours, has to date sold over 40 million albums, roughly 8x as many as all the previous albums combined.
Coda: Peter Green, Bob Welch, Danny Kirwan, and Bob Weston have all shuffled off this mortal coil. Mick and Jenny split up as did Christine and John.
On 26 February 2020, Jeremy Spencer made an appearance at a Peter Green tribute concert, marking his first stage appearance with Mick Fleetwood in 49 years. And they played some fucking blues. You can see it here.