Monday, June 12, 2017

Fleetwood Mac - 1967

I'm pretty preoccupied at times with bands that go through dramatic style shifts, bands whose evolutionary stages require digging through their back catalog like some fossil-rich strata of sedimentary rock. My preoccupation centers around my adamancy with regard to the real band. I can be flexible. Yes for instance can include Tony Kaye and Bill Bruford (who would argue otherwise) or Patrick Moraz, but the real band, of course, is Jon Anderson (no incarnation of Yes exists without him), Steve Howe (ditto), Chris Squire (the only eternal member), Alan White and Rick Wakeman. Eddie Offord is the producer and Roger Dean is the cover artist. Done. For Genesis, the classic 70s lineup features Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford, Steve Hackett and Tony Banks. (I'd like to include Anthony Phillips in the mix, but Trespass pales in comparison).

And few would argue the most impactful years of Fleetwood Mac. They sold millions of albums in the '70s, with a string of multi-platinum selling releases, including (at the time) the second biggest selling album of all time, Rumours. But the distinctive guitarist/songwriter Lindsey Buckingham, and that wistful gypsy-hippie-witch with the incomparable voice, Stevie Nicks, didn't join the group until 1975 . By then, the band had already been around for eight years, with a very different sound and line-up. This is my go to Fleetwood Mac, indeed I have stated off the cuff that "Landslide" is the last song I'd like to hear in my days on earth), and yet it is the earliest stage of Fleetwood Mac that reveals the most perfectly preserved evolutionary atavism known as the British Blues.

Fleetwood Mac was formed in 1967 by Peter Green, a blues guitarist who cut his teeth in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. When Eric Clapton left The Bluebreakers to form Cream, Green took his spot. Mayall famously told an engineer worried about Clapton's departure, "Don’t worry, we got somebody better," and B.B. King would later say of Green, "He has the sweetest tone I ever heard; he was the only one who gave me the cold sweats." 

Green soon left The Bluesbreakers to form his own group. He named his new band after his rhythm section, drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie. Green also recruited two other guitarists, Danny Kirwan and Jeremy Spencer, to play slide guitar. Spencer had studied recordings of the old slide master, Elmore James. He could ape James' style with a legitimacy that could only be perceived as a heartfelt homage. These old blues masters in fact got a kick out of this new-found attention and respect for their playing; an homage, they felt, was long overdue. 

Fleetwood Mac were young and successful, and enjoyed great popularity for a couple of years; they would play for hippie festivals and psychedelic house parties until things began to fall apart. Both Green and Spencer would soon go down the "I took too many drugs to deal with this shit" path already populated by Brian Wilson, Syd Barrett, and Skip Spence, among others. Spencer left the band to join a religious cult, the Children of God, and Peter Green was diagnosed with schizophrenia, likely self-induced through massive doses of LSD. He quit the band, cranked out a couple of incredible meandering blues-based solo projects, then vanished into all-but-total obscurity.

By 1973, the band, while still blues oriented had shifted tracks and now included Christine McVie, Bob Welch, Bob Weston, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood. They would release a single of "For Your Love" from the album Mystery to Me, that would go relatively unnoticed, yet the B-side was to become a staple of FM radio, Welch's smooth "Hypnotized." Don't expect "Tusk" or "Sarah" from this veneration of Mac, but if early Zeppelin, Cream and Paul Butterfield's Blues Band are your cup of tea, early Fleetwood Mac should not elude your ears any longer.