FACE OFF with MICK FLEETWOOD

The long-limbed percussionist legend and founding
father of Fleetwood Mac tells hair-stripping tales of
Green-age kicks, persistent little lies and an immortal
Brit Awards albatross.

Classic Rock Magazine
January 2003

MICK FLEETWOOD has bad a textbook rock'n'roll career. He can tick the boxes marked 'multi-platinum success' and 'mayhemic excess' with equal relish. He can point out both the quiet brilliance of his band's music and the technicolour madness of their internecine relationships. He can giggle at the fact that both of those have probably contributed equally to that famous baldy head. Best of all, he can legitimately say that he has restored order to this wild tale, settled down with his beautiful wife and eight month old twin girls, and is back in the studio with his semi-eponymous band once more.

Now 55 years old, he appears quite unflappable, whether addressing the rumours about 'Rumours' or why, way back in time, he didn't think Peter Green was good enough Io join his band. The lanky drummer will even give a wry chuckle when reminded of when be competed the 1989 Brit Awards with Samantha Fox a disaster on a scale so great that the next year's awards were handed over to Jonathan King.

A new DVD and video of his life, The Mick Fleetwood Story, addresses his importance as a blues musician (it includes testimony from BB King and John Lee Hooker), and it doesn't whitewash his mistakes, either. On the telephone from Los Angeles, marbles still, remarkably, entirely intact, Mick Fleetwood is ready to look back over a life lived in rock'n'roll...

They say that if you can remember the 60s you weren't there. Can you remember much from that period?
"Sure. I can remember everything. I remember Peter Green turning up for his first audition. He looked like a whaler, something from Moby Dick. He plugged in, and Pete Bardans, the keyboard player who was working with me at that point, said: 'What do you think?' And I, very foolishly, said: '1 don't think he's good enough.' Ha!"

You had a good ear, then!
"He just played the one thing, which - to a young man, as I was, in my defence wasn't what I thought I'd hear. But Peter Bardens said: "No, you're wrong. This guy played so little that I know he knows what he's doing.' He was so confident, he only played one or two notes. And I was worried that, because we were really a backing band at that stage, be wouldn't be able to play all our stuff. But what he had was a recognisable style, which of course was the beginnings of a really fantastic career."

How would you describe Peter Green as a man?
"That he had a real ambition. He bad a real sense of commitment to what he was doing. You've got to understand that we were young, and we weren't thinking, is he the greatest? Is he this, is he that? But as a man I can tell you I was, even unwittingly, learning what passion meant.
"I can't really describe it, or how you went about getting it, but Peter had a lot of information inside himself that he needed to get out. And playing the guitar and having an ability to move people was his safety valve. I thought that that was really cool. And rather clever, really. If he hadn't got a way of getting it out he might have been in great trouble, even in those days. And I thought how fantastic that he's expressing himself. Because if you have that opportunity all the way through your life you're truly blessed. It allows you to get your feelings out. And he was one, if not the best, example of that for me at that time."

In those early days, did you have any kind of driving ambition?
"No. It was very much in the moment. It was just to play. and make a living. It was very simple."

A lot of people seem to have rose-tinted glasses recollections of that era. What was it really like?
"It was great. It was tough work; no trappings of pop star existence. It's like when you talk to a young college grad who's worked for the Red Cross. they invariably come back and say that it was the best experience that they've ever had. And then they proceed to tell you how hard they've worked. But they saw the results of what they were doing to help people. In our way, we worked extremely hard without even batting an eyelid just to have the opportunity to get on the stage and play. And then to get an audience, it was like a drug - your whole life was about getting to play to more people. We were like pigs in shit. The hard work just evaporated into the ether. "I went to see the Stones the other night. They played a small theatre, a little cinema; it was very personal. It was mind blowing. These guys, at the top of their trade, were just like when I used to go on tour with them in the old days. How cool is that? And the reason they do that? They were out there pushing broken down vans up hills, sleeping on each other's floors, just doing it. And you can't buy an experience like that. It stands you in great stead. It represents that you really love to do it. They're not different now, with all the trappings of a zillion dollars and stuff. When they're on that stage they're the Rolling Stones. And that was so apparent.
"If you buy into all the adulation and buy into all the trappings, you don't know who you are any more  and by that I mean the essence of what you are; the reason you started has long since disappeared. And that's a problem, in terms of credibility."

The original Fleetwood Mac had some success, 1hen in 1970 Peter Green left. it looked like the band was falling apart. How did you deal with that?
"We didn't, really. Peter Green left the band, and yeah, you're right, in Europe we didn't do diddly-shit. But we didn't feel that, because we were in America. We built our college circuit, the same as we had in England. Had we continued with Peter we would have toured more and more in the States, and then we'd have gone home and done Europe and built up on both sides of the Atlantic. "What would have happened, one wouldn't really know. I think we would have become a band probably somewhere along the lines of a Led Zeppelin. Knowing how prolific Peter was as a writer, I think Fleetwood Mac would have become a major, major band. That's what I think. I see the type of music we were starting to play, and how profound it was, and bands like Aerosmith and stuff were all super fans of Fleetwood Mac. Bands like Santana playing 'Black Magic Woman'... these were all Peter's songs."

Do you have some mild regret for not taking that road?
"I don't have a mild regret, but I have a vision of what it would have been. Looking back, I think that's pretty much where the band would have ended up. Had Peter stayed, and the original band stayed together, ! truly think we would have been very active today. If Peter hadn't had the problems he had in his private life  he was such a powerful talent, and the band was a great band  that's what would
have happened.
"In answer to your question about how did it feel for that not to happen, we didn't really feel it at all. We didn't work in England. We didn't want to feel any damage in England, and we never did. But what we did was build a career in America that, ironically, turned into something so huge that the second wave of Fleetwood Mac came back to England, and a lot of people who didn't know the name probably would have thought we were an American band. It's a weird twist."

Was it part of a cunning masterplan to bring attractive women into the band?
"No. We had a break in one of our many tours, and I went to see a studio, and I just met someone in the supermarket. I'd met him before, and he said: 'What are you up to?' I said I was in town pricing out studios. He said: 'Why don't you come out and look at Sound City? What are you doing now?' "I ended up in Sound City with all my supermarket shopping in the car. And, lo and behold, a guy called Keith Olsen was there, and he played part of a Buckingham Nicks album he'd produced, just to demonstrate, so I could hear what the room sounded like. It was the first time I'd heard their music. And it affected me. "Bob Welch, Peter Green's replacement Fleetwood Mac wasn't very happy, and at the end of a tour he handed his notice in. Without taking too much of a breath myself, I remembered what I heard in the studio, and I phoned up that night. I said: 'Remember that tape you played me? Who are those people?'"

You'd  never even seen them?
"I'd apparently met Stevie [Nicks] and said hello. I don't remember. I remember seeing her, that was about it. Lindsey [Buckingham] knew Fleetwood Mac. After we'd asked Lindsay to join, Keith [Olsen] said: 'Well he'll never leave Stevie...'"

But bringing in those two people changed the entire direction and dynamic of the band?
"Oh yeah. It was great. That's exciting. Me and John [McVie] welcomed that. We didn't want people in the band that sounded like Peter Green. There's only one Peter Green. I just went for  people that moved me. I certainly can't be accused of having a band that tried to pretend they sounded the same as the band before. That's why we survived - because we weren't afraid. "Stevie and Lindsey were there for one reason,  certainly in the beginning, and that was Lindsey's, unique guitar playing. I believe I do know when a good guitar player walks into the room, because I've played with the best. Lindsey was nothing like Peter Green, but he was totally unique. I don't know anyone on this planet who plays like him. It looked like an opportunity. And like Stevie said, she was getting fed up with waitressing.

People tend to think of two things when someone mentions 'Rumours': the brilliance of the songwriting, and the personal ruin occurring simultaneously.
"Yes, that's fair. Certainly the old emotional melting pot definitely had a lot to do with a lot of the crafting and essence of those songs. And it wasn't easy. The turmoil, though, never threatened the band breaking up. Almost unbelievably, we got through that. It took a long time. It wasn't just a couple of bandmates throwing beer bottles at each other, these were people who were deeply involved with each other. Stevie and Lindsey and John and Christine [McVie] had full-on relationships with each other.
And l was like piggy in the middle. And my life was falling apart because my marriage was breaking up. Every one in the hand was going through exactly the same thing. Strangely enough, because of that we all identified with each other and our own pain. It became a weird, perverse binding. The one thing we had was playing music together, and it was great."

Usually it's retrospective, though - an artist will make a great album after the event, rather than during it.
"A very good point. It was absolutely in real time - no wonder I haven't got any hair. We were on such a roll creatively that it dulled the pain."

But it was the beginning of a period of hideous, retro-70s rock'n'roll excess  at very the birth of punk.
"Well, I loved the fact that it [punk] was there. And as smooth and luscious as Fleetwood Mac is, we never became a band like ABBA or something. I love ABBA, but one thing ABBA is not is a rock'n'roll band. Fleetwood Mac is still a rock'n'roll band. Certainly there's a darkness to it, and when we go out and play it's not, like, pussy music, this is balls to the wall stuff. "What made this band is that we have licence to do all sorts of different things. And that's pretty unique. It's fair to say that that's why we're surviving. A lot of the stuff on 'Tusk' has a certain, quote, 'punk' element. It's sort of out there, it's raw and it's wild, and then you get one of Christine's songs that's just mellow and beautiful."

You've become associated with various on-the-road 'myths'. Is it all true?
"Most of it probably is. But Led Zeppelin, all the big bands, had these stories that become bigger than life. It's a bit of this and a bit of that. I remember Stevie did have a white piano winched into her hotel room. We had to get a crane to put it in the window. We just thought, this is a laugh. There was seemingly no social conscience. No one was worried about anything. "The one thing we were blessed with was making more money than we'd ever need in our lives. And we spent fortunes of our money in the studio. What better thing to spend it on? There's a reason why our albums did what they did: we worked incredibly hard at it. We took time. We ploughed huge amounts of our own money in. Rather than saying, just put a piece of shit out there, they'll buy anything." "Hearing about pianos and Lear jets, sure, that's classic rock'n'roll excess. But when you've been slogging away for 20 years and it suddenly hits like that, no wonder you go out and do crazy stuff."

Did you once drive a car from the back seat?
"That's true, yes. I'm tall enough to lean over and drive with my arms."

0kay, it's the inevitable 'Brits fiasco with Samantha Fox' question. Discuss
"It's amazing that that fiasco  and that's what it was has endured. To me it's like, wow. Who cares? I don't know how to answer. It was definitely a fiasco, and I felt terrible at the time. It was so not Samantha Fox's  bless her little cotton socks  or my fault. "That particular show was the first time they'd opened it up to the general public. They put 300 fans of some boy band [Bros] at the front. Consequently you couldn't hear anything on stage. They screamed the whole way through the damned thing. The whole production broke down and I was left floundering because they couldn't communicate. We were hung out to dry. They did at least take out an advert trying to explain it was not our fault. By then it was too late. We got screwed, and it was a nightmare. I couldn't wait to get out of the country. We looked like a couple of idiots up there. Such is life."

 

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