Modern Drummer [June 2003]
It seems as if Fleetwood Mac has always been there. Like the pyramid on the back of a dollar bill, even when you're not thinking about them, they're close by, representing something valuable, historic, and a little mysterious.
Fleetwood Mac's songs, especially the enormously popular mid-'70s singles like ''Go Your Own Way,'' ''Landslide,'' ''Over My Head,'' ''Rhiannon,'' and ''Don't Stop,'' are part of the landscape: in heavy rotation on various radio formats, covered by current hit-makers (like the Dixie Chicks)--even in political campaigns. Of course, Fleetwood Mac hasn't really always been with us. With roots in John Mayall's seminal Blues Breakers, Fleetwood Mac was born of the same blues-obsessed mid-'60s British rock revolution that spawned The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, and Led Zeppelin. When Mayall's lead guitarist, Eric Clapton, decided to cut short a self-imposed hiatus, his replacement, Peter Green, was out of a gig, and decided to start his own band. The better for us. After they added guitarists Jeremy Spencer and, later, Danny Kirwan, the band indisputably played the British blues better than any of their peers. Green was a rock God. Kirwan and Spencer were tremendously talented. Mick Fleetwood and John McVie were the ultimate rhythm section--a fact supported by Peter Green's naming the band after them. And they were visionaries. Driven by Green's expanded consciousness and impeccable taste, within two years the Mac were moving way beyond the style they epitomized, and into new realms of rock experimentation. Numbers like ''The Green Manalishi,'' ''Albatross,'' ''Black Magic Woman,'' and ''Oh Well'' were imitated, and in some instances copied outright, by the top hit-makers of the day. But eventually Green, then Spencer, then Kirwan couldn't handle the spotlight, and the band entered a productive if less successful period in the early '70s. Then the weird and wonderful happened. A pair of LA singer-songwriters, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, joined the veteran rhythm section, which had by then been augmented by McVie's keyboard-playing wife, Christine. It was magic, a perfect musical combination realized at the perfect time. Multi-multi-million-selling albums like Fleetwood Mac, Rumours, and Tusk turned the players into household names, the details of their soap-opera lifestyle as famous as their songs. Of course, nothing lasts forever. Solo careers and disillusionment sent the band spinning for a few years, though Mick Fleetwood continually pushed to keep the name aloft. In 1997, the highly unlikely happened: That famous lineup reconvened for a hugely successful tour. Today, a double best-of CD has primed the pump for the first new studio album by the Fleetwood/McVie/ Buckingham/Nicks lineup in fifteen years. (Christine McVie has opted out this time around.) And Mick Fleetwood has reasons of his own to celebrate. His new drum-loop library, Total Drumming, is in some ways the most profound culmination of his hugely influential drumming career. He's the recent father of two twin girls, Ruby and Tessa. And he's about to embark on another adventure, doing what he was born to do: Take new music out on the road, and entertain the fans. For this month's Playback, we asked Mick to start at the beginning....
Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac (1968)
I'd played in several groups around London with people like Peter Bardens and Rod Stewart. One day I got a call from Peter Green, who said that Aynsley Dunbar was no longer going to be part of John Mayall's Blues Breakers, and did I want the gig. My tenure with Mayall was fairly short-lived, owing to vast amounts of alcohol. He was like a schoolmaster, very strict. He's actually still a dear friend, but the combination of me and John McVie and being twenty years old was deadly. One of us had to go, and John had been with Mayall forever, so off I went. But Peter called me up and said, Let's do this thing. We'd heard about Jeremy Spencer, a slide guitar player, and we asked John to leave Mayall, but he didn't want to because he was making too much money. We debuted at the 1967 Windsor Jazz Festival without John, in front of 15,000 people. He stood at the side of the stage watching us. And the band was called Fleetwood Mac [laughs]. It didn't take long for him to jump ship. For our first album, our show just needed recording. Our goal was to sound like Elmore James and the other artists we worshipped. A lot of the reason we got into those artists was the sound. So we were very intent on getting as near as we could to that. Basically it was all about mic' placement. Count the band in and play. No overdubbing, no nothin'.
Then Play On (1969)
By this time the art of recording had started to take hold. It became a different animal. Peter was majorly starting to experiment. We were beginning to understand the art of overdubbing and creating a broader musical spectrum. On the first track, ''Coming Your Way,'' you can hear conga overdubs. I've still got those congas. They're actually fiberglass--not very traditional, but in those days I thought they were very flashy. The thing that appealed to me was that they wouldn't get trashed in the back of the van. We didn't have cases in those days. God knows I do some very simple things, but the one comment that l do enjoy hearing from fellow percussionists is that whatever I do, I do it musically. And that's the greatest compliment I could get, because that's how I feel when I'm playing. Sure there's some technique. But that childlike thing...I know that I really feel things, and that comes at least partly from having played with Peter Green. I know what it's like to have tears rolling down my cheeks, realizing that what this guy is doing is really moving me. And that whole element follows through to my playing today: When I do percussion overdubs, it's from a very different perspective sometimes.
Kiln House (1970)
This was the first album without Peter Green. At the time I thought, Well, if this band breaks up, I'll be unhappy, so l better keep this band together. And that became the beginning of a full-time career with me, making sure that Fleetwood Mac, at all costs, keeps going forward. So I rented this lovely farmhouse, Kiln House, from a friend of mine, who moved out with his wife into a gypsy caravan. We lived in the middle of the English countryside in the summer, a big wild hippie family. And it really worked. It kept the band together. And it led to Christine McVie feeling so sorry for us, she joined the band. [laughs] Jeremy was great at doing home demos on Revoxes, with multi-tracking harmonies, so we used a lot of those techniques on the album. If you listen to the drums, they're very closed down, very tight. There may be echo on them, but the source sound employed a lot of close miking. I used towels on the drums to keep them very muted, quite Beatle-esque. We had a lot of fun doing things like that.
Mystery To Me (1973)
Bob Welch came to us through a friend of ours, and I invited him to come to the Benifolds house, where we were now all living--continuing the effort to ensure we didn't go off the rails. Bob instantly brought something that we all thought was really cool. He knew all the jazz chords, and he was sort of ethereal and strange and poetic. And even though Bob brought a totally different look and style, fans came with us. We certainly started to do quite well in America. We played a lot of colleges and built up our audience there. Mystery To Me was probably our strongest album from that period. Recording at home allowed us to have complete freedom, because we didn't have the costs of the studio to hamper us. Because we were renting the Stones' mobile truck, it was much more cost-effective, so it was more fun. We could stop and go down the pub and have a pint and come back home, and ... Oh yeah, let's do some playing. There was a lot more creative stuff going on between the bandmembers.
Fleetwood Mac (1975)
Stevie and Lindsey joining the group was sort of a glorious accident. During one of our touring breaks, I went to look at a studio to record the next album. During that brief moment I was there, I heard a tape with Stevie and Lindsey on it. Then Bob Welch left the band, so we went straight into the studio with Keith Olsen, who'd been working with Stevie and Lindsey. Stevie and Lindsey already had a bunch of songs, so there wasn't too much hanging around writing. Lindsey was used to doing all the production work on their songs, and had been very familiar with Then Play On. He also assumed that we could play a certain way. I'd be like, Well, I'll try to do that, but I don't know whether I can. [laughs] I'll listen to something that he will have demo'd and go, Oh God, the bass drum is doing all these figures--not a hope in hell will I ever get that right. So I wind up doing something that has some of the elements of what is needed, but expressed in the only way I know how.
By the time it came to Rumours, we spent an incredible amount of time with Ken Caillat and Richard Dashut getting drum sounds. We had made some money, so that was the beginning of the very extended album projects. We took a beating here and there about ''the excesses of the '70s,'' but if you've been blessed with making a lot of money, what better thing to do than to spend it on making the music? There were so many things I was able to try--some of them complete failures. I remember one lunatic idea: We were having trouble with the bass drum at The Record Plant in Sausalito, and I tried taping three bass drums together. It didn't work, so we just moved some mic's.
Going into Tusk was frightening for Lindsey, because he was worried that there were some weird things he wanted to do that he wasn't sure he should ask us to do. But Tusk turned out to be one of the most important albums this band ever made. Then Play On and Tusk are my favourite Fleetwood Mac albums. They're cool and adventurous, and I played some really good stuff on them. As a percussionist, the thought of hitting a Kleenex box in a bathroom and miking it...to me, if something sounds good, go with it. Early on we did some of the same stuff with Jeremy Spencer. You'd hear something that sounds like a big thick cushion hitting someone over the head, and it was a close-miked pencil hitting the side of a chair. So this type of thing wasn't any big deal to me on Tusk. And I would draw on my own experiences. I was blessed to be at quite a few of the Beatle sessions, because I was at the time courting the girl who was to be my wife, Jenny Boyd, who's the sister of George Harrison's wife Pattie. I remember being a fly on the wall at a couple of the major sessions, like ''Maxwell's Silver Hammer.'' They literally had an anvil in the studio. I thought that was the greatest thing since sliced bread. We didn't use this, but I remember one time that slapping the side of my leg wasn't working for this effect we wanted, so we got a leg of lamb from the butcher. On ''What Makes You Think You're The One,'' the drum sound was Lindsey's old Sony ghetto blaster. We opened the mic's up so that it was recording straight onto tape, and that overload and compression is straight off the ghetto blaster. It gave it that ''suck and push'' sound.
The Visitor (1981)
The Visitor is the highlight of my musical career in terms of my visualizing something and then executing it. I was familiar with and loved a lot of African music; I had a great professor at UCLA who was Ghanaian, and he was very helpful before I even got into it. The whole premise was not to emulate or become an expert on African music, but rather to put two completely different elements together and have them both survive, meet halfway. People joke that I must have African blood in me somewhere, because I so get it, without even knowing what it is. It's about body language. Certainly I've been drawn to a lot of tom-tom work. So it was just a really happy marriage.
Mirage (1982) Tusk, though definitely a success, was no 17-million-seller like Rumours. Management and the record company viewed this as us ''going downhill,'' though of course we didn't view it that way. So coming off Tusk, there was some conversation about us being a little bit more traditional Fleetwood Mac on Mirage, and there's no doubt that even though it did have some hits on it, that album was played a little safe. Not that Mirage was a mistake, but we would never go there again in terms of playing it safe.
Tango In The Night (1987)
I thought that album was fantastic, very modern. A lot of the production skills were representative of where Lindsey was at the time. And I did many overdubs, so you got a lot of blend of drums and machines--humanizing something that might have been a little bit uninteresting. Unfortunately, during the making of that album, we had drifted apart as people. Before we went on tour, Lindsey left the band. We all had our various crosses to bear at that time. But he decided he couldn't see the light at the end of the tunnel. That was when Billy Burnette and Rick Vito came in.
Behind The Mask (1990)
Behind The Mask didn't do incredibly well for us commercially, and that was the beginning of a weird journey where John and I did what we've always done, which is, We must continue. Eventually Stevie left, and we brought Dave Mason and Bekka Bramlett in for Time. But then Christine got disenchanted and left. And Time was not a success. The signs were on the wall: This needs to stop. So we did.
The Dance (1997)
As time went on, my relationship with Lindsey was growing into a really good one. We'd made amends and reconnected. Lindsey was working on a solo album and doing a lot of experimenting, and he asked me to play drums on it. We had a great time, just the two of us working together for the first time in many years. Pretty soon it was, Who do you think should play bass on this? We tried a bass player and it didn't work out, so John came and did some bass playing, then Chris came in and did a little keyboard thing. Then people saw us working together and said things like, Do you realize it's the twentieth anniversary of Rumours? After a while, we got nudged by so many people saying, Why don't you all get back together and celebrate your reunion? Eventually Lindsey just said, Screw it, let's just do it. So Lindsey dropped the work on his album and we went into rehearsals for what turned out to be the live album The Dance, which was the beginning of a major resuscitation of the original bandmembers.
Say You Will (2003)
The whole intent from The Dance on was to do a new studio album. Christine had become disenchanted with the travel and had some personal issues, which just meant that we couldn't book more tours. It was sad, but it's led to us doing something quite different. The new album is produced and primarily engineered by Lindsey. All of the sensibilities of being an adventurer are back. He's been given free rein. The album certainly has elements of Tusk. But it is still accessible. We also made a decision not to work with someone who was conversant with Pro Tools, because we wanted to do this album in a very personal way, and that meant literally not having other bodies around. With all the ups and downs with this band, we sometimes sit and say, What a chemistry we have. And when you fire it up again, Oh my God, it's still there. And there is humour about what we do now, so we're simply not going to do something that ends up being miserable. There are incredibly deep relationships between these people, unlike any other band that know.
Mick Fleetwood's Total Drumming Loop Library
Long before Mick Fleetwood was approached to put together a drum loop library, he says, ''I was one of those drummers who snobbishly looked at this type of thing and said, 'Why would you want to do that?' But why not use electronics as a tool? It's just a different method to get some of the same elements.' Anything that encourages the creative process,'' insists Mick, ''or anything that enhances someone who's already part of that process, is a good thing. With this loop library, students can analyze certain aspects of what's being offered on their palette. There's a spectrum of manipulations. You're free to be totally creative with...with me!''
Producer Jonathan Todd Talks About Total Drumming
are the loops on Total Drumming organized?
They're divided into two sections: wet loops and dry loops. Then each of those two categories is divided into rock, blues, and funk. Those are subdivided into fills, beats, and one-shots.
Can the loops be used on any system?
Yes. We produced everything in pure wav files, so even outside of Acid, these loops are just as viable. And you don't need a computer to use this library. The new porta-studios out there have a loop import function on them.
How did you decide on what the loops were going to sound like?
We wanted Mick's sounds to be subliminally familiar and acceptable on a platinum-selling level. We'd play him an old track, then turn the headphones off, and just let him go. So there are things in there that are reminiscent of ''The Chain'' or ''Tusk,'' but they are not those songs.
What instruments did you use?
We actually used many of the drums that Mick originally played on the various recordings. Early on he used Paiste cymbals, later he used Zildjians. We needed to represent that. During the Rumours period he used Kevlar ''bullet-proof'' heads, so we had to find some of those. I had the huge gong from The Dance shipped in. We brought in the Taos drumset from New Mexico.
Where did you record?
I looked at all of these studios I had worked in over the years, and hands-down the best studio for this project was Joe and Gino Vanelli's Blue Moon studios in Agora Hills, California. To Mick, the drumset is a piano, and every tone that comes off it is different. This means that the people in the studio need to be highly trained musicians. I need to get sounds that are going to work together, no matter how you tear those loops up.
How did you mike the instruments?
We spent days preparing for this, moving mic's as little as an inch and a half to change the reflective qualities, and testing those sounds against old albums to make sure that they were just like the era we were looking for.We used a mess of mic's. We used four Sennheiser MD421s on the toms and a Shure SM57 and SM81 on the snare, the 57 on top and the 81 on the bottom. We isolated and combined those as we saw fit. We used a Neumann U47 FET and an AKG D112 on the kick, the 47 at the front, and the 112 at the back. We used Shure SM81s on the hi-hat, top and bottom, and AKG C460s on the rides. Then I put up two ADK A51Ss as stereo overheads, and two Milab VIP50s as ambient room mic's.
Go to http://www.moderndrummer.com for more exclusive conversation with Mick Fleetwood.
Also check out http://www.mickfleetwood.com for all things Mick (and Mac), including videos of the making of Total Drumming.
At http://www.digitraxx.com and http://www.GuitarCenter.com you'll find further interviews with Mick.
You might also want to check out http://www.acidplanet.com for a whole universe of Acid-related information and forums, including a special Mick Fleetwood link.
Thanks to Brian for this article
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Last Updated - 15 February 2004
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