Mick Fleetwood is such a musician. For 16 years (along with co-founder John Movie) he has provided Fleetwood Mac, in all of its incarnations, with a foundation. He has been not only their drummer but their mainstay, whose natural penchant for tasteful, unpretentious music has melded some wildly disparate components into a single, unified whole.
Fleetwood has brought that same quality to his career away from Fleetwood Mac. For THE VISITOR, his debut album for RCA (released in June, 1981), he led a group of musicians, technicians and friends on a six-week trip to Ghana to play and record with some African counterparts. After all was said and done, and they had made an album with songs that ranged from Buddy Holly and old Fleetwood Mac to traditional African sounds, what came through was an indescribable band spirit. These players and singers, African, American and English, sounded as if they belonged together and Mick Fleetwood was their center and leader.
The band spirit is again apparent on I'M NOT ME, Fleetwood's second RCA album. Fleetwood's name and face appear on the covers but in his own estimation, he is merely the organizer and most prominent member of a group that now calls itself Mick Fleetwood's Zoo. This is not the standard one shot gathering of slick, faceless studio players; it is, in effect, the debut album by a new band that boasts some very familiar names.
The core of Mick Fleetwood's
Zoo consists of Fleetwood himself, guitarist/singer Billy Burnette
(a solo artist in his own right), bassist/singer George Hawkins (who
accompanied Fleetwood to Africa and is featured on THE VISITOR) and
guitarist/singer Steve Ross; other prominent contributors to I'M NOT
ME include Fleetwood Mac's Christine McVie and Lindsey Buckingham.
The material is a mixture of oldies (Lloyd Price's "Just Because"
and "Tear It Up," co-written by Dorsey and Johnny Burnette, Billy's
father and uncle, respectively recent covers (including the Beach
Boys' "Angel Come Home" and Tom Snow and Nan O'Byrne's "You Might
Need Somebody") and new originals by Burnette, Hawkins, Ross and
various co-writers (who co-produced and co-engineered the last four
Fleetwood Mac albums: RUMOURS, TUSK, LIVE and MIRAGE.
In the following interview, Fleetwood discusses the making of I'M NOT ME and the past, present and future of Mick Fleetwood's Zoo. The interview took place in Los Angeles on August 12, 1983.
Q: This group has actually worked together several times, hasn't it? How did it come about?
Mick Fleetwood: It started when Lindsey (Buckingham,) asked me, Bill (Burnette), Steve Ross (Ross) and George (Hawkins) to do a "Saturday Night Live" when he was on that show; the Cholos as we were called, were sort of formed to do that. And that basically was the band, along with Christine (McVie), that made my album. After ("Saturday Night Live, " we did one paying gig, which was that "Rock 'n Run" thing (a combination concert and race) in Los Angeles, and some charity gigs, one for (baseball player ) Ron Cey -- his "roast" -- and one for Pepperdine University' s medical center. It turned out to be a "working band, " I suppose, when we put the people together to make the album. We'll start rehearsing soon to go out on the road.
Q: What qualities, aside from the obvious like the ability to play and sing, or compatible personalities did you look for in putting together this particular group of players?
Fleetwood: Well, I wanted it to feel like a band. Even if I was fronting a band, as a singer or whatever, I'd still want to be part of a band versus that sort of pick-up musician vibe -- you know "See you later, lads, " and that's the end of that. I wanted some onward going community spirit, so people would feel part of a growing entity. How far it goes and what it grows into, who knows? Fleetwood Mac has not disappeared; so whatever happens to this, the two will co-exist. That's what I hope will happen. This group has basically, been together for a year, making this album, and everyone is really keen to go out (on tour). We're just waiting for someone to say, "Let's go. Let's do it."
Q: THE VISITOR was an ambitious, expensive, lengthy and logistically complicated project. With this album, did you perhaps want to do something that was less of all of those things?
Fleetwood: Originally, I'd say no. It was tentatively planned that I would go to South America with George Hawkins -- just the two of us. RCA has a studio in Rio, and we were going to go down there, and then bring the stuff back that we'd recorded with other people there and do whatever we needed to do in a studio here -- just as we did with THE VISITOR. But then Fleetwood Mac toured, and I realized I wasn't going to be able to hack a trip to South America So we bought a (recording) board,, and other equipment, and ended .up making most of the album at my house in Malibu. The basic band was George, myself and Steve Ross. I was becoming really good friends with Billy, and he started hanging out a bit; then he just became part of the entity and part of the album. He sings three songs on the record.
Q: How did you choose the material? Not many people these days are covering recent Beach Boys songs ("Angel Come Home" written by Carl Wilson and Geoffrey Cushing-Murray, appeared on the Beach Boys' L.A. (Light Album), released in 1979).
Fleetwood: I, for one, have always liked Dennis Wilson, who sang that song with the Beach Boys. I like his voice; more often than not, he sings really emotionally. He's a real good drummer, too. I was familiar with "Angel Come Home" before it turned up on an album; I used to play it with Dennis, hanging out in a garage, you know. I always thought it was a lovely song, a sweet song, real emotive. One night at home, Billy was there and amongst a huge mound of disorganized cassettes I found -- it was sort of like radar -- a cassette of that song, and we started working on it. We sped it up a bit, and did it several times, we ended up re-recording it in Phoenix, where we did a lot of the overdubs. I'm really pleased with the way it turned out.
Q: There are a couple of oldies on there, too, but the lion's share of the material consists of originals by the other members.
Fleetwood: Yeah, more than we started out with, really. We had other songs like "I'm Gonna Make You, " a raucous old Troggs song. But it was the usual story ; the album starts taking a certain twist, and some things which you felt good about originally don't fit anymore. It's a pruning-out process.
Q: What do you mean by "a certain twist"?
Fleetwood: Well, just that basically, people started, bringing in songs, like George and Steve. Steve's a really talented young man and co-incidentally, he made a couple of albums with the Beach Boys. He started writing little bits, and Richard (Dashut) and I kept saying, C'mon, finish the song! Hence we ended up with more original stuff than not. I think that having the other members contribute songs is one of the best ways of encouraging that "band energy" I was talking about.
Q: Despite your wanting to take it a band project, it's your band -- you're the leader. What do you see as your role in pulling the different elements together?
Fleetwood: I don't think it's much different from what I'm used to doing in Fleetwood Mac.
Q: I was going to say, you've got three different singers on the first three tunes on the album and except for the fact that they're all male that's pretty similar to your "other band."
Fleetwood: It just happened that way. They've all got really good voices. The whole thing about collaborating is that it makes for strong music down the line. With a tour under our belts, and hopefully another album, one will see healthy progress in terms of a really bonded sound. I see a lot of potential, if this group of people wants to stay together.
Q: But is it your role to be a sort of
lightning rod for this various talent?
Fleetwood: it's something I know I can do: I have the credentials to do it. The main thing is that we're all very close friends. We hang out together, we socialize and that's the beginning of a bond. No, it's not Fleetwood Mac, and it hasn't got the years and the emotion behind it. But all these people are very close, and they enjoy working together. It's not like phoning up the musicians union and bringing someone out to play, who checks in and checks out.
Q: How do you think your own personality comes
through here, other than in the sense that you're "that lightning
rod, that musical personal center of the band?
Fleetwood: I hope that Richard and I have really encouraged George and Steve, particularly, to really work on songs and not give up; an occasional artistic whipping here and there has helped. I suppose my role is to nurture a situation, and to represent something that's musically solid, an entity that people feel safe with. Yes, this is a solo album; I consider it originally my project in terms of pulling people together that I enjoy playing with. And it makes sense to put my name on the cover, because I'd the best known. I would love to keep doing this sort of thing, even if it's not with the same people. I enjoy putting pieces together; I would love to see this become a real band, as I love being
in Fleetwood Mac. I love playing live, and I miss it when Fleetwood Mac aren't touring.
Q: Well, you're aware of course, that by not writing, singing or playing lots of solos, you're going to give this whole solo album business a very bad name.
Fleetwood: That's fine by me. That's the way I want it.
Q: It's also interesting that on one tune ("I Give") you don't play at all, and on another ("Put Me Right') you play only a bit of percussion. That shows amazing ego control, to have your name on the cover and then lay out like that.
Fleetwood : I don't know what it shows -- maybe it' s something terribly sick. Maybe next time I won't play on the whole album.
Q: And you're working on a video?
Fleetwood: Yeah, that's gonna be fun. It feels like it's not going to be just another video. I'm basically playing Ivan the Terrible; it's essentially going to be a re-make of that classic film about him.
Q: What song?
Fleetwood: "I Want You Back. "We're going to shoot it in some Greek Orthodox Church here. It actually has nothing to do with the lyrical content of the song, but that's fine. And I'm not singing; I'm acting out a part. Steve will be mumbling out a few words here and there because I don't want people to think for one moment that I'm actually singing.