Christine McVie (keyboards, vocals)
Lindsey Buckingham (guitar, vocals)
Stevie Nicks (vocals)
John McVie (bass)
Mick Fleetwood (drums)
PART 1, 1967-1969
1975 was a year of several considerable amazements, not the least of which was the eruption of Fleetwood Mac, A popular and eminently respected concert and record institution for over eight years in a continuing stream of changing incarnations, they suddenly exploded past all levels of previous accomplishment, catching America by pleasant surprise to become one of her very favourite bands. Hardly your standard overnight success -- overdecade success would be closer to it--.but the time it took to achieve and the amount of good music involved in doing so only served to make the end that much more special.
To get at 1975, you have to go back to 1967, when three renegades from John Mayall's bluesbreakers--guitarist Peter Green (who'd followed Eric Clapton in that band and whose acclaim rivalled that of his predecessor), bassist John McVie and drummer Mick Fleetwood formed a group. Calling themselves Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac they took their name from an instrumental the trio had once recorded to kill some time on an Irish tour with Mayail. (Green and Fleetwood had worked together previously in another band which is remembered only for their participation and that of an aspiring singer called Rod Stewart.) Joining this threesome was Jeremy Spencer, a guitarist whom Green had chanced upon in a Birmingham bar; when the group's plans to put together a band around another young guitarist they'd found failed to turn up anyone of comparable capability, Danny Kirwan was drafted.
The music the band specialized in
at the beginning was in the same neighbourhood as that of the core trio which
had played with Mayall; basic electric blues which they'd imported from the
black side of urban America and remained steadfastly faithful to.
Where most of their British mentors (Mayall, Alexis Korner) were on a crusade to deify the blues format there was far too much talent at work in Fleetwood Mac to keep the band so restricted. Peter Green, who'd more than earned his guitar hero laurels making somebody else's blues his own, was developing as a natural writer, something he'd shown a highly personalized flair for as far back as "The Supernatural" on the Bluesbreakers' Hard Road album, Jeremy Spencer's slide guitar (a somewhat neglected technique he borrowed passionately from Elmore games and helped to repopularise turning on the likes of Duane Alllman to its possibilities in the process) and affection for old rock & roll made him a figure as distinctive as Green while Danny Kirwan's fluid flexible playing fleshed out the band's rapidly developing sense of arrangement.
Fleetwood Mac demonstrated that their future lay well beyond blues in 1968 when, with no major hype, an instrumental called "Albatross" stormed to the top of the British charts. It was quickly followed by "Man Of The World," "Oh Well" (which managed to dent the American charts as well) and "Green Manalishi" (which was a smash British single and became an instant FM classic in America). Though the venues had shifted from the Marquee to Top Of The Pops, it was simply an indication that the band was producing music whose quality stood undeniably above a scene crowded with confined traditionalists and psychedelic one-hit wonders. Their third LP (and first for Warners) Then Play On was the culmination of all of the above, and remains the best album cut during the group's first phase.
PART II, 1970-1974
Just as "Green Manalishi"--probably the most intense single piece the original Fleetwood Mac ever committed to wax--was cresting on the British charts and creating a heightened set of expectations for what the band would create in the future, Peter Green called it quits. He gave it all away because of the conflict between the demands of popstardom and the dictates of an expanding spiritual awareness. It is a set of circumstances he has yet to find a workable compromise for, unfortunately for all those who ever got the opportunity to experience directly what he did so well.
The group retreated to a house in the country to regroup its forces and re-evaluate its aesthetic possibilities. Kiln House, the album that resulted from that pastoral exile, answered the question of the band's continued viability with strong and sometimes inspired contributions from both Spencer and Kirwan and is accorded a very special place in the Mac catalogue by longtime observers.
On the eve of the band's departure for an American tour to back Kiln House, the positive climate created by that album was further elevated by the addition of John McVie's wife Christine on keyboards and vocals. As Christine Perfect she'd fronted a bluesband called Chickenshack, a group that made the same rounds as Mayall and early Mac and had done quite well at it. They scored a hit with "I'd Rather Go Blind" which contributed heavily to Christine's triumph in the "Best Female Vocalist" category of the prestigious Melody Maker poll. After her departure from Chickenshack and a misdirected stab at a solo career, she settled down at Kiln House as Christine McVie and pitched in with some unofficial keyboards and vocals on that album (not to mention designing its cover). Her addition as an official contributor was a natural.
The harmony proved to be short-lived. On a subsequent tour of the States, Jeremy Spencer disappeared just as the band was about to begin a stand at the Whisky A Go Go in Los Angeles. When his whereabouts were finally pinpointed some three days later, he'd chopped his hair off, changed his name and assumed a new identity as a member of a fundamentalist sect sect called the Children Of God (to which he belongs to this day). A transatlantic connection was hastily made with Peter Green who rejoined the band in time to salvage the tour needed.
The band responded quickly and decisively. A Californian expatriated in Paris, Bob Welch, was added on guitar and vocals, and with Christine and Danny assuming an increased responsibility, what they came up with was a more melodic and harmony-oriented variation on the three-pronged attack featured by the original Mac. The Future Games and Bare Trees albums presented a new picture of the band which was found to be most pleasing by hordes of international record buyers, the latter album marking a high water mark for U.S. sales of Mac albums which held until 1975--and was backed up admirably by the band on their seemingly non-stop tours.
Danny Kirwan slipped away not long after Bare Trees had achieved its impressive American sales, but the band by this juncture had come to accept change as part of its natural blueprint and simply pushed straight ahead. "It's no longer a huge traumatic thing as it was the first couple of times," explained John McVie. The Penguin and Mystery To Me albums
chronicled positive changes which, apart from some brief and basically inconsequential hitches by vocalist Dave Walker and guitarist Bob Weston, boiled down to the development of Christine and Bob Welch as singers, writers and musical idea people. But the heaviest blow had yet to fall.
While the members of the band were scattered to all four corners of the globe sorting out various personal depressions in the wake of an abbreviated American tour, their presumptuous manager put a bogus Fleetwood Mac on the road. It wasn't a particularly bright deception, as audiences and promoters which the imposters were attempting to dupe attested to quickly and vocally. The group won a court injunction barring their ex-manager from further soiling the Fleetwood Mac name.
Though the Fleetwood Mac story was now beginning to read like the script for a rock & roll disaster movie, what the headline coverage of their problems invariably neglected to mention was that the group always pulled together and came up with quality music through all of it. The band's reaction to the mismanagement nightmare was no different; they relocated in Los Angeles, cut an album, and toured seriously behind it in an all-out effort to refresh as many American memories as possible as to what the real Mac was like. Heroes Are Hard To Find (which revealed Christine McVie's songs to be growing toward a realized connection with the pop mainstream and showcased the jazzy California mysticism of Bob Welch) sold better than most which preceded it, thanks largely to a thorough tour schedule. When Welch unexpectedly left to form his own group Paris, the feeling was that it was perfectly in step with a rebuilding program which they'd really only begun.
PART III, 1975
On an L. A. studio scouting mission, Mick had been played a tape of two young Californians, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, who'd released one album (as Buckingham Nicks) and were the subject of a multiplying cult following in certain sectors of the South. When Welch exited, Fleetwood remembered that tape and tracked the duo down. A mutual affinity was swiftly established and, before they'd even appeared together onstage, a new Fleetwood Mac was in the studio cutting an album. The record, which they called simply Fleetwood Mac, represented an introduction to both their audience and each other. It was the album that crystallized Fleetwood Mac as a song band; Christine came up with her best assortment of songs ever, and the writer/singer contributions of Buckingham and Nicks gave the band a wider range of material and more harmonic interaction than it had ever enjoyed before. Most importantly, the album gushed a sense of energy and enthusiasm which distinguished the new band not only from its earlier incarnations, but would prove to distinguish it from nearly every other band on the scene as well.
"We could tell by the first concert we ever did," explains Christine, "that it was going to be good. That first show went down a complete storm; there was something about the combination of people on the stage that was very special."
Such optimism was warranted. Hammering it out night after night on the road, the band jelled in a remarkably short time and began blowing larger numbers of minds with each successive appearance. As he warmed up to his role as musical field general, Lindsey's playing and performance took on an assurance and a flair for dynamics that was only hinted at by the album. The most unanticipated development, however, was the emergence of Stevie Nicks as an electrically captivating performer, supplying a more sharply tuned visual dimension than the band had ever previously evidenced. What was becoming increasingly evident about this Fleetwood Mac was that its five distinct personalities each contributed in a complimentary fashion that covered all the bases, musical, vocal and visual.
Back on the record front, the album activity was similarly mushrooming. Fleetwood Mac was accorded the initial FM radio buzz that all Mac albums received but, unlike the others, simply never stopped building. When the dust settled a year later, the album clung to its position in the Top 10, had smashed Radio & Records' all-time mark for sustained album airplay, and produced no less than three hit singles; "Over My Head," "Rhiannon" and "Say You Love Me." Where none of their previous albums had gone gold, the new one didn't stop for a breath until well past platinum and even then refused to slow down its steady sales pattern. It has now sold more than 3� million copies, and several of their other albums have subsequently been certified gold.
"I think," said Stevie in attempting to explain this overwhelming popularity boom, "that basically the audiences really like us as people, I think they have a good feeling towards us in a very human way.". That the good feeling extends to all five members of the band is indicative of a range and depth of talent that is possibly unmatched in all of rock & roll. "We never seem to stop progressing," says Christine. "Once you slot yourself, there's only so far you can go in any one tight direction. ! really don't want to stop experimenting in different directions, just to see what we can do. Especially now that we have a combination of people who are able to do so many things so well." "We can't really say where we're going," adds Lindsey, "because idea-wise we're always a little ahead of ourselves, which is the best creative situation a band can be in."
Ahead of themselves, maybe. !n tune with the musical ears of America? Yes. And resoundingly so on their worthy successor to Fleetwood Mac, Rumours. Before the LP's release in fact, Lindsey's volatile rocker, "Go Your Own Way," had assaulted the charts with a tenacity that indicated it might just be the biggest Mac smash yet.
Other steaming selections included Chris' revitalization of a classic Fleetwood Mac motif, the powerful blues shuffle, sung by Lindsey, on "Don't Stop"; and Stevie's magnetic "Gold Dust Woman." All in all, Rumours was that rare synthesis that, with only a handful of other albums, best defines the tone of mainstream rock and roll in the mid-'70's.
"Right now," Mick summed up, "there are three definite front-line people. We've come back to how the band was at the beginning with Peter, Danny and 3eremy. They were all very different in actual fact, and people could enjoy different aspects within the band. Now, with Stevie, Lindsey and Christine, we've come full circle." At the end of that circle, as it always has been and probably always will be, is the simple phrase that best describes Fleetwood Mac: good music.