Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac (as the band were originally known) debuted in 1967 at the Windsor Jazz festival to a tumultuous reception with Green on vocals and guitar, Jeremy Spencer on vocals, guitar and piano, Mick Fleetwood on drums and Bob Brunning on bass.
Green (real name Greenbaum) had earlier replaced Eric Clapton in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers when Eric left to form Cream. He had soon become something of a guitar hero in his own right – which was the prime reason for the inclusion of his name in the band’s moniker, although it was soon shortened down to just Fleetwood Mac.
Mick Fleetwood had also been one of the Bluesbreakers, and when he and Green decided to leave Mayall and start their own group early in 1967, they had attempted to persuade bassist John McVie to go along with them. He resisted and as a result, Bob Brunning got the gig. But McVie was soon to change his mind. A month later, he gave in and replaced Brunning.
Fleetwood Mac were now ready to start winning audiences. The band were not only superb in live performances and on record, but they were also just possibly the best combination of blues-based musicians in the UK.
The summer of 1968 saw the line-up swollen by the addition of guitarist Danny Kirwan. With this unique three-guitar line-up, Fleetwood Mac were to become the kings of the British blues boom.
Achieving fame seemingly overnight, the band’s self-titled debut album reached the #1 spot in the album charts and stayed in the best-seller list for 13 months.
In the meantime, Green wrote Black Magic Woman (later to be a hit for Santana), which proved a minor singles hit.
This was followed by I Need Your Love So Bad and one month later, Fleetwood Mac recorded Albatross. The record entered the British singles chart in mid-December 1968 and reached #1, selling over a million copies within 13 months.
In April 1969, Man Of The World – the fourth single – hit the #2 spot, and in September that year, the band released their third album, Then Play On.
Christine Perfect, John McVie’s wife – a former member of Chicken Shack who had also had considerable success as a singer and piano player – played keyboards on the album Coming Your Way. It was an omen of what was to come.
It has been said that during 1969 Fleetwood Mac outsold The Beatles and The Rolling Stones combined. But all was not well within the group. On the verge of signing with Apple, they pulled out of the deal at the eleventh hour as two of the band’s key members were about to lose the plot.
Peter Green, a casualty of the stress of life in a top band, left the music business, gave away all his money, and took a job as a grave digger. He played his last gig with Fleetwood Mac in Bristol on 23 May 1970.
Christine first appeared as a ‘proper’ member on the album Kiln House. This became their first hit album in the US, marking the beginning of their shift in popularity from Britain to America.
On tour in Los Angeles in 1971, Jeremy Spencer told the rest of the band that he was “just popping out for a bit”. They didn’t see him again for two years – he renounced his former life and joined the religious cult, The Children of God. Peter Green flew out to help the band complete the tour but refused to rejoin them permanently.
California provided a replacement for Spencer, in the shape of American composer and guitarist Bob Welch (pictured).
Welch proved to be an important addition to the band, bringing – as the band would later comment – “a breath of fresh air”.
By the time the album Bare Trees came out, Fleetwood Mac had established themselves in the States but had seemed to lose much ground in their native Britain.
The situation intensified when Danny Kirwan left the band early in 1972 after smashing his guitar in the dressing room and refusing to perform. Plagued by alcoholism, he ended up living in the St Mungo’s hostel for homeless men in Endell Street in central London.
Kirwan’s departure left John McVie and Mick Fleetwood – the rhythm section – as the only surviving original members.
This line-up completed two tours of the US and released the album Penguin in April 1973.
Walker left during the sessions for the following LP, Mystery To Me, and Bob Weston was sacked in October after Mick Fleetwood’s discovery that Bob was having an affair with his then-wife Jenny Boyd (sister of Pattie Boyd, who was married to George Harrison).
Weston was eventually found dead in a grubby flat in London’s Brent Cross in January 2012.
In 1975, while checking out recording studios in California, Mick Fleetwood heard a track by folk-rock duo Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham.
Vastly impressed, Fleetwood invited the pair to join the group bringing about the band’s 10th line-up in eight years. Their self-titled “debut” – recorded in a mere ten days in 1975 – was a slice of seamless California pop, emphasising that the band was no longer a blues outfit.
In fact, their re-emergence as a mainstream pop/rock outfit produced three Top 20 hits, including Nicks’s witchy anthem Rhiannon and McVie’s animated yet decidedly unenlightened Over My Head. It also forged a faultless outline for what would become Rumours two years later.
The 1977 album Rumours was recorded amidst much internal strife. After an extensive tour, the ravaged band were a solemn bunch as they filed into Sausalito’s Record Plant to come together as a band, even though the McVies were separated, Buckingham and Nicks were on the rocks, and the Fleetwoods had filed for divorce. A blizzard of cocaine further racked up the tension.
But through all the melodrama and self-medication, they were able to pen songs that bristled with betrayal, bile and heartbreak, like Go Your Own Way and the emphatic Never Going Back Again.
The album sold over 115 million copies worldwide and spent over 400 weeks on the UK charts and 130 weeks in the USA.
If Rumours anticipated the end, the excessiveness of Tusk guaranteed it. The two-disc LP – often referred to as “Buckingham’s folly” – was not a band record by any stretch of the imagination. It is a collection of songs by individuals who, by accident of geography and association, have made a record together.
Vague and with no real direction, the collection had some moments of shimmering beauty – the ethereal That’s All For Everyone and the winsome Sara, which could have been pulled off Rumours – but it’s the title song that everyone remembers: a beguiling quasi-instrumental, rendered excessive by the presence of the University of Southern California marching band.
While Fleetwood Mac were legendary for their ability to turn over members and still make fine music, the loss of lead guitarist Lindsey Buckingham was the figurative end of the road. Replacement guitarists Rick Vito and Billy Burnette were natural sidemen with second-tier ideas and had no business writing or singing songs with a band as musically savvy as this.
Although most bands find one boss is plenty, when Fleetwood Mac reunited in 1997, all five members brought their own managers with them, with all decisions made by the managerial junta. Christine McVie left permanently in 1998, returning to live in England. She subsequently rejoined the group in 2014 after 16 years away.
Bob Welch died in June 2012, aged 66, from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in the chest. His wife found him dead at their home in Nashville, Tennessee. A suicide note was also found at the house.
Founding member Peter Green died on 25 July 2020 at the age of 73. Christine McVie died on 30 November 2022. aged 79.
“When we’d sold six million albums and were able to live like pigs in shit, we never had that dynamic of realising we even had any money. For months and months, we’d be touring in the same way, driving ourselves in station wagons. We didn’t realise we could afford to rent a plane”.
Christine Perfect (McVie)