Fleetwood Mac's True Beginnings

Tuesday, 31 July 2012 05:20 PM Written by 

It's true most Fleetwood Mac fans are devoted to the band who emerged in the 1970s, and a recent PG review of the Stevie Nicks-Rod Stewart concert stirred controversy among commenters regarding a lede calling Nicks "a founding member." One commenter even alleged the band was around 15 years when she joined, which would have been in 1982. Another noted the band was seven years old when she joined.

In the late 60's and early 70's, I was a fan of the original Mac, conceived as a hardcore British blues band, from the start until they turned away from blues.  They emerged from John Mayall's Bluesbreakers in 1967.   For those unaware, the Bluesbreakers were (and are) a pioneering white blues band- musical conservatory led by singer, harmonica and keyboard player Mayall. Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Mick Taylor, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood, Jack Bruce, Rick Vito and Coco Montoya are all alumni, along with Blue Mitchell and Don "Sugarcane" Harris.  At 78, Mayall still tours with new editions of the Bluesbreakers.

Green, who'd replaced Clapton in the band, appeared on Mayall's A Hard Road album. Mayall gave Green some free studio time in April, '67. The guitarist recorded several tunes with McVie and Fleetwood, including an instrumental he titled "Fleetwood Mac."  Green left Mayall in 1967 to form the original lineup: him, slide guitarist Jeremy Spencer.  Fleetwood and Bob Brunning, who filled the bass slot until McVie joined.

That lineup's 1968 debut album was Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac including an original titled "Black Magic Woman." later rendered immortal by Santana. Green sang and played slashing guitar in the BB/Freddie King vein. Spencer was obsessed with Elmore James. While their second and third albums on the British Blue Horizon label, Mr. Wonderful and English Rose were blues-heavy,  they were already expanding their range with tunes like Green's moody, non-blues instrumental "Albatross," a hit in England.  Late in 1968, Danny Kirwan became the third guitarist. All are seen together on this version of "Albatross."

This is Green doing Otis Rush's "Homework" from a December 31 '68 French TV show, with the Kirwan-Spencer-McVie-Fleetwood lineup.

Consistent with Spencer's Elmore James obsession, this is his take on James's "My Baby's Gone"  ("Please Find My Baby"), proving he'd nailed James's slide style. Ignore the heading that calls it "Dust My Broom."  A lot of Elmore's songs were based on that melody.

Within a year as they moved to Warner Brothers Records and released their first album, Then Play On. On this a Playboy After Dark appearance, they did "Rattlesnake Shake" from that album.   And yep, that's Hugh Hefner and Barbi Benton at the start of the clip.

McVie had married Christine Perfect, singer-pianist for the Brit blues band Chicken Shack in 1968, but she didn't join Mac until 1971.  Green had departed, his LSD use pushing  him to a mental breakdown.  After Green left, the band recorded Kiln House, an album defined in many ways by Spencer's growing interests in 50's rock and roll ("Buddy's Song" was a Buddy Holly tribute).  Christine McVie played uncredited keyboard on it and joined the band in 1970. By then the band was in freefall. In the middle of a 1971 US tour, Spencer, who'd only recently recorded a solo album, abruptly quit the band to join a religious cult. Bob Welch replacing him as they turned from blues toward contemporary rock and their later direction .

Bluenotes blogger, Jim White, noted in 2008 that Mick Fleetwood organized a blues band with, among others, ex-Bluesbreaker guitarist Rick Vito.

So when did Stevie come into the picture?  She and partner Lindsay Buckingham, who'd recorded in 1973 as Buckingham Nicks, didn't actually join Mac until 1975.  In total, eight years passed between the band's formation and Nicks signing on.

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