In 1966, John Mayall, one of the UK’s leading blues musicians, found himself having to find someone to fill in for Eric Clapton in his band, The Bluesbreakers. Clapton had gone off to Greece on a trip and Mayall needed to find a replacement. He discovered a nineteen year old guitar wunderkind named Peter Green and asked him to fill in for Eric while he was away. Peter Green gladly stepped in for a few weeks and fit in well with his new band mates bassist John McVie and drummer Hugh Flint. Eric did come back to the band, but then left again to join Cream.
Mayall then decided to name Peter as the permanent replacement for Clapton and Aynsley Dunbar as his new drummer. Peter was thrilled to join the band but wanted his friend Mick Fleetwood to replace Aynsley Dunbar on drums. Mayall went along with it and Mick was in the band.
Later than year, John Mayall gave Peter a birthday present -- a few hours of studio time. During that session, he recorded an instrumental song, called Fleetwood Mac. He named the song that way because Mick Fleetwood and John McVie were playing with him on that song and he couldn't think of another title. The explanation was that simple. After a while, Mick Fleetwood was fired by John Mayall for drunkenness. Then, out of nowhere, John Mayall rehired Eric Clapton. At this point, Peter Green felt it was time to leave Mayall and start his own band with the 'previously fired' Mick Fleetwood.
Peter decided to name his new band "Fleetwood Mac", after that instrumental he recorded in the studio not long ago. But Peter Green was still looking for another guitarist -- someone to take the spotlight off of him in the band.
Their producer Mike Vernon, who co-ran the Blue Horizon Label in the UK, was listening to a tape that he’d received from a semi-professional band called The Levi Set. Mike didn’t think the drummer and bass player were that good but he did like their guitarist -- Jeremy Spencer. Mike thought he would be great for Peter's band. Jeremy became a member of Fleetwood Mac two days later. As far as the bass position was concerned, Peter's first choice was John McVie from John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. John declined Peter's offer and young Bob Brunning became the first bass player in Fleetwood Mac.
The sound of the group primarily emanated from the emotional singing and masterful guitar playing of Peter Green. They played their first gig together at the "7th Windsor National Jazz and Blues Festival" at August 13th, 1967. Peter continued to ask John McVie to join them, but John kept putting Peter off. Finally, after a few months, John finally agreed to join the band named after him and Bob Brunning was gone. (side note that Bob eventually became a schoolteacher and part-time musician).
Fleetwood Mac's debut single "I Believe My Time Ain't Long" was released in October 1967 on Mike Vernon's "Blue Horizon" label in the UK. The Elmore James cover featured Jeremy on lead vocals and was never released in the states. The B-side, "Rambling Pony" was a Peter Green song. Unfortunately this first single never charted.
In February 1968 they released their first album, "Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac" Then their second single "Black Magic Woman" was recorded and released, reaching the top 40 in the UK. Their next single "Need Your Love So Bad" fared much better, making it to all the way to #7 in Holland (#31 in the UK).
Next came the release of their second album "Mr. Wonderful" in August 1968. Peter then hired a third guitar player in anticipation of wanting to record their next album. His name was Danny Kirwan and he was just eighteen years old. The band put a single called "Albatross" out during this time and amazingly enough the song reached #1 in the UK.
"English Rose", with Danny on board, was released in the U.S. in early 1969 by Epic Records. The singles "Man Of The World" and "Oh Well" were released soon after, both of them rocketing all the way to #2 on the singles charts The band was on a roll.
Fleetwood Mac ended up releasing four albums that year -- "English Rose" (US only), "The Pious Bird Of Good Omen", "Fleetwood Mac In Chicago" (recorded with American blues legends like Otis Spann and Willie Dixon) and "Then Play On". The latter release was the first Mac album on the Reprise label and also the first of their album to sell over 100.000 copies).
Fleetwood Mac had become enormously popular and had a virtual lock on the British Blues scene at the time. . This band sold more records in Great Britain in 1969 then the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Simply astonishing.
They played in all the British Blues Clubs during that time, often playing on the same bill as another popular British Blues band, called Chicken Shack (who had a big UK hit with "I'd Rather Go Blind"). The lead singer of Chicken Shack was a girl named Christine Perfect. The two bands would often socialize together. Christine and John McVie began to date and had ended up marrying in the summer of 1968. Christine left Chicken Shack in 1969, at around the same time that she was selected by the readers of the UK's music magazine "Melody Maker" as best female vocalist of the year. .
It was around this time that Peter Green became obsessed with giving away his money. He just felt bad about making so much when others in the world didn't have enough to eat. It got worse as time went on. He would cry in front of the television when they'd show those less fortunate suffering in the news. He'd go to the likes of Oxfam, point to impoverished places on the map and ask government representatives there how much money it would take to end the suffering. Whatever the amount he was told would be how much he offered to pay to rid the country of the problem. He wanted his band mates to be as charitable as he was but they simply didn't buy into his philosophy. Shortly after the US tour and right before the 1970 European tour began, he decided to leave the band. They did record one final single together though before he left -- the haunting classic "The Green Manalishi" .
Peter recalls why he left: "There are many reasons why I'm leaving. The main thing is that I feel it is time for a change. I want to change my whole life, because I don't want to be a part of the conditioned world and as much as possible, I'm getting out of it." He literally withdrew himself entirely and, in essence, stayed home for almost three years.
That same year, Mick Fleetwood married Jenny Boyd, a girl he met in 1963 in London, while he was playing in the Blues clubs there. His two daughters Amy Rose and Lucy were born a few years later.
The rest of the group, Mick, John, Jeremy. and Danny struggled on without Peter for a few months. Everybody knew that it wouldn’t be easy to replace him, but it was really the fans that couldn’t accept Peter's departure. The band retreated to a country estate called Kiln House where they recorded the "Kiln House" album. This album represented a significant milestone for the band in that it was the first Fleetwood Mac album to make the Top 100 in the U.S..
"Jewel Eyed Judy" was the first single from "Kiln House" -- a track named after band friend Judy Wong.The classic "Station Man" was the B-side. A uncredited guest appearance on that album was made by John McVie’s wife, Christine, who had already played with the band on their "Mr.Wonderful" and "English Rose" albums. Christine also painted the "Kiln House" cover sleeve and had also just released her first solo album, simply called "Christine Perfect". The album contains a hit from her Chicken Shack years ("I'd Rather Go Blind"), along with some new blues tracks. It came to no one's surprise that the group asked Christine to become the fifth member of Fleetwood Mac in August of 1970. Also by the end of that year Peter Green had released his first solo record, "The End Of The Game", an instrumental album that didn't sell well.
In 1971, Fleetwood Mac was touring the U.S. with its new lineup, when suddenly Jeremy Spencer left his LA hotel room and never returned. After two days of searching. they ended up finding Jeremy at the Children of God 'headquarters' with his hair shaved off. Although it was initially unclear as to why Jeremy had run off and done this, Fleetwood Mac's manager Clifford Davis did eventually get to speak to Jeremy and ask him why he had joined this 'cult'. He discovered that he was indeed with them because he wanted to be. The band had no choice but to accept the situation and move on. Jeremy would be sorely missed. Peter Green did stand-in for Jeremy for the rest of the tour, but refused to play any of the hits he formerly had together with Fleetwood Mac. The only recording that came out of this period was the single "Dragonfly" with "The Purple Dancer" as the B-side. Peter Green did not participate in the recording of either track.
At the same time, a young American guitarist named Bob Welch was given a tip by his friend Judy Wong that Fleetwood Mac was looking for a guitarist to replace Jeremy Spencer. She suggested that he come over and meet the band The meeting went well and they hired him. Bob was American and the band thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to take some steps towards re-defining Fleetwood Mac as a soft rock band.
That 'softer' sound can clearly be heard on the "Future Games" album, which was released towards the end of 1971. Two songs on this album were written by Bob Welch ("Lay It All Down": and "Future Games"), but Danny Kirwan and Christine McVie also contributed significantly. With these three different styles of songwriting at work on the same record, "Future Games" was seen by many as being probably the most varied Mac album to date. It was the beginning of an entirely new era for the band. While they were gaining a strong following in the U.S., the UK audience did continue to mourn the passing of the Peter Green era. "Future Games" reached the Top 100 in the US but not surprisingly never charted in the UK.
The next album produced by this line up was "Bare Trees" in 1972. It was recorded rather quickly -- between two tours -- but still stands out as one of the finest Mac albums ever. Take Christine’s "Spare Me A Little Of Your Love" or Bob Welch’s "Sentimental Lady" -- these songs are Mac classics to this day . After the release of "Bare Trees" the band successfully toured the U.S. and UK but the tide was noticeably shifting. Fleetwood Mac was becoming more popular stateside than in the UK although in both places they were appearing with the same big name acts -- bands like Deep Purple and Savoy Brown (sometimes as the headliner, sometimes as the opening act).
The rush of touring and recording began to take its toll -- especially on Danny Kirwan. He always had chronic stage fright and this together with the fact that he was forced to be more in the spotlight as the only lead guitarist left in the band made him lose control over himself. Under the influence of alcohol, he became aggressive. One night he got into a heated discussion with Bob Welch about something really trivial like tuning. He got so irritated with Bob that he smashed his own head against the wall , wrecked his guitar. and refused to go on stage for that nights performance. When Danny criticized the rest of the band after the concert, Mick fired him and the rest of the tour was cancelled.
The search for a new vocalist/guitarist led to the hiring of two new members. Dave Walker, lead singer of Savoy Brown, and Bob Weston. Dave brought a harder-edged sound to Fleetwood Mac which was a direction that their manager Clifford Davis was intrigued by. He knew that most of the popular bands of the day were hard rockers like Deep Purple and Davis wanted to capitalize on that. Dave, as Savoy Brown's lead, was known as a powerful stage presence. The thought was that this would hopefully make up for the star power lacking with Peter Green out of the band. The second new member was Bob Weston, a guitarist who had played with Long John Baldry. Once the two newcomers were adapted in, Fleetwood Mac started to tour again -- for the first time ever with six members.
In January 1973, right after their tour ended, they went into the studio to record their "Penguin" album. Two singles were released from that album, Christine's song "Remember Me" and "Did You Ever Love Me" , a duet featuring Christine with Bob Weston. Neither of these two singles charted. Curiously enough, the sound of the album was close enough to what they had released prior that the album ended up charting fairly well -- even without hit songs or a hard rock sound. "Penguin" reached the Top 50 in the US and summarily was their greatest commercial success in the states thus far. But the record flopped in the UK. The British fans were still clamoring for the Blues sound as proven yet again in 1973 when "Albatross" was re-released and reached #2 on the charts.
The group got together and wanted to make a change. They wanted Dave Walker out of the band. It's not that they didn't think he was a great vocalist -- they just didn't want a 'defined frontman'. Dave left after only eight months with the band. The remaining quintet completed another album, "Mystery To Me". It features some outstanding material including Bob Welch’s "Hypnotized" and "Emerald Eyes", and Christine McVie’s "Why". "Why" was particularly heart-wrenching as it chronicled the dissolution of her marriage to John McVie. A song that The Yardbirds made famous, "For Your Love", was also on the album. At the time, Bob Weston suggested it be released as a single -- thinking a cover song would become a hit and therefore please the powers that be at Reprise. So "For Your Love" was released as a single with "Hypnotized" on the B-side. Ironically enough it was the Welch-penned "Hypnotized" that became the Mac classic, not the cover song.
While they were on the road in America in 1973 to support "Mystery To Me", Mick realized something was terribly wrong. Band mate Bob Weston was spending more and more time with Mick’s wife Jenny. It wasn't long before Mick found out that his wife was having an affair with his bandmate. Mick laid low for a while, not making any decisions, until he finally had enough. Bob was let go although it's not clear which bandmember actually told him that he was out of the band. Bob Welch then called their manager, Clifford Davis, and told him that the rest of the tour would have to be cancelled.
Davis then took it upon himself to form a new group with musicians to fulfill 'Fleetwood Mac's contractual obligations. At the time he felt like he was the owner of the Fleetwood Mac name and could do what he wanted with that name. He sent this bogus band out on the road to complete the balance of dates on the tour. The battle for justice began. The goal? -- to find out who really legally owned the name Fleetwood Mac. It was also during that time period that Christine and John McVie, Mick Fleetwood and Bob Welch decided to settle permanently in the U.S. The name Fleetwood Mac eventually got legally assigned to its rightful owners, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie -- but this didn't happen without a lengthy legal fight that dragged on for years . After the legal nightmare they had both been through, Mick and John decided to form their own management company so they could control their own recording and touring destiny. Thus 'Seedy Management' was born.
The entire band was relieved and felt liberated from all the trouble that had nothing to do with music. They couldn't wait to get back into the studio again to record a new album. All of the songs on "Heroes Are Hard To Find" were written by Christine and Bob Welch. Some standout tracks include jewels like Christine's "Come A Little Bit Closer" and "Heroes Are Hard To Find" which was released as a single. And the positive U.S. album sales trend continued as this album charted better than the one before, reaching all the way up to #34.
At the end of 1974, despite all the success and contributions he had made as a singer/songwriter in the past four years, the controversy for the bands name and all the trouble that came with it, became too much for Bob Welch. He grew tired of drama that is Fleetwood Mac and decided to leave the band. A tremendous loss....
Research by: Dirk Faes, John Fitzgerald, Jan Freedland, & Steve Denison
Written by Jan Freedland & John Fitzgerald
If you have any interesting facts or insights that you'd like to add to Part One of The Mac Story, please drop us a line.