Monday, February 28, 2011

The Attack Of Les Fleetwood-Mac

Must digress from this blog's February 2011 obsession with classic cartoons, hard-boiled film noir (as if anybody ever made a soft-boiled noir) and "finger pickin' good" sounds by gifted Chicago bluesman Magic Sam to indulge another shamelessly guitar-related addiction (not Jane's Addiction, Perry Farrell's hard rock-metal-folk ensemble, this time around).

And that would be the early incarnations of Psychotronic Paul's favorite British rockers, that most unpredictable of 20th Century rock n' roll and pop music ensembles, Fleetwood Mac.

Guitarist Peter Green formed the band in 1967, naming it after rhythm section mates Mick Fleetwood and John McVie while the latter was still keeping his day job in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. Bob Brunning played bass on the first Fleetwood Mac appearances, until McVie left Mayall.

The Fleetwood Mac lineup I personally, like Stuart Smalley, require a conscientious 12-step group to stop listening to is Version 2, together from 1968 through May 25, 1970 (the date of their last gig at London's Roundhouse): the quintessential, incomparable British blues-rockabilly-garage-punk-classic rock-vaudeville-misterioso-psychedelic jam band, featuring three virtuoso blues-rock guitarists (each unique and markedly stylistically different from the other two): Peter Green, Danny Kirwan and Jeremy Spencer.

The Three Faces Of Mac (version 2.0)

Peter Green

A.K.A. "Greeny" or "The Green God", Peter still plays music and sings with a rough-hewn blues voice he didn't have in his Mayall and Fleetwood Mac days; he does not make live appearances frequently but can be seen playing the blues in venues in England. He was one ferocious rocker back in the day.

Danny Kirwan

Danny Kirwan joined the band in 1968 and wrote quite a bit of original material, ranging from ethereal instrumentals to sprightly McCartney-esque rockers, for all the Mac albums from "Then Play On" (1969) through "Bare Trees" (1972).

Danny's recording of "Jigsaw Puzzle Blues", the B-side of Mac's "Santo And Johnny" tribute Albatross, is a wonderfully original and melodic piece.

It's the only song I've ever heard that merges the 1960's British Invasion sound with the phraseology of Hot Club Of France swing guitar genius Django Reinhardt; it (and some of the retro-style pop tunes on Danny's 1970's solo albums) explains why Greeny nicknamed him "Ragtime Cowboy Joe". Here it is:

And, speaking of McCartney-esque rockers, here's "Only You", a frequent centerpiece of the 1969-1970 Fleetwood Mac set list.

Jeremy Spencer

The third of los tres guitarristas, class clown, Elmore James lovin' slide specialist, rockabilly, Elvis impersonator, vaudevillian and salacious, crazed rocker Jeremy Spencer. Has lived literally all over the world in the four decades since leaving Fleetwood Mac and periodically plays concerts and festivals, adding his signature slide guitar to his current band of enthusiastic blues aficionados from Norway.

After Peter Green's departure, Kirwan and Spencer co-led the 1970-1971 lineup. Green was not replaced, but bassist John McVie recruited his wife Christine, a key member and driving force of popular 1960's English blues band Chicken Shack, to Fleetwood Mac. Christine, who contributed piano to several studio recordings of Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac, brought her considerable talents as a pianist and vocalist, as well as a pronounced flair for pop songcraft, to the mix.

The Fleetwood Mac lineup (version 3) that recorded the Kiln House album was a wonderfully loopy blend of Spencer's blues/rockabilly with Kirwan's rocking romanticism and Christine McVie's formidable songwriting.

One could argue that "early Fleetwood Mac" ended either with Peter Green leaving the band or the sudden, impromptu February 1971 departure of Jeremy Spencer during the tour promoting the Kiln House album (note: live recordings from said 1970-1971 tour can be found on the Madison Blues double CD). . . or trace the end to Danny Kirwan's subsequent meltdown during the 1972 Bare Trees tour, involving a backstage altercation, the destruction of his beloved black Les Paul and his walking out on the band during a gig. He was, not surprisingly, canned and the tour came to a screeching halt.

Save a handful of performances in England and three indie solo albums in the 1970's, that meltdown was the end of Danny Kirwan's musical career. At the end of the day, this gifted songwriter/guitarist, like Peter Green, was capable of creating loving, healing music but unable to heal the pain within himself.

Christine McVie and songwriter-guitarist Bob Welch picked up the pieces and co-led a more pop-oriented, jazzy and under-appreciated Mac lineup in 1972-1974; while receiving little attention at the time, this ensemble created very good albums featuring strong songwriting and musicianship, with Christine's vocals (not surprisingly) a standout.

As if the band had not gone through enough turmoil: an affair between new guitarist Bob Weston and the boss' wife blew up Mac version 6, the Mystery To Me tour was abruptly cancelled AND manager Clifford Davis hired five unknown musicians to play the tour's remaining dates as a bogus Fleetwood Mac. Seems Davis figured that, as far as the real band members were concerned, "no one would be the wiser" and the early 70's audience would be too stoned to know the difference; yes, they may well have been loaded to the gills, but not so much so as to not notice the absence of both Mick Fleetwood and John McVie!

No doubt weary of the unending drama, Bob Welch bailed at the end of 1974, after the Heroes Are Hard To Find tour. Songwriters Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks came on board for version 8, bringing the pop sensibility and signature three part harmonies of Southern California folk-rock (along with an uncanny gift for writing amazingly catchy hummable hooks) to the band, thus completing Fleetwood Mac's chameleonic transformation from scruffy English rockers to gazillion-selling American popsters.

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