Fleetwood Mac’s recent reunion with formerly retired vocalist/keyboardist Christine McVie marks just another notable transformation with the hybrid U.K./U.S. pop rock band. The value of having all of the members of Fleetwood Mac’s heyday on stage in Miami this weekend will not be lost on the hardcore fans of the band. In a recent interview with Miami New Times, drummer and founding member Mick Fleetwood said, “Not in a million years would I have ever thought, including Christine herself, that she would have ever been standing up there to my right on stage, playing in this band again, so it’s a real sort of … mythological situation that we have right now.”
The myth began in London, in the summer of 1967, before Fleetwood even new who McVie was and certainly prior to the membership of singer Stevie Nicks and guitarist/vocalist Lindsey Buckingham, both Americans who joined the band in 1974.
Here are Fleetwood Mac’s ten most pivotal moments, from the band’s formation and lineup changes to Rumours and reunions.
John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers
Fleetwood Mac were a product of the early 1960s English blues scene forged by John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers. Guitarist/vocalist Green left the Bluesbreakers to form Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac in 1967. He took Bluesbreakers drummer Fleetwood and bassist John McVie with him, hence the Fleetwood and Mac in the band’s name. Fleetwood says the earliest beginnings of Fleetwood Mac came from the DNA of the Bluesbreakers, and reflects fondly on the guitar playing of his band’s former leader. “If you listen to ‘Supernatural,’” he says, “which was early Peter Green, one of the first things he ever wrote, to my knowledge, and John Mayall allowed him to put it on a John Mayall album, it’s beautiful. It’s stunningly simple.”
Fleetwood Mac’s first U.K. number one was the 1968 instrumental “Albatross,” which marked the band’s first departure in its sound. Fleetwood says Green was channeling Hawaiian lapsteel players Santo and Johnny. “‘Albatross’ was like an alien slipping into our milieu,” says the drummer, “into all this hard-driving blues material that we were prone to be doing then, and when it happened, it confused a lot of the people that listened to Fleetwood Mac. It was almost too much medicine of a strange type.”
Peter Green Leaves
After a hit UK album in 1969 with Then Play On, Green reportedly left the group for religious reasons. But there were also rumors. One story had it that Green took a job as a gravedigger. It was later revealed Green became a casualty of the era’s LSD culture. Music author Anthony Bozza, who co-wrote Play On: Now, Then, and Fleetwood Mac: The Autobiography with Fleetwood explains, “He had a mental breakdown … sort of the onset of mental problems and drugs and stuff and had mental issues brought on by LSD abuse, like Syd Barrett in Pink Floyd.” The closest Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac got to another success like “Albatross” was the 1970 single “The Green Manalishi,” whose title spurred rumors of that spiritual rediscovery by Green.
Former Chicken Shack keyboardist/singer Christine McVie, née Perfect, joined the band in 1970 after having married Fleetwood Mac bassist, John McVie. Around that time she recorded keyboard parts and even painted the cover for the band’s fourth album, Kiln House. She began writing and co-writing songs for the band on their fifth album, 1971’s Future Games, which revealed a shift away from blues and more towards folk-pop. “Show Me a Smile,” which was written by Ms. McVie, is a nice hybrird of blues and folk.
Bob Welch was first American in the band and joined soon after McVie became a full-time member. He hailed from California. Bozza calls this an interim period for Fleetwood Mac but still very important to that band. “That era is very fascinating because it lays the groundwork for the sound that Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks just kind of walked into and made a lot richer,” says the writer. “It opened up the possibility of what else this band could do besides being just this incredible blues band, which they were before.” Welch actually wrote most of the songs on the band’s eighth album Mystery to Me. “Hypnotized” became a staple on FM radio in 1973.
A Lost Identity
Depending on which of the early 1970s Fleetwood Mac albums you pick up, they could sound like blues, folk pop or mainstream rock. But the most nefarious change came when a former manager created a fake Fleetwood Mac after the band started falling apart due to affairs and alcohol abuse. Their most famous member was guitarist/vocalist Elmer Gantry who later joined The Alan Parsons Project. After playing a few shows under the premise that Fleetwood and Christine McVie would join them, they were stopped by lawyers. Gantry and guitarist Kirby Gregory went on to form the band Stretch, whose 1975 single “Why Did You Do It” was inspired by their time as the decoy Mac.
Buckingham and Nicks
Stretch can have that cheesy 1975 UK semi-hit. In late 1974, Welch left but Fleetwood discovered guitarist/vocalist Lindsey Buckingham who agreed to join the group if he could bring his then girlfriend Stephanie “Stevie” Nicks with him. The result was a self-titled album in 1975 often referred to as “the White Album.” It featured the dreamy, driving hit single, penned by Nicks, “Rhiannon.”
After a long world tour that added more difficult experiences of interpersonal relationships, the band wrote and recorded their 1977 hit album Rumours. The songs were inspired by the complexities of love and the difficulties heartache. The most literal track is the Buckingham song “Go Your Own Way,” inspired by his difficult relationship with Nicks. As hard as life was in the band, it produced several hit singles. Everyone knows most of the hits, but one notable outtake from the Rumours sessions was “Silver Springs,” by Nicks, featuring stalkery lyrics on an existential level: “Time casts a spell on you, but you won’t forget me … You’ll never get away from the sound of the woman that loves you.”
There were more terrific albums since. Though Tusk (1979) and Mirage (1982) have many merits, the bar had been set with Rumours. After the band’s hit 1987 album Tango In the Night and as another grueling tour loomed, Buckingham announced his departure. He had argued that his creativity was being stifled, but Bozza notes a bigger, more personal issue: “He didn’t want to be around Nicks and McVie who were still very much on the substances, and Lindsey wasn’t, and he told them later he didn’t want to see them destroy themselves.” In 1990, Fleetwood Mac went on to record an album without Buckingham, Behind the Mask, that produced the low-ranking top 40 single “Save Me.”
You Name It
There were clearly more transformations in the line-up, though by this point, the band’s sound was secured as adult contemporary pop rock. Fleetwood says, “Really, everyone, other than John and myself, has left this band. Lindsey was first to go, and he was gone, unbelievably – I thought it was only like three years, but he was gone for like 12 years or something, and then eventually Stevie and Chris stayed for a while and then they left, Stevie first, and then Chris left after we had reformed to do The Dance [ in 1997]. So it’s an unbelievably crazy story.”
Fleetwood Mac’s On With The Show Tour . 8 p.m. Saturday, March 21, at American Airlines Arena, 601 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 786-777-1000; aaarena.com. Tickets cost $46.50 to $176.50 plus fees via ticketmaster.com. All ages.
Hans Morgenstern / Miami New Times / Thursday, March 19, 2015