ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, OCT. 9, 1997
By Steve Newton
Like some 25 million other folks, I own a copy of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. I purchased my vinyl version when it was released in 1977, and when I pulled it out the other day to see if I was ready to turn it in for a dollar credit at the used-CD shop, I was pleasantly surprised. Even though Bill Clinton’s use of “Don’t Stop” for political purposes has soiled that tune for me, tracks such as “The Chain”, “Second Hand News”, and “Go Your Own Way” make it clear that Rumours is one ’70s pop item worth hanging on to.
When I want to hear the band at its best, though, I’ll toss on 1969’s Fleetwood Mac in Chicago, for which then-guitarists Peter Green, Jeremy Spencer, and Danny Kirwan joined bassist John McVie and drummer Mick Fleetwood in some brawling blues jams with the likes of Buddy Guy and Willie Dixon.
All this fuss about Fleetwood Mac touring in its Rumours-era incarnation is fine and dandy—it even gives me the opportunity to take my mother-in-law to a concert. But when Fleetwood—still with the group he helped start 32 years ago—calls from Cincinnati, I throw him for a loop by wondering if he would ever consider a reunion tour of his band’s original lineup.
“Oh my God!” he says, reacting with a laugh. “I’ve never thought of it. I mean, I certainly would like to, in some capacity, play or produce something with Peter—and that may just be playing in his front room. I never thought that Peter would ever play again, and it’s sort of a miracle situation that he’s out there enjoying himself and playing around, you know.”
Long before the pop-minded duo of Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham put their radio-friendly stamp on Fleetwood Mac, drummer Fleetwood and bassist McVie enjoyed the brilliant company of Green, one of the least heralded but most influential rock guitarists of all time. Gary Moore recorded a tribute album to him in ’95, Blues for Greeny, and that same year more than 30 musicians banded together to record 28 of his songs on Rattlesnake Guitar: The Music of Peter Green. According to Fleetwood, Green recently came out of a lengthy bout with paranoid schizophrenia.
“He’s playing again, which is all I need to hear,” says Fleetwood, whose history with the guitar great predates even the earliest edition of Fleetwood Mac: the two first joined forces in Van Morrison keyboardist Pete Barden’s Looners, backed the young Rod Stewart in Shotgun Express, and rose to prominence in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Of course, Fleetwood’s current allegiances don’t allow him to sneak in those 12-bar blues blasts any more.
“We’re pretty much set on the set right now,” he offers, “and it’s very evident that this is a celebration of this incarnation of Fleetwood Mac, and the work that we’ve done.”
You can’t blame Fleetwood for giving the people what they want, or for reaping the financial rewards. If he were doing a reunion tour of the original Fleetwood Mac, he’d probably be playing the Yale instead of the nearly sold-out GM Place this Sunday (October 12). So when the current lineup first came together, did he have any inkling that it would go on to record the third-highest-selling album of all time?
“I never really looked at it like that,” he says, “but I certainly equated it, in terms of my gut feeling, [with] when Peter Green and myself formed Fleetwood Mac all those years ago. There was a tremendously powerful vibe with that lineup—the original, original Fleetwood Mac—and I now look back on that period and use it as a template. When Stevie and Lindsey came into our flock it reminded me of—not the music, ’cause it was very different—but just a vibe where, with that amount of personality and the character of their writing, it had that power that I remembered.”
Most all of Fleetwood Mac’s mid-’70s hits were written by vocalist Nicks, vocalist-guitarist Buckingham, and vocalist-keyboardist Christine McVie—who has been with the group since 1970. The rhythm section stays mainly in the background, although on rare occasions Fleetwood and McVie garner songwriting credits—as for “The Chain”, which kicks off the band’s new live CD, The Dance. The wrist-driven economy of Fleetwood’s drumming—“That comes from many long nights alone,” he jokes—is particularly pronounced on that song.
“I get to whack the hell outta my drums on that, that’s for sure,” he says. “That was basically a band effort in terms of there was a lot of jamming that went into the original track. We all sat round and Stevie put the words in, Lindsey was arranging it, and it was just one of those oddball things that was deemed ‘Let’s just make this a band song.’ It’s certainly very, very apropos in terms of the survival of Fleetwood Mac. You couldn’t write a more specific song in terms of this bunch.”
Fleetwood—who credits former B.B. King drummer Sonny Freeman with influencing his percussive technique—has been playing professionally since he was 16. Now 55, he’s seen many a highway and hotel, especially in the States. “We came here in 1968 in station wagons, with Fender Twin amps stuck in the back and drum kits on the roof rack,” he recalls. “I don’t think there’s really anywhere left in this country that we haven’t played.”
Nowadays, Fleetwood Mac’s travelling style is a tad more extravagant than it once was—but the touring life is also a lot less bacchanalian. The self-proclaimed “old gigster” describes the Rumours era as one big party.
“Life on the road is very, very normal for me now,” he claims. “I don’t get hungover now, so I get out and I actually get to see the town usually. In the old days, with the abuse that was being flung at my body, I wouldn’t even know where I was.”
The hazards of the road for Fleetwood Mac in ’97 don’t involve the after-effects of wild parties any more. This year the group’s vocalists are more concerned about talking too loud after a show.
“They’re all taking care of their voices, and not yakkin’ too much,” reports Fleetwood. “It’s an old road curse that, when you’re travelling after gigs, you all put the volume of your voice up ’cause you’re all excited. You basically play another gig by talking for two hours, so you have to just watch things like that.”
POSTSCRIPT: the Vancouver concert was cancelled at the last minute. Something to do with Stevie Nicks. My mother-in-law was not impressed.