Bob Welch’s Fleetwood Mac
A few years ago, when the story came out that Fleetwood Mac had “fired” Lindsey Buckingham for their upcoming world tour, one notable blogger wrote something to the effect that “It’s not Fleetwood Mac without Lindsey Buckingham.” To this I had to respond with a snarky, “Apparently you’ve never listened to the band’s nine studio albums recorded before Buckingham and Nicks came onboard.”
Fleetwood Mac has always been a shape-shifting band. Seven musicians came and went during those nine albums, and that doesn’t include Christine McVie who joined the band during that period and never (really) left. They began as a blues band under the leadership of Peter Green and were known as Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac.
Bob Welch was the final member to leave the band prior to the arrival of Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. In this regard some might consider him the Wally Pipp of rock. This article is about the Bob Welch years and my belief that these five albums were as good in their own way as the succeeding ones even if they were not as commercially successful.
Welch was born in Hollywood of show biz parents. His path to Fleetwood Mac was wayward, as he bounced between Europe and California in various musical guises, developing his craft. The departures of Green and Jeremy Spencer created an opening in the band, and Welch was brought on as a guitarist, songwriter and vocalist for the fifth album, Future Games (1971). He immediately put his imprint on the sound, writing the dreamy epic title song. Christine McVie also joined the band for this album and Fleetwood Mac’s transition from a blues-based combo was complete.
Danny Kirwan, a holdover from the first four albums, was the primary guitarist. By accounts, he and Welch didn’t get along , but this tension was held in check through the album Bare Trees (1972), a stylish LP featuring songs by Kirwan, Welsh and Christine McVie. My personal preference is for the moody, sentimental songs of the latter two. Included in that group is Sentimental Lady, probably Welch’s most well-known composition.
The next album, Penguin (1973), was somewhat uneven due to the many musicians contributing. It featured three Welch compositions, including Revelation, a zippy number with strong paranormal overtones.
The subjects of Welsh’s song-writing swung between the hazards of relationships to new-age paranormal tinged with just a hint of peril. Another good example of the latter is Hypnotized from Mystery to Me (1973).
It’s the same kind of story
That seems to come down from long ago
Two friends having coffee together
When something flies by their window
It might be out on that lawn
Which is wide, at least half of a playing field
Because there’s no explaining what your imagination
Can make you see and feel
Seems like a dream
They got me hypnotized
Two other musicians had joined the band for Mystery to Me, but were then fired due to a series of personal issues, including, apparently, the fact that one of them had an affair with Mick Fleetwood’s wife… not a good idea messing with the boss’s spouse.
Heroes are Hard to Find (1974) was my introduction to Fleetwood Mac, for the only time a quartet. I’d never even heard of Fleetwood Mac before Heroes came out and I don’t recall what prompted me to buy that LP. Perhaps it was a recommendation from Sally, who ran the music department at the best store in town. But it won me over immediately. The album largely see-saws between Christine McVie’s pop sentimentality, and Welch’s mystical allusions. To my ears, it is the band’s most perfect collection of songs.
Welch quit the band after Heroes, but reemerged on the music scene a few years later with his solo album French Kiss. The album featured short, pop-oriented tunes and produced three hit singles, including Welch’s peppier cover version of Sentimental Lady and Ebony Eyes.
French Kiss was a platinum seller, and his follow up album, Three Hearts, went gold. Succeeding albums fared less well, but Bob Welch continued to record until a crippling disease threatening continuous pain drove him to take his own life in 2012 at age 66.
Welch had a rocky relationship with his former band, but ultimately reconciled with them. The Musicians Hall of Fame in Nashville acknowledged Bob Welch’s contributions with an exhibit in his honor. The exhibit includes a memorial from Mick Fleetwood who wrote of Welch, “…he hit the ranks of Fleetwood Mac at a moment when we were somewhat lost musically… it was the first time since Peter Green that we truly felt we had a direction to follow.”