Mick Fleetwood only just discovered the secret reason he wound up in Fleetwood Mac
The drummer explains how his new book, "Love That Burns," revealed things even he didn't know about his past
Little known fact: Besides drumming for Fleetwood Mac, Mick Fleetwood is a prolific author. Over the years, he’s written three books about his time with the beloved rock band, including a 2014 autobiography, “Play On: Now, Then, and Fleetwood Mac.”
Fleetwood’s latest effort, “Love That Burns: A Chronicle of Fleetwood Mac, Volume One: 1967–1974,” is slightly different: It’s a lavish, photo-heavy book that looks back at the group’s early days, when they were a scrappy blues band in England weathering an unsteady lineup and shifting musical trends.
Along with some incredible anecdotes — including photos of the band’s 1969 trip to Chess Records in Chicago, where they recorded with blues greats such as Buddy Guy and Willie Dixon — the book features short written remembrances from pivotal figures in the Fleetwood Mac universe: current members John McVie and Christine McVie, and former members Jeremy Spencer and Peter Green. Anchoring it all are Fleetwood’s memories and asides, which are full of wisdom, insightful observations and tenderness.
As far as takeaways from “Love That Burns,” Fleetwood wants readers to “really understand what motivated and started the band,” he says. “It was this whole love of playing music, for no other reason. We didn’t have any preconceived, ‘we’re going to be that type of band’ [notions] — we were just playing blues, which had no success formula attached to it at that point in time, at all. There [were] very few [bands] doing authentic, Chicago-based blues. You had Cream, and you had the Yardbirds. We were very true to the school, so our formula on paper was probably doomed.”
“But the irony was that it wasn’t,” he adds.
Fleetwood spoke with Salon in early August, during a packed two-day press blitz, about putting together “Love That Burns,” his thoughts on Fleetwood Mac turning 50 and the surprising thing he learned talking to his old friend Peter Green.
As of this summer, you’re celebrating 50 years of Fleetwood Mac. Does it feel that long to you?
Well, that’s a loaded question, does it feel that long to you. [Laughs.] Not really. This whole putting together of [a book] — it’s like making an album. This is a pictorial with editorial, so it’s not like [what] I’ve done in the past couple of times, [which is] actually sit down and write an autobiography. It’s really about visual moments [that are] poignant, that you can then write and put together a road map. Once you look at the road map, at that point, I would say “Yeah, it’s a long journey.” But when you’re on it, you don’t stop to [think]. It’s like anything — just on a personal level, you go “Oh my God, where did all the time go?”
It is nice to know, when you’re going to make a chronicle, as we’ve done with the book, [that you] have these milestone and signposts that validate that part of a journey with specific things that you go, “I never realized at the time, but that was worthwhile. And that was really fun, and that’s why I play what I play, and that’s where I learned it, and that’s where I let go of it.” All of that has a real value.
We’ve done, as a band, a lot. And the main thing is, [we] survived the original idea that those four original members of Fleetwood Mac had, which was a really simple desire just to play music that we really loved to play. To that extent, we started off lucky. Some people play, but they’re not really playing what they want to play, necessarily. When I was in a pop band, I hated it. Right from the beginning, [in] our version of being in a cover band — which, in essence, we sort of were — we were covering things that we adulated, that we loved, which was all the early blues masters.
One of my favorite parts of the book was the photos of you guys recording in Chicago with Buddy Guy, and then seeing the photos from when Fleetwood Mac opened for B.B. King. That stuff is just incredible. The reverence that you all had, both as players and in the studio, really stood out. As a fan, I thought that was really cool.
Well, it is, and I’m happy that you picked up on that. But, again, if I was pushed into a corner and said, “What did the process of putting this lovely book together reveal? Was there one thing you wanted to [accomplish]?” — outside of the obvious, which is to pay kudos to the band members and how we started this whole thing way back [when] — having said that, the one thing that really does stick out, that does really endorse “How did all of this really start?” it’s really accolated in the reveal of those pictures, and the story of us being in Chicago at Chess Records. No one really knows about all of that, to any great extent.
In truth, I myself had not forgotten. But going through those pictures and really digging into the memories of that — and talking with [producer] Mike Vernon, who took us there from our record company and remembering the details, some of which are cited in the book, but also a whole myriad bumper bundle of information that hit me — and I go, “Oh my God. How amazing was that, that these funny little kids from England end up in Chicago?” And too [it’s] something that the general public that know Fleetwood Mac do not know about.
So any form of document or interview that you’re doing, you know, it is fair to say that you look for those things that you hope will be interesting for people to go, “Oh my God, I never knew that.” And that’s why we love hearing things. I’m still looking and hearing and being reminded and educated about things that went on [with] The Beatles and bands that I love, and loved. You find out stuff. So I’m really hoping that some of that, some real extent, exists. And I feel it does in this lovely book.
[The] blues jam at Chess was amazing, to be there with Buddy Guy and Otis Spann and Willie Dixon, who’s like the godfather of Chicago electric blues. The whole scene revolved around him. A lot of people that aren’t blues enthusiasts realize someone like Willie Dixon was such a major player. But even moreso, he wrote so many songs, for bands like Led Zeppelin and “Back Door Man.” He was our, like, godfather, holding our hand around that whole trip, and put all of those great people in the studio with us. One, you feel grateful; two, you realize that that’s what started. Enthusiasm was all about that music, and that’s how Fleetwood Mac started, with that music.
Photo-wise, how did you guys decide what did and didn’t go in the book? Obviously, there were probably things you didn’t know were even documented.
The whole project basically started about two years ago in terms of one, having Genesis [Publications] have the enthusiasm, and the care and getting behind telling a story that, for the most part, is quite a boutique part of Fleetwood Mac’s history. But I think it’s going to be really fascinating for a lot of people; we all hope so. It’s a process.
We were all beating bushes and emptying cupboards and realizing “Oh, I wonder if that photo assistant still knows the guy or his family? Is he still alive?” All these things kept sparking endless amounts of information. I have to say, my nephew, Kells Jesse, who’s worked on this whole project with me and kept it so focused in my world, and then working with Genesis [Publications]—they are the masters. If you are not aware, they have done so many incredible publications. That’s a whole that’s a story in itself, how masterful they are [at] getting things that you think don’t exist anymore. Five months later, they find the guy that might have had the pictures.
A lot of that came down to what tells a story. You know, the old slightly corny adage, every picture tells a story. Obviously, with a book like this, you do tend to look for things that are relevant, that can start telling the story and keeping the story focused on the history of the early incarnations of Fleetwood Mac. I have stashes of pictures I’ve got copies of now and inherited that didn’t make it into the book. The book would be the width of a double-decker bus otherwise. You end up being selective.
You often find — much like I’ve noticed on putting an album together, a musical album — sometimes you could have a song, which in this case would be a photograph, and go “No, I don’t know, it’s a bit out of focus.” Or you go “Maybe the song isn’t strong enough.” And for all intents and purposes to explain what I’m trying to explain, it becomes the ugly duckling and is discarded.
However, those items sometimes create a balance. And then when you go back into the archive, or back into the early songs when you’re trying to put an album together, you go “You know what, now that song, we didn’t notice how strong it was.” You know, because when it’s complemented in the middle of other songs, it’s a great balancing counterpart to it.
That was an interesting thing. Sometimes, I found something that was so important, personally, to me, that I had to be very careful. Otherwise, it would be [a] “I, I, I, me, me, me” thing — and I hope to God it doesn’t feel like that. But there were moments, a couple of pictures of me and Peter Green, where I go, “I remember that so vividly,” and I was able to speak to it. And what triggered it was just a picture of me and my friend. It wasn’t us in the studio, or us getting on a plane for the first time to go to America, and all of those things do exist in this book.
Those moments were, in many ways, on a personal level. And this is not all about my journey, but I am sort of Hamlet’s ghost in the background trying to tell the story on behalf of a band that I’ve been in since 1967. So it’s all been a trip and, in many ways, more poignant than sitting down with a pen and writing a book. It’s quite fascinating.
With your descriptions of what the other bandmates brought to Fleetwood Mac, their contributions and their talents, especially when you’re writing about Peter Green, there was such a tenderness to those words that really stood out to me.
It was. A personal thing, which I hope — and just even saying that, I’m realizing you get it — there would be no band without this chap, Peter Green. He was my friend, and remains so. But we’re not super connected, because his life literally took him away, and the way his life went — and that’s a whole another story.
One of the things that was devastatingly great and mind-blowing was when I was talking to Peter for a few hours, and we transcribed some of the things that were said during, really, nearly three hours of talking with him, which I don’t often do. Among thousands of other things, I did want to ask him — and I thought it was relevant for the book — I said “You know, back in the day, when this all came together, why did you ask me to be at your side playing drums?” In the band that he was forming, you know?
I became his right-hand man, and that story goes on through today, in truth. I didn’t preconceive anything. I thought that he would probably, maybe say “Well, I thought you were a really good drummer.” [Laughs.] And he didn’t — he said “Well, you were so sad. You were so sad, and you had broken up with Jenny and you were brokenhearted, and I thought you needed to do something. And that’s what made my mind up that you, out of the choice of . . . ” — maybe two or three people he’d been thinking of. One was an old buddy of his, who I knew.
He said, “I thought you needed it. You needed to pull yourself together.” And I thought that was such a loving statement. It had nothing to do with playing. He did it as a friend to pull me out of being, you know, blue. And that tied in with this title [of the book], in no uncertain terms. And the irony of the title is, if you jump forward thirty years, the whole legacy of this strange band, is all interwoven with love, really, and dysfunctional versions of it as well.