I would tell Christine Perfect, "You're Christine f***ing McVie, and don't you forget it!"
Hi Lola. Jewel Eyed Judy is one of my favourite Fleetwood Mac songs of all Fleetwood Mac bands.
Was Mick refering to Danny rather than Jeremy?
I was aware the Fleetwood credit was actually Jenny and I'm pretty sure the McVie credit should actually go to Christine. I was just wondering though- did Mick mean the song lyrics were entirely a poem by Jenny or do you think he meant just Danny took the title of the poem. If it was the entire poem then it sounds as if she could have had a career as a poet/lyricist.
'Where words fail, music speaks'
Mick Fleetwood Tonight on BBC Radio 2
Don’t miss Mick Fleetwood speaking to Jo Whiley on BBC Radio 2 tonight at 8:00pm GMT. The 2-hour program will be available to listen to online, here.
Mick will be talking about his new memoir LOVE THAT BURNS covering Fleetwood Mac’s early days, their transformation from Blues band to global superstars, and the dynamics and relationships that made them one of the biggest bands in the world.
Celebrating 50 years since Fleetwood Mac’s debut, LOVE THAT BURNS* – A Chronicle of Fleetwood Mac, Volume One: 1967-’74 brings this chapter of the band’s history to life.
Sorry if my post was a little confusing. We were driving and I was trying to take notes and use navigation at the same time. The way it sounded to me was the poem and the name Jewel Eyed Judy were used. Either Mick or the interviewer said it's about Judy Wong, which I knew. Mick talked about his first drum set not having any cases and his parents being so supportive of him..
I really want this book but the price!
Kudos then to Jenny Boyd Fleetwood. Jewel Eyed Judy has a beautiful melody but its easy to overlook the lovely lyrics that go with it.
'Where words fail, music speaks'
Mick Fleetwood: why I left home at 16
Fleetwood Mac's self-taught drummer Mick Fleetwood recalls arriving in London at 16 and cutting his teeth on the blues. (Ovt. 10)
MICK FLEETWOOD SAYS ‘WITHOUT PETER GREEN, THERE WOULD BE NO FLEETWOOD MAC': EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW
Fleetwood Mac have been making music since 1967. That's a lot of history. Most people are familiar with only the multi-million-selling albums, like Fleetwood Mac and Rumours. As great as they are, those records are only part of the band's story.
Drummer Mick Fleetwood's new book, Love That Burns: A Chronicle of Fleetwood Mac Volume 1, 1967-1974, shifts the focus to those early years. Back then, he says they were just "four young chaps who loved playing blues." But there was much more to what Fleetwood Mac created with their original lineup of Fleetwood, guitarist Jeremy Spencer, bassist John McVie and the band's leader, guitarist Peter Green.
With its treasure trove of photos and text, Love That Burns tells the tale, following Fleetwood Mac through the mid '70s, just before the band had its breakthrough moment. Fleetwood talks about the book, his early inspirations and Fleetwood Mac's underrated early contributors in an exclusive interview with Ultimate Classic Rock.
Congratulations on the new book. It's a fascinating look at the early years of the band. What first inspired you to put this together?
Well, it's a long story really. The original inspiration probably came over 20 years ago when my ex-brother-in-law George [Harrison] showed me a beautiful book that he put together in collaboration with Genesis Books. At that point, I didn't know who they were. I said, 'This thing is beautiful,' and it was one of those things where you go, One day it would be a fantastic thing to do something like this. I made an approach to work with Genesis, then sort of got lost in the mire of what I was doing, then it went off radar, but I always remembered this incredible book. They take all this beautiful care. It's leather bound, and this that and the other. Then years and years later, about two and a half years ago, I was in L.A. and was walking around a shop and picked up a book that had a picture of Jimmy Page on the front, and lo and behold it was a Genesis book. I was with my nephew, and right then and there I turned around to him and said, 'Phone them up and see if they'd like to do a book on the original band.' So he cold-called Genesis and started a dialogue, and that's how we got to where we are. So I can blame it on George Harrison all those years ago.
The book truly is like a work of art.
Well, there you go. I remembered that, and Page's book was so beautiful as well. The great thing was, and more power to them as a book company, I understand they said 'We really want to do a book on Fleetwood Mac,' which would be the whole thing, but I really wanted to keep it focused on how this all started, and the fact that they saw the credence in all that was fairly remarkable in itself, when you look at why they might not want to do it. So we've ended up with this first chronicle of this period, which needs to survive and that's why I was sort of really pushing for that to happen in this way. There is going to be Volume Two, and that's going to be a labor of love putting that all together as well. Lo and behold, as the clock was ticking, we seriously didn't even realize that we were drifting into the date to celebrate the original incarnation of Fleetwood Mac's 50th birthday, which was not part of the plan at all. So that's how we got here.
That's wonderful. When most people think of Fleetwood Mac, they immediately zero in on the late-'70s era, but there is so much more to the band's story.
I'm just really happy with the document itself and its importance, which became more profound in terms of the 50th anniversary. I am really happy with the book, and it is guided by myself, but I'm hoping that the complexion of how this whole thing stands is not an 'I, me, me' thing at all. It's me paying kudos to what this was all about, and what started this strange creature called Fleetwood Mac on its journey, and if I have achieved that to some reasonable degree, I'm happy. So far people are, with much zeal, saying we are accomplishing that. I mean Peter [Green], just by the nature of the journey he took emotionally, and the way his life ended up being framed ... One, he has so little ego about any of this. He's not going to sit there and wave his own flag. Danny [Kirwin] is off the radar and not a very happy story there, and Bob Welch has passed away. You think some of this might be forgotten about, and I'm hoping this is at least a foot through the door to say, Hey, anyone who wants to find out about all this, it's relevant and I'm glad to have done it.
Have you always been the sort of archivist of the band? There are countless amazing photos in the book. Did you seek out a lot of the photos or were they in your collection?
Part and parcel of both things. I thought, in truth, I had more bases covered with a variety of stuff, but upon looking in endless boxes and in my barn and so forth, they either got lost or we didn't find. Having said that, I'm sort of glad that the outcome was what it was, thanks to Genesis, they are so talented with finding material, which they did. I'm actually happy that it happened differently than I thought it would, because the photographs that are personal, I knew where and what they were all about to help tell the story. The unknown photographs from shoots and from people that I did not know and was not familiar with actually spoke volumes for me and made it more of journey challenging me as to what was going on. That was more valuable than the whole load of pictures that I did know. I'm glad it happened like that, where at first I thought, Oh, my God, we’re failing to find all the pictures we need. It became a community of input, which seemed apropos. We've ended up with a really nice story telling about the first few incarnations of Fleetwood Mac. I write about it in the book, for obvious reasons, the lion's share of the book is dedicated to Peter Green. He started Fleetwood Mac, and I say very clearly without Peter, there would be no Fleetwood Mac, period, so let's get that straight. There are those who think that I formed Fleetwood Mac, well, I didn't. I was happy to be at Peter's side when Peter asked me to play drums. The rest is, of course, a long history of me being there since the beginning, and on and on we went!
So you left home at 15 to become a full-time musician. Who or what first inspired you to become a drummer?
We don't really know! A lot of people think my father was a drummer. My father was not a drummer, but he had, unbeknownst to me, messed around in the officer's mess on a drum kit. Dad was a tapper, getting a ruler or pencils and playing wine glasses with water in them at parties or tapping money in his pockets, playing spoons or something like that. That was really the sum of it. If that sort of spawned the attitude to go and be pipe dreaming about being a drummer, then so be it. I don't really know where it came from, but I used to sit around hitting furniture while Mum listened to the radiogram. So it started pretty early, probably when I was about 8. When I was at boarding school, all I wanted was to have a drum kit. I used to send away for catalogs. I would tape them all together and walk around school, an academic idiot, no smarts at all, but I had a nice big dossier of glistening drum kits. [Laughs]
Do you remember your first drum kit?
I do! My first drum kit was called a Gigster. It was almost like a toy. Gold sparkle, tiny, almost like a toy, but it was a drum kit I used to sit on the side of the sofa. There's a picture in the book of me playing that kit. Then I was off to the races, and never stopped. Then I left school when I was spot-on 15 and, at the time I was not even 16, I was on my way to London, then shortly after that a friend, who became a lifelong friend until he passed away, Peter Bardens [later of the band Camel], heard me banging around in my sister's garage in Notting Hill Gate. He lived in the same cul-de-sac, and he said, 'Hey, I heard you playing drums. I'm playing at a youth club and managing a band called the Fenders.' I'd never played with anybody, all I'd done was play at home to the radiogram and banged along to records. That's how it started. It was like a total dream come true. That's all touched on in the beginning of the book.
Each of the early incarnations of the band had its own identity, and the book shows how they connect. Over time, people would occasionally refer to the Peter Green era, but it seems only recently have more people begun to make note of the Bob Welch years.
Bob is very much an unsung hero in many ways, considering how many albums he made with Fleetwood Mac. His partnership, especially with Christine [McVie], they worked really well together. She never really worked very closely with Danny, the chemistry thing wasn't necessarily there, but with Bob it was, and he was a great mechanism. We basically went off to America. In Europe we took a dump really, after Peter left, somewhat understandably. Peter was simply such a powerful entity in those early days. So, we went off to America to somewhat lick our wounds, and we ended up staying there. There's no doubt Bob was a huge part of the survival of this crazy band.
What did you take away most from putting the book together?
For me, the whole book has been really enlightening, a regrouping from whence you have come in terms of the dynamic of what it means to me. Hopefully if John [McVie] picks up the book, he'll go, 'Yeah, I'm glad that's been done.' It's been an education on how we started, and what it was all about and I'm glad I've done it. The book is about celebrating the music that caused all of this. There's quite a drama, there is no doubt that the cause and effect of the journey has some collateral damage on some of the people, Peter being one of them. But this is the celebration of this period. I pretty much left out that whole sensibility, not because I'm hiding it, it's certainly known about, but I didn't want it to be that. I wanted it to be something that would really put a line in the sand and say this was about four young chaps who loved playing blues and started this whole thing.
Mick Fleetwood on the early days of Fleetwood Mac and why he's a terrible drummer
Mick Fleetwood is the backbone of the band that bears his name; the man who kept Fleetwood Mac rolling through the best and hardest of times.
In the early days he was their manager, hiring and firing musicians like a soft rock Alan Sugar.
By the late 70s, he was the bandage that stopped them falling apart amidst drug abuse, infidelity and betrayal.
And sitting behind his "back to front" drum kit, Fleetwood is the band's beating heart, constructing dozens of unforgettable rhythms - from the syncopated shuffle of Go Your Own Way, to the fidgety cowbell riff of Oh Well.
But surprisingly, the 70-year-old doesn't rate his own drumming.
"There's no discipline," he says. "I can't do the same thing every night."
Anyone who's listened to the deluxe edition of Fleetwood Mac's Tusk will know otherwise. There, you can hear multiple outtakes from the title track, with Fleetwood sitting doggedly on the song's distinctive groove for more than 25 minutes.
Still, he insists: "I am very not conformed, I change all the time."
The confession is prompted by a discussion about Fleetwood's lavish new picture book, Love That Burns, which chronicles his early career and the first incarnations of Fleetwood Mac.
It's being released 50 years after the band played their first show: A 20-minute set at the Windsor Jazz & Blues Festival alongside artists like Cream, Pink Floyd and Jeff Beck.
Back then, they were a hard-edged blues combo, working under the guidance of guitarist Peter Green - who, like Fleetwood and bassist John McVie, had previously played in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers.
Green called the group Fleetwood Mac "because I knew I was probably going to leave," he later recalled, adding: "I always wanted Mick and John to have a job."
In the late 60s, the band enjoyed hits with Albatross, Oh Well and Black Magic Woman (later covered by Santana) before the ominous The Green Manilishi presaged Green's descent into drug-induced psychosis.
It's a period of the band's history that's frequently overshadowed by their wildly-successful 70s incarnation, the one that produced Rumours and Tusk, and that's what Fleetwood hopes to in the new book.
"The other thing is so big and so famous that this [story] could just get swallowed up," he says, "I'm happy that at least there's something that says, 'Hey, this is how it all started.'"
As the story begins, the young Fleetwood is a three-town runaway from boarding school, who's been cut loose by his parents and is barrelling around London in a second-hand taxi, dropping in and out of blue bands as he learns his craft.
"In those days, if you had a drum kit that was worth something it was almost more important than if you were a half-way decent drummer," he laughs.
"So if you had the drums and the taxi it was like, 'Yeah, let's give him the gig!'"
One of his first paid jobs was with The Cheynes, who were hired as the backing band for visiting blues legend Sonny Boy Williamson when he played London's Marquee Club.
Unprepared for the star's tendency to improvise, the band completely lost their way and got a "monumental scolding" in front of the audience.
After bouncing between bands for a couple of years, Fleetwood ended up in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, replacing their previous drummer, Aynsley Dunbar.
"Aynsley is a brilliant drummer," says Fleetwood. "Technically, he's in a whole different league than I am, but he was probably getting a bit too clever.
"The band didn't want any more drum solos, so he was out and I was in - and I'm just Simple Simon, a rock and roll blues drummer."
That didn't go down well with the audience, however, who started chanting "Where's Aynsley?" every night.
"And I always remember in the early days, John came to my rescue and basically came to the microphone and told them to shut up."
It was a beginning of a beautiful friendship. Fleetwood and McVie not only gave their names to Fleetwood Mac, but they are the only constants in the band's ever-changing line-up.
In the book, Fleetwood says of McVie: "Musically, he helped me survive whenever I was drowning." And it is this comment that prompts the revelation about the drummer's supposed lack of skill.
"For a while, he thought he could train me into doing the same bass drum pattern every night but I couldn't... because of the way my mind works," he explains, "so John learned to push all his notes around what I do."
"It's become this weird thing. It's not really how a rhythm section should work. They're supposed to be doing exactly the same thing at the same time. I'm doing different stuff and he's falling in between the gaps."
After three years of success, Fleetwood Mac's future was jeopardised when Green quit, giving away most of his earnings in the process.
The guitarist's mental health deteriorated soon after, and he was eventually diagnosed with drug-induced schizophrenia, spending long periods in psychiatric hospitals and undergoing electroconvulsive therapy.
"I don't know why I left the group in the end," Green writes in Fleetwood's book. "I know that people looked at me like I was in a dream. I could tell that, even at the time."
Fleetwood describes Green's decline with tenderness and regret. It's clear he still feels responsible, in some way, for not spotting his illness sooner.
"I wish we had been better equipped," he tells me. "Maybe we could have seen something that could've helped - not to keep him in the band, but to help this person through the beginnings of a very emotional ride that, really, he's still on as we speak.
"It affected his life in a very dramatic way," he adds. "I don't think he was treated right for what turned out to be his illness, but he's healthy now and doing ok. I'm going to go and see him on Sunday, in fact."
After Green left, Fleetwood Mac floundered for a while, before recruiting John's wife Christine McVie - who was already a solo star in her own right.
She went on to write some of the band's most memorable songs - Songbird, Don't Stop, Over My Head - and remains part of the line-up today. But the band's fortunes really turned around in 1974, when they were joined by two young American singers, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks.
At this point Love That Burns draws to a close. Fleetwood says there are plans for a Volume Two, which promises to go behind-the-scenes on Rumours, the seventh best-selling studio album of all time, and one which was recorded as all five members' personal lives unravelled.
"That will be a big monster," laughs Fleetwood.
"I don't know when we're going to do it, but that story needs to be told."
New book heralds beginnings of Fleetwood Mac
LONDON - Mick Fleetwood was 16 when he left school, told his parents he wanted to pursue a career in rock 'n' roll and went to London in search of gigs.
A common tale, true, but this one has a happy ending. Fleetwood fell in with some talented blues enthusiasts, paid (barely) his dues and soared to stardom with the first incarnation of Fleetwood Mac, and then into the rock 'n' roll stratosphere with the second, more pop-oriented version of the band.
"School was not a good thing for me," said Fleetwood, dressed in classic British style, complete with a pocket watch on a chain. "I had a learning disability, no doubt, and no one understood what those things were. I was sort of drowning at school academically. My parents were like, 'Go and do it.' They were picking up on the fact that I had found something. They saw the one thing that I loved with a passion was teaching myself how to play drums at home. So they sent me off with a little drum kit to London, and the whole thing unfolded."
Fleetwood didn't really have to rebel, though rebellion was in the air, and he had the good fortune to make friends early with Peter Green, the supremely talented guitarist whose blues sound shaped the band's early years.
Green receives the lion's share of the credit, and the dedication, in Fleetwood's memoir of the band's formative period "Love That Burns: A Chronicle of Fleetwood Mac, Volume One: 1967-1974." It has been published in a limited signed edition by Genesis Publications.
At 70, Fleetwood is anxious to acknowledge his debt to Green, who left the band in 1970.
Fleetwood and bassist John McVie later were joined by Christine McVie, Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham for a new lineup that hit the jackpot with "Rumours," one of the best-selling albums of all time.
Fleetwood said the band's very name reflects Green's self-effacing approach.
"Peter was asked why did he call the band Fleetwood Mac," he said. "He said, 'Well, you know I thought maybe I'd move on at some point and I wanted Mick and John to have a band.' End of story, explaining how generous he was."
The photos and text of "Love That Burns" are really the celebration of an era, capturing the explosion of British music at a time when bands like the Who and the Beatles were vying for the top spots on the charts and competing with semi-forgotten bands like Freddie and the Dreamers, who actually got top billing over the Rolling Stones on a least one concert poster.
Once Fleetwood Mac made its name as a blues band, the group was able to go to Chicago's famous Chess Studios to record with some of the great American bluesmen, including a few of the pioneers who had helped perfect the driving Chicago sound.
Fleetwood remembers - with relief - that the long-haired crew of young Brits was able to at least play in the same room as Buddy Guy and Willie Dixon without sounding foolish.
"These are major, major players for anyone who knows anything about blues," Fleetwood says. "Having that take place, I don't know what they must have really thought with us funny little English kids walking into their world. I feel good about it to this day that we held our own dignity even with these guys."
He said the whole experience was "like going to their church and not just being in the congregation but actually doing our version of preaching with them."
While some fans swear the early Fleetwood Mac was better than the later, far more commercial version, Fleetwood knows the group is identified more with its string of hits, including Bill Clinton's favorite song, "Don't Stop," which earned the band a headlining gig at his inaugural celebration.
This is one reason the book focuses on the first band. Fleetwood doesn't want it to be forgotten.
"Even as we were doing it (the book), we realized that the band was 50 years old," he said. "So it's really about drawing a line in the sand to say that this happened and what caused this. And it's generally fair to say, especially in the United States, this section of the formation of Fleetwood Mac is not really known about."
MICK FLEETWOOD: PETER GREEN HIRED ME BECAUSE HE FELT SORRY FOR ME
Mick Fleetwood recently discovered that he got his job with Fleetwood Mac only because Peter Green felt sorry for him in the aftermath of his split with girlfriend Jenny Boyd, whom he later married.
The story of his audition emerged while Fleetwood was interviewing founding guitarist Green for Fleetwood's new book Love That Burns: A Chronicle of Fleetwood Mac, 1967-1974. “I thought he was going to say, ‘Well, I thought you were a pretty good drummer,’” Fleetwood told Classic Rock. “But he said: ‘You’d just broken up with Jenny and you were devastated, and I just thought you needed to do something. That’s why I asked you to join the band, because I just wanted you to get back on your feet.’
“How amazing was that? It really had nothing to do with whether I was a halfway decent drummer or not, it was just because he loved me and didn’t want to see me in pain.”
Fleetwood said Green named the band in a gesture of “friendship" for their relationship. "Someone asked him why did he call the band Fleetwood Mac?" Fleetwood recalled. "And he said, ‘Well, in truth, I thought at some time I’d probably move on, and I wanted John [McVie] and Mick to have something after I left.”
Crediting Green with giving him confidence as a musician, Fleetwood noted, “I play from the heart. I don’t know what I’m doing half the time. And he told me, ‘Mick, you’re okay, just play.’ Peter was the consummate team player.”
Green left Fleetwood Mac in 1970. In a separate interview with Rolling Stone Australia, Fleetwood insisted that a planned 2018 group tour won’t be billed as a farewell. “Everyone in the band has decided it’s not," he said. "Phil Collins called his tour ‘I’m Not Dead Yet.’ Well, we’re not dead yet, but God forbid, we might be, so you could say, ‘I better go see them!’ But you won’t see a poster calling this a farewell tour.”
Going his own way
Mick Fleetwood has spent most of his life keeping the world’s most successful band together.
Mick Fleetwood has been walking around Carnaby Street, feeling a little — not nostalgic, exactly; he bats the suggestion away — but re-energised, vindicated. It was here in central London that, aged 17, he got his first job, working the phones at British department store Liberty, gleaning fashion ideas, dreaming of a rock ’n’ roll future, earning a princely £4 a week.
Squint, and the rangy old roue sitting opposite me in this boutique hotel, a former courthouse a few loping strides from where Liberty still stands, doesn’t look to have changed very much in the intervening five decades. He’s still a straight-backed 1.98m. His clothes still scream Swinging Sixties: paisley shirt, black jeans and red desert boots, gold medallion, gold earring and big gold rings on the knuckles of both hands. The teenage Mick might not have had the bling — or the neat grey beard and ponytail — but he had the drive to go out and get it.
“I couldn’t wait to bounce out of school, being an academic no-good,” says Fleetwood, 70, in silky tones befitting his long-ago posh boarding facility in Gloucester, southwest England. “I was a schemer, and London was where it was at. It was this pocket of naive thinking, this creative roll, this attitude, where nothing was questioned. I mean, why do these things happen?” He lets the question hang in the air.
A founding member of one of the most enduring and successful bands of the past 50 years, Fleetwood loves to talk, which is good news for ticket holders to his coming appearances in Sydney and Melbourne to launch Love That Burns — A Chronicle of Fleetwood Mac Volume One: 1967-1974, a limited edition tome produced by bespoke publisher Genesis. Pictorially driven, the book features contributions from early band members and colleagues, and an account of Fleetwood’s childhood and teenage years, which happened to coincide with the so-called British blues boom.
“It was a time of experimentation in music, in fashion, in art.” Fleetwood shrugs, his brown eyes wide. “Blues appealed to a chunk of kids coming out of the war. As young players we were identifying with something that let us express ourselves, our wears and tears and pain.
“We’d go out to Eel Pie Island” (a major jazz and blues venue in the Thames at Twickenham, southwest London) “and listen to bands banging out early Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, stuff right out of the blues bin. It was a bijou movement that became a tidal wave.”
This Mick, a Maui, Hawaii-based grandfather, has seen it, done it, got the T-shirt. But he’s still as animated about music as he was when a juvenile drummer in a series of London-based bands called the Cheynes (which supported early gigs by the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds), the Bo Street Runners and Shotgun Express, which featured singer-guitarist Peter Green (or as Love That Burns insists, the “legendary” Peter Green), and a spry rising star named Rod Stewart.
Not to mention John Mayall’s Blues Breakers, a notorious outfit whose fluctuating line-up variously featured Fleetwood, Green and bassist John McVie.
When Mayall kicked McVie and Fleetwood out of the band for persistent onstage insobriety, a creatively frustrated Green left too. By the summer of 1967 all three men (along with guitarist Jeremy Spencer) were members of a band named Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac. Their live debut that same year — at the celebrated Windsor Blues and Jazz Festival — marked them out as a group to watch.
“There would be no Fleetwood Mac without Peter Green,” says Fleetwood of a man who is to the Mac as Syd Barrett was to Pink Floyd. That is, a troubled, sensitive, allegedly drug-dabbling genius for whom fame and its accoutrements became too much.
“Peter was our internal combustion engine, our focus. He was completely unselfish.
“Later on, when he was asked why he named the band Fleetwood Mac, he said: ‘I didn’t want to be Eric Clapton, I wanted to be in a band with Mick, John and Jeremy.’ He always knew he was going to move on, and he didn’t want us to be left with nothing.”
Spencer left. McVie left for several years and came back. But Fleetwood has been there throughout, all bug eyes and gangly limbs behind the cymbals and snares, gurning and thrashing through a litany of hits, none of which he wrote. No matter that he has always been at the bottom of the pecking order when it comes to credibility, creativity, (mega) earnings.
Keeping the Mac together has been his lifework — no mean feat given the band’s unofficial status as a sort of dysfunctional family, rife with fallings out, personnel changes, bankrupt*cies (Fleetwood’s, mainly), relationship swaps, alcohol and substance abuses, and various other intense lows and giddy, giddy highs. “My father used to say, try and have a humour about what you do, and if you know you have to get something done then don’t feel it’s necessary to take the credit.” He grins. “That,” he says, “would be the crafty side of Mick Fleetwood.”
Mention Fleetwood Mac to the person-of-a-certain-age on the street, and the line-up that will probably spring to mind is the one responsible for 1977’s US west coast dream-pop gem, Rumours, which remains one of the biggest selling albums of all time: husband-and-wife Christine and John McVie; Lindsey Buckingham and his on/off partner, Stevie Nicks; Fleetwood, there with Nicks on the album’s iconic black-and-white cover photo, his foot on a chair, a pair of wooden balls dangling from the crotch of his very tight black knickerbockers.
The balls, a “juju” good luck charm and a trademark of his wry stage get-up, date back to an early incarnation of Fleetwood Mac. The blues-playing Mac, in fact, that we’re here to talk about today.
The Mac that was based in Britain until 1975 (when they relocated to the US to build on their success), recording albums such as their self-titled 1967 debut Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, an overnight triumph, and 1968’s Mr Wonderful, which contains the Green-penned song Love That Burns, and whose guest singer, erstwhile folkie Christine Perfect, would go on to marry John McVie. Oh, and four of whose songs began with the exact same riff by Mississippi-born blues legend Elmore James.
“We were a bunch of kids playing blues and loving it. The fact that people hadn’t heard what we were producing made us something new, though in truth we were just copyists.” Fleetwood puts up his hands, you-got-me-guv style.
“If you listen to early Fleetwood Mac it’s our best efforts at doing something traditional. We weren’t like the Yardbirds, doing weird versions of classic songs. We played classic songs for better or for worse. And got better.”
He’d nicked the balls from a pub toilet after a few too many ales on tour: “The whole ethic of blues is slightly suggestive. Suitably, I walked out on stage with these two lavatory chains with wooden balls hanging down, and it just stuck.”
The son of a homemaker and an RAF pilot who moved his family from base to base — there was six years in Egypt and a long stint in Norway, where the young Mick grew fluent in Norwegian — Fleetwood was always a bit of a stirrer. This had a lot to do with what he now recognises as dyslexia; at school, unable to commit facts to memory, and with words swimming around on the page, he used to muck around for laughs instead.
“I mean, look, we’re sitting in an old courthouse,” he says now. “So many jails today are full of dyslexics and unconventional, misunderstood people. I’m so lucky that my parents encouraged creativity in all of us”
His sister Susan, who died of cancer in 1995, was an established Shakespearean actress; his other sister Sally became a sculptor and fashion designer. “They gave me a drum kit when I was 13, recognising that my future would probably be in something artistic.
“My dad liked to goof around on a drum kit or just do this sort of stuff.” He slaps out a brisk rhythm on one jeans-clad thigh. “His party piece in the officer’s mess was playing wine bottles with sticks. I’ve no idea if that is why I ended up doing what I’m doing but you know …” Another smile. “Here we are.”
Fleetwood is the first to admit he’s not the greatest percussionist ever to have whacked a high-hat.
Early on, when his nerves and a sort of rhythmic dyslexia tried to get the better of him, the ever sensitive Green would sing to fill in during drum breaks, and encourage Fleetwood to follow the beat by anticipating the lead guitarist. It was a masterclass that would prove invaluable later, when the group was auditioning Mac axemen Danny Kirwan and Bob Welch, since Fleetwood came to know what made a guitarist great.
“Peter had asked me to join John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, and when I wondered why he’d want me over the other incredibly adept drummer he said, ‘Mick, you play the **** from the heart and it’s totally suited to blues playing.’ The other guy had got too clever for what they were doing. Peter gave me confidence. He was a mentor as well as a friend.”
Still, forget drum solos. “I hate them. Inherently drummers are forced into **** like that, like when the power goes off in a club. You ever seen Charlie Watts do a drum solo? Ringo? Any drum solo I do is buffoonery, theatre; I shout in the microphone, talk in tongues. Though Peter did give me a talking drum once,” he says of the West African tama, an instrument that is clamped under an elbow and played with a stick. “I had great fun running around the stage with that.”
Green is a spectre in our conversation, garnering more mentions than, say, any of Fleetwood’s ex-wives: Jenny, sister of Pattie Boyd (who was married to Eric Clapton), who he married and divorced twice (and is the mother of his two daughters, Amy and Lucy); Sara, the former bestie of Nicks; Lynn, with whom he has twin girls, Ruby and Tessa. His current partner, Chelsea, here today, is a language teacher who lives with him in Maui, on a spread with three dogs, a pig and her daughter’s 25 exotic chickens. “They’re like cockatoos.”
More mentions, too, than his band mates past and present — especially, and consciously, Buckingham and Nicks, the blonde fairy goddess whose quavering voice and wafting chiffon outfits became a vital part of the Fleetwood Mac brand. “Well, the book is not about them, and the whole point of this interview is about the book,” says Fleetwood, who took over management of the band in 1974, the year Love That Burns finishes, the same year he overheard a folk duo called Buckingham Nicks performing in a recording studio he happened to be visiting, and was stopped in his tracks.
“The book concludes with a picture of me outside the restaurant where I introduced John and Christine to these two lovely people that I heard by happenstance,” he says. “How did all this happen?”
The question hovers, rhetorically. “It’s unbelievable!” he says. “So I am looking up at the sign and over to what will be the next part of this historic journey.”
The story has long been out there: of how Fleetwood and Nicks had a brief intense fling after the recording of Rumours. How Fleetwood dumped Nicks for her pal, Sara Recor, which a wounded Nicks then wrote a hit song about. The post-1974 Fleetwood Mac wasn’t shy about airing dirty laundry (Sara, Over My Head, Go Your Own Way), all while fulfilling every rock ’n’ roll cliche going.
Fleetwood’s 2014 autobiography Play On tells of cocaine use that began modestly enough (“We discovered a toot now and then relieved the boredom of long hours in the studio,” he writes); he has previously estimated that if his lines of coke were laid end to end they would run to about 11km long.
The bankruptcies came later, too. Fleetwood admits he has never been great with money, although his current sideline, a restaurant and bar in Maui called Fleetwood’s, where he performs from time to time with a blues band, is healthy enough. His first bankruptcy came in 1984, not long after he’d shelled out on Wensleydale, a sprawling property in Mittagong in the southern highlands of NSW, having fallen for Australia on Fleetwood Mac’s regular visits (a world tour next year is in the works).
“It was a pipe dream of a utopian lifestyle,” says Fleetwood, forgetting that we’ve strayed off-book. “Typical me, Irish dreaming nut case. I intended to live there, emigrate, the whole thing. But it became apparent that Australia was too far away for me as a sort of gatekeeper of Fleetwood Mac’s survival.
“The politics of Fleetwood Mac are well known and I couldn’t see the band going on if I kept the house. It was hard, all of it,” he sighs, “including getting my green card back.”
Still, nothing seems to have affected Fleetwood as much as the departure of the legendary Green. According to rock ’n’ roll legend, Green’s drift away from the band was tied in with health problems caused by his increasing LSD use. Having quit the band in 1970 and released several albums under his own name, he still lives in Southend on Sea, 65km east of London, a virtual recluse, the subject of ongoing fascination.
Fleetwood will be visiting his great friend in a couple of days, as he likes to do when he is in Britain. Whether Green appreciates the gesture is hard to say. “Peter is not the same person he was back then. He’s quite detached. He is someone who should never have taken acid, but that was only part of the reason he left Fleetwood Mac.” Fleetwood shakes his head.
“Life became so heavy for him. I’ve had my whole life to look at what happened with Peter with sadness; we lost someone so dear who became so altered that you didn’t, you don’t, really know …” He pauses, recalibrates.
“There isn’t a reciprocal connection. You go, ‘Well, he might not even miss me.’ But I love him and in many ways owe him everything.”
So of all the iterations of Fleetwood Mac, was the blues-playing, Swinging London version — Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac — his favourite?
“It was the most important because it’s how we started. We were doing what we wanted to do in this hugely exciting place, London, which was full of creativity and possibility and like-minded people. I can picture it so well.”
Fleetwood nods towards the street. “I still get a buzz being back here, even now.”
Mick Fleetwood is at two evening events in Sydney on November 28 and 29 and Melbourne on December 1 and 2.
Love That Burns — A Chronicle of Fleetwood Mac, Volume One: 1967-1974 is published by Genesis in a limited edition run of 2000 copies.