Will the real Fleetwood Mac please stand up?
Article from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette today.
Before we get too worked up about Fleetwood Mac landing in Pittsburgh without Lindsey Buckingham, we should remember that in the annals of the famed British band and rolling soap opera that dates all the way back to 1967, that might be considered a tweak.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but Fleetwood Mac, which has shuffled through nearly 20 different members over six decades, was the subject of one of rock’s all-time great charades in 1974, and it began, of all places, on Bigelow Boulevard in Oakland.'
As promoter Rich Engler tells it in his book “Behind the Stage Door,” he had just merged with veteran promoter Pat DiCesare to form the soon-to-be dominant DiCesare-Engler Productions and, fearful of disappointing his more experienced partner, he was being exceptionally cautious about what their first show would be.
He settled on Fleetwood Mac, which he had booked a few times as a scrappy indie promoter. Before becoming one of the most blockbuster bands of all time, Fleetwood Mac had modest beginnings as a blues unit formed by ex-John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers members Peter Green (guitar) and Mick Fleetwood (drums). They were a lot more popular in England but did slip into the 1969 U.S. charts, at No. 55, with the blues rocker “Oh Well.”
In 1971, when they opened for Poco at the Syria Mosque, Fleetwood Mac was a different animal, with softer pop elements and a feminine touch, with the additions of Bob Welch and Christine (Perfect) McVie on “Future Games.” The following album, “Bare Trees,” had a hit buried on it with “Sentimental Lady,” which didn’t actually chart until Welch rerecorded for it his solo album in 1977.
Two Fleetwood Mac albums later — we’re already up to album eight — on 1973’s “Mystery to Me,” the band was getting nice FM play with the dreamy Welch song “Hypnotized,” bumping Fleetwood Mac up to a suitable theater headliner.
During that ’73 tour, however, the other Bob — guitarist Bob Weston — had the gall to seduce the boss’ wife, Jenny Boyd Fleetwood (sister of Pattie Boyd Harrison), so he was fired, the tour was canceled, and Fleetwood Mac was all but kaput.
That didn’t fly with their manager, Clifford Davis, a tough Cockney lad who had apprenticed with Brian Epstein of the Beatles. He threw a Hail Mary, doo-wop-world style, by assembling a pseudo Fleetwood Mac. His ringers, who included two former members of the band Curved Air, were under the impression that they were the latest members of an already revolving Fleetwood Mac and that Mick was just delayed in joining the tour.
The first show was Jan. 16 at the Syria Mosque in Oakland, where Mr. Engler distinctly recalls seeing the six unfamiliar British guys walk through the door. When he asked Mr. Davis where Fleetwood Mac was, he was told they had just walked by. Having worked with Fleetwood Mac before, he expected to see at least a Fleetwood and a McVie or two.
“This is not Fleetwood Mac!” he declared, and insisted there was no way they were going on.
Mr. Davis, he claims, reacted by taking a swing at him and missing. Security quickly broke up the tussle that ensued, at which point Mr. Davis convinced D-E that they would have trouble “with the people in New York” if they canceled the show. So it went on. First, though, was opening act Spirit — of “I Got a Line” and, later, “Stairway to Heaven” lawsuit fame — which, to Mr. Engler’s horror, was missing frontman Randy California, off on a solo venture.
“It was a nightmare,” according to Mr. Engler.
But then, something strange happened. The people loved Spirit anyway and, once “Fleetwood Mac” was announced, with some trepidation, and started to play, the crowd loved them, too.
“The were actually really good,” Mr. Engler says, “and I don’t know if the crowd was just really stoned or didn’t know what Fleetwood Mac looked like.”
Only about a dozen people asked for refunds, but, then again, tickets were all of $4 to $6.
When he called New York the next day and described what happened, the agent didn’t even believe the story about the band being fake.
A week later, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ran a piece headlined “Hey, What’s Going on Here, Mac?” that recounted D-E’s Fleetwood Mac embarrassment and included a statement from band management that Mick Fleetwood was ill and would be joining the tour when he recovers.
Ten days after the Pittsburgh show, at the Academy of Music (later, the Palladium) in New York, on the seventh night of the tour, they ran into a whole new problem when singer Elmer Gantry lost his voice and couldn’t go on, according to the Rolling Stone story on Feb. 28, 1974.
They had a packed house of 3,400 people there, who had just sat through opening bands Silverhead and, believe it or not, Kiss. They went out and announced that Mick Fleetwood wasn’t there and that the singer had lost his voice, so they just had the band go out and jam for 30 minutes. Only about 800 people asked for refunds (but, after all, they had just seen really, really early Kiss — and who could possibly want their money back after that?!).
The tour imploded after a few more dates.
“We were all on holiday when we found out what had happened,” Mr. Fleetwood told Rolling Stone that November. “Before the bogus band played too many dates, we had to physically get together and take legal advice. The impression Clifford had given was that he had every legal right to do what he did. We very soon found out, apart from morally having no excuse, there was no legal right.”
Fleetwood Mac got a restraining order to stop the fake Fleetwood Mac. The next year, two of the faux Macs, Gantry and Gregory Kirby, formed the band Stretch and actually had a UK hit with a song called “Why Did You Do It," addressing Mr. Davis’ fake tour.
In September 1974, the real Fleetwood Mac regrouped to release “Heroes Are Hard to Find” and returned to play the Mosque that October.
“It bombed,” Mr. Engler says, “and they were so remorseful about the situation, apologizing for what happened the last time.”
Things got better the next trip — in June 1975 at The Stanley (now the Benedum) — for a show billed in a PG newspaper ad as “Fleetwood Mac with Buckingham Nix (sic).” A month later, the band released a new album, incorporating Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, that was such a reboot, they called it “Fleetwood Mac.” Amazingly enough, it took 15 months for hits like “Monday Morning,” “Rhiannon,” “Over My Head,” “Say You Love Me” and “Landslide” to work their magic and send the album to the top of the charts.
When they opened for Jefferson Starship at the Arena in October 1975, the Pittsburgh Press raved “why they haven’t hit any bigger should be a puzzle of the past once word gets around.” In July 1976, Fleetwood Mac opened for the Eagles at Three Rivers Stadium in a show notable in media reports for how well the fans behaved compared to the ZZ Top/Aerosmith stadium debacle a month prior.
When the 1978 show was canceled the night-of due to Mr. Buckingham suffering the effects of a spinal tap, the band’s big arena headlining debut here was delayed until November 1979
Fast forward almost 40 years and we have another Fleetwood Mac mess and another lawsuit on our hands, with Mr. Buckingham having been abruptly fired, and replaced by Mike Campbell and Neil Finn, over a dispute, in part, about the singer-guitarist wanting to book solo dates between the Mac shows.
In the suit, filed in Los Angeles on Oct. 9, he claims that the band “secretly, and unceremoniously, moved on without him, hiring contract players to replace Buckingham’s iconic vocals and guitar parts …”
Sounds kind of familiar, doesn’t it?
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