Still ‘burning’: Drummer Fleetwood on book that traces band’s early, bluesy years
Fleetwood Mac has sold out arenas for decades and racked up millions of record sales thanks to hits like “Go Your Own Way,” “Rhiannon” and “Don’t Stop,” but band co-founder Mick Fleetwood would like fans around the world to remember that the iconic classic rock band is, at its roots, a blues group.
Mr. Fleetwood said that the story of how the English band first came to Chicago, one of the hotbeds of blues music, in the late-1960s is mostly unknown to Fleetwood Mac’s legions of fans. But now, thanks to his picture-and-narrative book “Love That Burns — A Chronicle of Fleetwood Mac,” that untold chapter in the group’s life is finally being told.
“That part I thought was really important for a musician that loved — and still loves — blues so much as I do,” Mr. Fleetwood told The Washington Times from the SXSW Conference in Austin, Texas, where he will speak Wednesday and sign copies of his book. “That’s where we came from.
“This covers those early years and pays homage to all the players, especially the original lineup.”
“Love That Burns” offers rare photos of a young Mr. Fleetwood rocking out in Chicago blues clubs alongside Mac co-founder Peter Green. The initial lineup of the later-rotating roster was rounded out by guitarist Jeremy Spencer and bassist John McVie, the latter who still plays bass with the group to this day.
“We got to live out our musical fantasies, playing with all the blues greats [from] Chess Records and recording blues albums,” Mr. Fleetwood said of those halcyon days when he and his British bandmates were all in their early twenties.
“We were just a bunch of funny white English kids playing with Willie Dixon and Buddy Guy and Otis Spann,” he said with a laugh, “and it sort of got forgotten that that all happened” in the band’s history, he said.
Mr. Fleetwood’s publisher, Genesis Publications, has previously put out similar rock compendiums such as Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page’s self-titled autobiography, and it was this model that finally made Mr. Fleetwood say yes to the Genesis device.
“Jimmy Page put out a beautiful book,” Mr. Fleetwood said of his fellow Englishman. (Mr. Fleetwood now lives in Hawaii.) “It [inspired] me to do a book on the first part of Fleetwood Mac, the early years,” which remain largely unknown outside of the band’s extremely dedicated chroniclers.
When Mr. Fleetwood began work on “Love That Burns,” which will be out in September, he was unaware that, by happy coincidence, August will mark the 50th anniversary of his band.
“It became really relevant and part of the story [that] this book comes out on our 50th birthday,” Mr. Fleetwood, 69, said of the band’s golden jubilee.
While “Love That Burns” covers only the first few years of the classic rock act, Mr. Fleetwood says the title is appropriate given the often-tumultuous relationship of the individual band members, especially during the later 1970s. Americans Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, a singing duo and couple in real life, joined the group in 1974, but severe internal friction was not far off. Fleetwood Mac recorded the seminal album “Rumours” in 1976 as Mr. Buckingham and Miss Nicks were breaking up — at the same time as Mr. McVie and fellow Mac singer Christine McVie were divorcing.
“Go Your Own Way,” one of the great breakup tunes, came from “Rumours.”
Accordingly, Mr. Fleetwood said that the name “Love That Hurts” “seems a very apropos title because [in] the history of Fleetwood Mac, not all of it has been hugely happy,” he said. “I won’t say it’s totally unique, but it’s fairly unique — this strange survival of this band throughout all these years.”
Additionally, “Love That Burns” is one of Mr. Fleetwood’s favorites of the songs written by Mr. Green, lending it another special meaning.
Mr. Fleetwood is a photographer in his own right, but said that many of his old negatives have been lost during his frequent moves over the decades. Accordingly, he had to turn to his friends, historians and, in some cases, even complete strangers to help fill in the pages of “Love That Burns.” He said that the era of social media allowed him to track down certain photographers — or, if they were deceased, their relatives — and crowd-source rare images and stories that even the rock ‘n’ roll drummer had forgotten about in the half-century since the time shown in his tome.
“It just is a lot easier than it was 30 years ago,” Mr. Fleetwood said of curating information in the 21st century. “I remember reading an article about Jimmy Page, and he said, ‘If it wasn’t for all the people who coughed up all these incredible pictures,” then his own book, “Jimmy Page,” wouldn’t have turned out as well as it did.
Unsurprisingly, there are photographs that came forward that Mr. Fleetwood had forgotten entirely, as well as snaps of long-departed friends like saxophonist J.T. Brown, with whom he played in Chicago. There were also shots of Brown playing alongside steel pedal great Elmore James.
“Seeing that type of shot was just the wildest thing,” Mr. Fleetwood said.
Mr. Fleetwood wishes to impress that “Love That Burns” is not “the Mick Fleetwood story” even if he does in fact play the role of historical rock narrator. Rather, it pulls back the curtain on Fleetwood Mac’s early years as a blues act and its original founder, Mr. Green.
“There’s a very good reason to have a special focus on the man who started this band,” he said of his former bandmate. (Mr. Green left Fleetwood Mac in 1970.)
Mr. Fleetwood is signing the first pressing of “Love That Burns” at SXSW this week, the only place the limited 2,000 copies are available until the book comes out in the fall.
He remains thankful that, as a young man, he was able to rub elbows with the Chicago blues greats, nearly all of whom — with the notable exception of Buddy Guy — have since passed on. Some of the jam sessions with his heroes were even recorded for the album “Blues Jam at Chess” in 1969.
“We got to play with our heroes in such a profound way,” he said.
Mick Fleetwood will speak at SXSW Wednesday at 5 p.m. CST. “Love That Burns — A Chronicle of Fleetwood Mac” will be available from Genesis this fall. For more information visit FleetwoodMacBook.com.