“If music be the food of love, play on.” – Shakespeare, Twelfth Night
These days if you mention Fleetwood Mac most people think of what is now referred to as their “classic” lineup (meaning their biggest selling roster): Mick Fleetwood (drums), John McVie (bass), Christine McVie (vocals, keyboards), Lindsey Buckingham (vocals, guitar) and Stevie Nicks (vocals, spooky outfits). I have to admit, even if you’d have asked me about Fleetwood Mac in the late 70s/early 80s when I started listening to music and buying albums I would have thought of the Fleetwood Mac – Rumours – Tusk version of the band. Recently I wrote about that lineup’s new, expanded live LP from 1980, ‘Live.’ I was unaware until much later of their extensive, bluesier history. Rock and roll had been around a lot longer than I realized in 1978 and had a deeper, richer history than I knew about when I was 13. Spelunking into rock n roll or a certain band’s history is part of the fun of being a fan for me and Fleetwood Mac’s rich history was no exception… but not everybody is wired as obsessively as I am.
Fleetwood Mac did indeed have a history that dated back to 1968, before Lindsey and Stevie. Hell, it even pre-dated Christine (Perfect) McVie. And that early Fleetwood Mac was steeped in the blues. To really tell the story of Fleetwood Mac and their early period one must step back to blues rock legend John Mayall. I’ve posted before about John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers first few albums. Mayall’s lineup for his first studio LP included not only John McVie on bass but Eric Clapton on guitar. This was circa the “Clapton Is God” era. Clapton met Jack Bruce who had also briefly played with Mayall – the Bluesbreaker were more of a consortium than a band it seems – and they grabbed a drummer from the Graham Bond Organization named Ginger Baker to form a new band. Without Mayall, there’d have been no Cream. What do you do when you lose a legend like Clapton on guitar? Apparently Mayall had a nose for great guitarists that rivaled Ozzy Osbourne’s… he quickly had a replacement for Clapton.
When Mayall brought his band into the studio to record his second studio LP, A Hard Road, his producer fearfully asked where Clapton was? Mayall reportedly said, “Don’t worry, we got someone better.” That guitarist he was talking about was the 20 year old Peter Green. You don’t hear much about Peter Green, a seemingly unsung hero in rock n roll, but he was one of the foremost guitarists in the second great British Blues explosion of the late 60s. What I have always admired about him is the tone he got out of his guitar. It’s like David Gilmour, instantly recognizable to me. Even Clapton praised his playing. But the highest praise for Peter Green came from blues legend B.B. King who said of him, “He had the sweetest tone I ever heard; he was the only one who gave me the cold sweats.” High praise, indeed.
After A Hard Road, Green like Clapton decided to leave the Bluesbreakers and form his own band. Mick Fleetwood who had also been a member of the Bluesbreakers but had been fired quickly agreed to join. Green wanted John McVie to leave Mayall and join his band so he named it Fleetwood Mac – after the drummer and bassist – but McVie waited until they were recording their first, eponymous LP to join. That name, Fleetwood Mac, was prescient as those two guys are the only mainstays of the band. Green was always a generous band leader and didn’t want to be a guitar hero like Clapton so he insisted that a second guitarist, Jeremy Spencer – an Elmore James influenced slide guitarist – join the band. Their eponymous first LP is a great blues rock classic. I love that late 60s blues rock era. Back in those days all the rock bands, when they needed material, turned to the blues. I can’t name a band – Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, the Jeff Beck Group – who weren’t doing Willie Dixon covers. The Mac’s debut may not have received the attention in the U.S. that it did in the U.K., but it should have. Although, admittedly, I didn’t put any tracks from the debut on my Blues Rock playlist a few weeks ago… although I did include a few early Fleetwood Mac tunes.
Sadly, Peter Green only lasted for three albums with Fleetwood Mac, the band he founded. I’ve read that he started dabbling in LSD. I’ve always heard that someone dosed him at a party in Germany and it really affected his mental health. I don’t know if he was schizophrenic or if he was an acid casualty like Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd. Regardless his mental decline resulted in his departure from the band. And sadly, he sort of floated into obscurity in terms of the annals of rock n roll history. I know he made an uncredited cameo on Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk album on the Christine McVie track “Brown Eyes.” Green’s departure from Fleetwood Mac led to a revolving door of musicians who came and went, even after Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined and then left the band… and then came back and then left…or were fired.
I started reading in 2019 that Mick Fleetwood was putting together a tribute concert for his former band leader, Peter Green. I really loved this idea, it was really a well-deserved thing. I read that Green was invited but didn’t show up. The concert took place in February of 2020 right before the dark curtain of COVID fell across the world, darkening stages and lives everywhere. The concert is structured like a blues jam. There was this bar I used to hang out in on Saturday afternoons in Kansas City named Harling’s. Every Saturday this woman, Big Mama Ray would lead a blues jam. She could have been forty or could have been seventy, you just couldn’t tell. She typically had a Marlboro 100 dangling from her lips, when she wasn’t singing, and it was hard to see her through the smoke. This tribute album for Peter Green reminds me a bit of those old Saturday blues jams – only with considerably more talented and famous musicians involved.
I know they also shot this as a movie/documentary but I haven’t seen that, I’m only speaking of the LP in this post. We do so love our live LPs here at B&V… I’ve scoured the internet and what I’ve been able to determine is that joining Mick Fleetwood (who is the Master of Ceremony and drummer here) in the “house band” at the London Palladium is: Rick Vito (guitar), one time blues wunderkind Jonny Lang (guitar), Andy Fairweather-Low (guitar), Ricky Peterson (keyboards), Dave Bronze (bass). Mick introduces drummer Zak Starkey, Ringo’s son, who has played with both Oasis and the Who a few tracks in but I don’t know if he plays the whole time. A blues jam is structured around a core “house” band with other musicians who get up and take over guitar, vocals, bass or drums. This live LP is a great tribute to Peter Green, early Fleetwood Mac and the blues in general.
It is staggering to think about how many people have been in Fleetwood Mac and many of them show up at this show. First and foremost, it was great to hear Christine McVie sing a couple of blues tracks. I especially like her rendition of “Stop Messing Around.” Rick Vito who along with Billy Burnette replaced Buckingham in the late 80s sings a couple of tunes and really tears it up on “Love That Burns.” Neil Finn of Crowded House fame, who I almost forgot was in Fleetwood Mac to replace Buckingham (again) appears and sings “Man of the World.” The most surprising ex-Mac member to show up is original guitarist/vocalist Jeremy Spencer. Mick introduces him by stating that they hadn’t been on the same stage together in 50 years. I only wish that Peter Green could have been there to join in. Spencer actually brings ex-Rolling Stone bassist Bill Wyman with him to the stage. Spencer does a great take on Elmore James’ “The Sky Is Crying.” The only ex-Mac member who didn’t show up was John McVie… well nor did Lindsey or Stevie.
Speaking of Bill Wyman, he’s only the tip of the iceberg here in terms of famous cameos. By my count we hear members of : The Stones, The Who, Metallica, ZZ Top, Aerosmith, Pink Floyd and Oasis during the course of the bluesy evening. Wow, those appearances really signal what a special event this was. I was thrilled to hear John Mayall who Fleetwood introduces as “our mentor” perform “All Your Love.” It brings it full circle in a way. Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top shows up early and plays on the early Mac chestnut “Doctor Brown.” That took me back. Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler does a great take on “Rattlesnake Shake” a track Aerosmith used to do live which can be found on Pandora’s Box. More proof of Green’s influence… Kirk Hammett comes out to provide pyrotechnic solos on “The Green Manilishi” with Gibbons… a track so rocking it was covered by Judas Priest. Noel Gallagher does a few tracks and they’re all acoustic blues based which I really dug. Pete Townshend comes out and rocks out on “Station Man.” For me the emotional highlight of the evening is when Tyler/Gibbons start off with the rocking part of “Oh Well, Pt. 1” and then Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour (who probably emerges from the shadows) comes out and plays the long guitar suite “Oh Well, Pt. 2.” Gilmour also does a beautiful version of Green’s signature “Albatross.” He doesn’t sing but Gilmour’s guitar is always so recognizable.
The evening ends as many jams do, with everybody on stage joining in on the final track. In this case it’s a rollicking “Shake Your Money Maker.” Mick ends thing with the Shakespeare quote that gave one of Fleetwood Mac’s early LPs its name. And I can’t agree more, “if music be the food of love, play on.” This is a great little live album for any fan of early Fleetwood Mac, Peter Green or 60s British blues rock. A truly fitting tribute to a great guitarist we don’t hear enough about. Sadly merely months after this show, Peter Green passed away in his sleep. It’s never too early to recognize a genius for we never know what’s around the corner.
I realize not everybody is into the blues like I am, but I highly recommend everybody check this great live LP out. I’m hoping to actually see the video when it comes out, I think it’ll only add to the experience.