Bummer News: Fleetwood Mac Tells Lindsey Buckingham To Go His Own Way

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*Picture taken from the Rumors record sleeve and is probably copyrighted

I know there’s nothing to say, someone’s taken my place…” Fleetwood Mac, “Second Hand News” composed by Lindsey Buckingham

“I heard the news today, oh boy,” that Lindsey Buckingham, lead guitarist, songwriter, producer and vocalist for Fleetwood Mac was fired by the band in early April. He’s apparently being replaced by guitarist and former Heartbreaker Mike Campbell who played on some of Stevie Nicks’ solo albums and has a connection with her, which is nice I guess. I’m glad Mike has found a job, he’s too talented to sit at home. Also named as a replacement for Buckingham was Neil Finn of Crowded House fame. He sings and plays a little guitar. This isn’t the first time Buckingham has left Fleetwood Mac. He quit in 1987 right before the tour in support of Tango In The Night. At that time he was replaced by Rick Vito (guitarist) and Billy Burnette (vocals/guitar). When he quit in ’87 I remember my friend Stormin’, who was as dejected by the news as I was, saying, “Not only did the fucker quit, the band made him look good by replacing him with not one guy but two.” It appears they’ve done the same thing again… Stormin’s wisdom rings true today.

I am bummed to hear this news. In the immortal words of Rodney King, “Can’t we all get along?” Joe Strummer always said, “never underestimate the chemistry of those particular (five) people in a room…” Lindsey was so much more than a guitarist/vocalist in the Mac. He did more to shape the sound of Fleetwood Mac than anybody else. Like any great player he seemed to elevate the folks around him. I remember when he left the first time. He said after breaking up with Stevie Nicks, his job was to come in and produce her songs, to make them better, and it wasn’t something he was particularly inclined to do after their acrimonious split. Oh, well. Tom Petty once said that only Buckingham can get Nicks’ songs to sound the way she wants them to. Many people think of Fleetwood Mac as being “mellow.” I prefer to think of them the way Buckingham does… that they were more melodic than most bands, but they still rocked. Hell, even my college roommate Matthew, whose entire record collection at the time consisted solely of heavy metal records (I’d never seen that much Kiss) had a few Fleetwood Mac albums.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised by the news. Even in the photos above, from the Rumours record sleeve, he’s standing apart from the band in half the pics. Of course, the same could be said for Mick Fleetwood, who as drummer has been one of the few constants in the band, so I might be reading into this. Lindsey always comes across in interviews as somewhat arrogant (which is probably earned) and pissy (probably not earned). I have to keep reminding myself, that this is a band who have had as many line-up changes as Yes. In the mid 70’s there was even a “fake” Fleetwood Mac out on tour. Lawsuits were filed. If you think about it, this has been a band whose music is largely about love, heartbreak and breaking up… and they’re a band that has kind of been perpetually breaking up their entire career.

The band was originally formed in the late 1960s by former John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers’ guitarist Peter Green. I’m kind of hopeful that the inclusion of Mike Campbell in the new line-up means they might actually return to some of those older blues tracks on the upcoming tour. It’d be a great way to spotlight Campbell’s virtuoso guitar work. Green only lasted in the band around three years before he left due to mental illness. It’s said he has schizophrenia. Later, one of the other guitarists in the band, Jeremy Spencer left to go out and get a magazine and never came back which sounds like an uncle of mine. They found out a few days later he’d joined a religious cult. You can’t make this shit up. They had to fire another guitarist, Danny Kirwan because of alcoholism. If you’re in a band with John McVie and you drink so much you get fired, you’re drinking too much. And this is a site half-named for Kentucky whiskey. Bob Welch, who’d help steer them into some small bit of mainstream popularity with songs like “Sentimental Lady” and “Hypnotized” left to pursue a solo career. Keyboardist Christine Perfect had to marry John McVie just to get into the band…

It was after all that turmoil, while the band was looking for a new producer, a new studio to record in and a new guitarist that producer Keith Olsen played them the Buckingham Nicks album. They immediately tried to hire Buckingham as their new guitarist/vocalist and he agreed on the condition they include his then girlfriend Stevie Nicks in the band. The rest, as they say, is history. The Fleetwood Mac album from 1975 was the Mac’s biggest seller to date. The follow up, 1977’s Rumours, their masterpiece, is one of the biggest selling albums of all time. It was so amazing they relegated one of the best tracks, “Silver Springs” to a b-side. The chemistry of Buckingham, Nicks, John and Christine McVie, with Mick Fleetwood was undeniable, lightning-in-a-bottle. Along with the Eagles they defined the late-70s California sound.

During those heady days, the two romantic relationships in the band, the McVie’s and Buckingham/Nicks broke up. Drummer Mick Fleetwood ended up getting divorced from his wife and had an affair with Nicks. Ah, the ’70s. I’ve heard Fleetwood Mac’s music described as the recording of an orgy, but I’ve never been to an orgy and can’t really say. Surprisingly, all of that romantic turmoil didn’t break up the band. What almost broke up the band was the pressure to repeat the success of Rumours. 

Heavily influenced by what was happening in punk rock, and perhaps as a way to confound the expectations, Buckingham took control of the recording of the follow-up, the double LP Tusk. He recorded some of the tracks at home in his bathroom, he liked the echo. It was a sprawling experimental mess and I love it. It sold four million copies, which is pretty good for a double-LP, but when compared to their previous success it was considered a failure. Mick Fleetwood drove out to Buckingham’s house and said, “Well, I guess you blew it.” I know the 70’s were a crazy, druggy time, but how many bands had the brass balls to release a lead single featuring a marching band (“Tusk”). Nicks’ and Christine McVie’s songs were more traditionally “Mac-ish” but I love all the left turns Buckingham took with his songs on Tusk.

After that everybody, including Fleetwood, decamped to do solo albums. Lindsey’s first solo album, Law And Order continued the experimental side he showed on Tusk and was recorded in a matter of days. Stevie Nicks’ solo work had the most success. They finally reconvened in 1982 for the more pedestrian Mirage. That album was seen as a “play-it-safe” move for them but it was a huge success, selling three million copies (which was less than Tusk, but expectations had finally come down). After that everybody went back to their solo careers. I thought that was it for the Mac at the time. They were victims of their own success. Buckingham was particularly unhappy with Mirage, he felt they’d played it too safe. He didn’t want that to be the last statement of that incarnation of the band. He pulled everybody back together for 1987’s Tango In The Night but bailed before the tour, as mentioned above.

Fleetwood Mac petered out after that… It was’t until 1997’s live record, The Dance, that the five members from their heyday got back together. Alas, it was short-lived when Christine McVie bowed out due to an intense fear of flying. She retired to the English countryside to garden. The band continued as a foursome and released the strong, but overlooked and overly long Say You Will in 2003. Christine McVie rejoined the band in 2014 with a bag full of new songs to record but neither she or Lindsey could coax Stevie to come into the studio with them… She said being in a room for a year, arguing with these people didn’t sound like much fun. Stevie preferred to focus on her solo career. Finally, tired of waiting for her to come around, Buckingham and McVie released a new album as a duo but John McVie and Fleetwood were the rhythm section. (Reviewed here, LP Review: Lindsey Buckingham & Christine McVie; By Any Other Name, Still Fleetwood Mac).

And so now, this month, they’ve fired Buckingham. They got an award from MusiCares just a few months ago and he was with them. I guess that’s Fleetwood Mac for you… here today, fired tomorrow. Rumor has it they were disagreeing on the details of the new tour – Mick Fleetwood wanted to revisit some of their older stuff and some of the Buckingham Nicks tracks, versus doing a “greatest hits” tour. I’m sure the story will eventually emerge. I guess now they’re going to tour with these new guys. I’m excited to see how they utilize Mike Campbell but I’m a little thrown by the Neil Finn part of the equation. I don’t know much about Crowded House, they’re outside my musical experience. I can’t see them ever recording in this incarnation especially considering Stevie’s attitude toward recording. While I’m sad to be writing this mini-obit for this incarnation of the band, thank God it isn’t an actual obit for one of the members.

If we’ve learned anything from Fleetwood Mac’s long and tumultuous history, there’s a good chance we’ll see Buckingham patch things up with the band in a few years and return to the fold. At least I hope so…

Cheers!

 

 

 

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LP Review: Lindsey Buckingham & Christine McVie; By Any Other Name, Still Fleetwood Mac

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Well, at least this time I spelled Lindsey Buckingham’s first name correctly, with an “e” and not an “a,” with my apologies to Mr. Buckingham for screwing that spelling up in my review of the first single…

Ah, Fleetwood Mac… In the last half of the 70s, they were huge. It’s impossible to overstate this… Their music was everywhere. I can remember in the summer, as a kid, before I could drive, my mother who was eager to get us out of the house so she could dip into the cooking sherry and lay on the couch, would take us to the local swimming pool and drop us off. We’d spend all day splashing around in the pool, playing games, going off the diving board and throwing our Nerf football around. I can remember the whistles going off for the hourly “Adult Swim.” We’d jump out of the cold, clear water and flop down on the warm cement, lips practically blue from the cold water. As I lay there, warming in the sun like a sea lion I can remember hearing Fleetwood Mac. “Dreams” was almost always piping over the speakers and the rhythmic drums seem to match my heartbeat. Or you’d hear the bizarre guitar signature of “Go Your Own Way.” “Over My Head” was another tune I can remember hearing at the pool quite a bit. It’s weird how my memories are all tied to songs and music.

We all loved Fleetwood Mac. One of my early college roommates, Matthew, showed up to college with his crate of records. His collection was all metal and hard rock: Kiss, Van Halen, Led Zeppelin, some Pink Floyd (which wasn’t metal, but Matthew was an herbal enthusiast). And of course, he had a couple of Fleetwood Mac albums. Hell, I even had Steve Nicks’ fine first two solo albums. Ah, Stevie, I like to think of her as the Mistress of a Generation.

Other than Yes, I can’t think of a band who’ve had more lineup changes than Fleetwood Mac. Even before the Buckingham-Nicks era, they went through a string of guitarist, from founding member and former John Mayall guitarist Peter Green, to Bob Welch, Danny Kirwan and Jeremy Spencer. Christine McVie, who’s maiden name was Christine Perfect, whose been a stalwart in the band, wasn’t even an original member. She had to marry the bass player just to join. It wasn’t until everybody except Mick Fleetwood (drums), John McVie (bass) and Christine McVie (vocals/keyboards) were left that the Mac had to recruit the dynamic duo of Lindsey Buckingham (guitar/vocals) and Stevie Nicks (vocals/Wiccan imagery). Buckingham and Nicks brought an interesting chemistry to the band and they just clicked.

What was really intriguing about Fleetwood Mac during their golden era, was they had three talented singers and songwriters. Christine McVie wrote sometimes saccharine love songs, but Buckingham tended to push her into edgier material. Buckingham was ever the experimentalist. Some might say the Mac was a mellower band but I heard Lindsey say one time, “we weren’t mellow so much as melodic.” Under all his experimentalism Lindsey was a closet Beach Boys circa ‘Pet Sounds’ fan and a similar vocal harmonizing came into play in Fleetwood Mac. Then you had Stevie Nicks who brought a spacey, witchcrafty, hippy vibe to the whole affair. The push and pull of all these writers/singers was anchored by the solid rhythm section Fleetwood and McVie provided.

The success of ‘Rumors’ followed by Lindsey’s left turn on ‘Tusk,’ an album I still love to this day, put more strain on the band than even the break up of the main romantic relationships within the band and Lindsey decided to split in 1987 after ‘Tango In the Night.’ The three writers had all started solo careers by then, Steve Nicks being the most successful. The Nicks/Christine McVie version of the band brought in 2 guitarists just to replace Lindsey and recorded the awful ‘Behind The Mask.’ Eventually everybody left. It wasn’t until 1997’s live record, ‘The Dance’ that the golden-era line up reunited. The reunion was short lived when, due to massive fear of flying, Christine McVie retired to the English country side to garden. The band carried on with Buckingham and Nicks at the helm and recorded the oft overlooked LP, ‘Say You Will,’ which, while flawed, was still a great record. It was a tad overly long. And I would say, they missed Christine McVie  as a counterpoint to Buckingham and Nicks.

A few years ago, cured of her fear of flying, Christine McVie rejoined the band. They did a number of concert gigs and things looked like they might be rolling. Buckingham, McVie and the rest of the band except Stevie went into the studio. It seems Christine was sitting on a huge stockpile of songs. Gardening wasn’t the only thing she was doing out there in rural England. Buckingham always seems to have a surplus of songs. The band recorded an album’s worth of material but try as they may, they couldn’t get Stevie back in the studio. She wants to focus on her solo career. Nicks is under the deluded impression she’s going to recapture her early 80s massive popularity. She’s stated she didn’t think she’d ever record any new music with Fleetwood Mac again, which is career limiting. She says being in the studio isn’t any fun anymore. Sigh…

Buckingham and McVie decided, what the hell, we’ll release what we’ve got. Careful not to alienate Nicks, instead of calling this a Fleetwood Mac album, they are calling it Buckingham-McVie, but make no mistake this is a Fleetwood Mac album, just without Stevie. I hope Stevie comes to her senses and comes back. Her longstanding love/hate relationship with Buckingham may be a factor here. Tom Petty has said he’s tried to produce Stevie Nicks records but he never knows where she’s coming from. He went on to say, the only person who really gets what Stevie wants to do in the studio is Lindsey Buckingham. It’s like me and the Rock Chick, we finish each other’s sentences. And likely, if she left me for say, Joe Walsh, I could probably still finish her sentences. Although I doubt I’d produce her records… if she made records, but I digress.

I like this new Buckingham-McVie record. I’ve always liked the chemistry between those two. It isn’t fraught with the emotionally damaging baggage that Buckingham and Nicks have. The vocal harmonies, the beautiful guitar work is all still here. I would describe this as a great beginning of this incarnation of the band, but there are flaws here. “Love Is Here To Stay” is one of those Buckingham acoustic guitar workouts, where he speed plays his acoustic guitar and harmonizes over it. I don’t think anybody else in the band is even on the track… it should have remained a solo Buckingham song. On McVie’s end, “Game of Pretend” is so saccharine as to be diabetes inducing. It’s really cringe-worthy. It starts off well enough with just Christine and a piano, which I dig, but then they crank up the schmaltz.

Those two songs aside, there is a lot to like here. The more I’ve heard of “In My World,” the first single, the more I like it. The guitar solo that ends the album on the atmospheric “Carnival Begin” is spectacular as is the song itself. “Feel About You” is one of those quintessential poppy, catchy Christine McVie songs. It stays in your head. The opening track, “Sleeping Around the Corner” is a tune that was a bonus track on Buckingham’s last solo record, which feels like cheating, but this version is far superior and it’s obvious he reworked the track quite a bit for this incarnation. Lindsey has a tradition of reworking older tracks – “Don’t Let Me Down Again” was a Buckingham-Nicks LP track that he repurposed for the Mac 1980 live LP. “Bleed To Love Her” is another track he pulled from the live ‘The Dance’ for ‘Say You Will.’ Sometimes a tune just isn’t done right the first time.

“Lay Down For Free” is a great Lindsey track. It’s another from the catchy-as-hell category. Christine McVie, who loves to write love songs, has a great one with “Red Sun.” She sings about being in a sunny place, watching the sun go down over the water while missing someone special. I think we’ve all been there. Fleetwood Mac at their best always sang about emotions that we can all relate to. I would have liked to have heard a little more aggressive drumming from Mick Fleetwood, but then again, I’ve always dug the drums, and his drumming in particular. I was hoping for a real rocking tune, like “World Turning,” the first track Christine and Buckingham ever wrote, but the closest they come is “Too Far Gone” which rides along on a great, almost Stones-y Buckingham riff. It is the one song they uncage Fleetwood’s drumming. There are several percussive breaks in the tune. It’s the most upbeat thing here. It’ll be a fun song to hear live.

While I like this LP, at 10 songs, it certainly leaves room for two or three great Nicks tracks. I think this might have been a true classic record if Nicks had showed up. As it stands it’s not a great Fleetwood Mac album but it’s certainly a really good one. It reminds me of the oft maligned 1982 album, ‘Mirage.’ I hear echoes of “Hold Me” in some of McVie’s tracks. And for the most part Buckingham doesn’t get too far out there on the experimental side, much like ‘Mirage.’ Yes, ‘Mirage’ was an LP where these guys mostly played it safe, but damn if it doesn’t have some great songs.

If you dig Fleetwood Mac, or if you’re weird like me and you dig solo Buckingham albums, you will like this album. If your record collection is all metal, and you have one or two Mac albums, you’ll likely dig this album too. If you don’t dig the Mac, I’d probably warn you off this one. These are master songwriters practicing their craft, and that is always enjoyable. In fact, that’s how I’d describe this album – not life changing but damn enjoyable. This could be the start of a whole new Buckingham/C. McVie era in the band, and I think that would be very interesting indeed. I would say, come back Stevie, you can make it through a studio session with Lindsey. He probably still completes your sentences…

Cheers!

 

 

The First Single From Lindsay Buckingham & Christine McVie: “In My World”

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I always dug Fleetwood Mac, we all did. My heavy metal college roommate had all metal music and oddly, two Fleetwood Mac albums. I was a little young for ‘Fleetwood Mac,’ the first LP to feature the dynamic duo of Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. I remember  hearing practically every song on ‘Rumors’ at the swimming pool over the loud speakers when I was kid. Those songs were everywhere. I always felt like Christine McVie was the unsung hero in that group. Who hasn’t sat up late at night, after a break up, weeping to the song “Songbird”?

In the 80s, Lindsay Buckingham called it quits to pursue his curious solo career. The “classic” line up reunited for the live LP, ‘The Dance’ twenty years after Lindsay’s departure. That reunion was short-lived as Christine McVie developed an intense fear of flying and “retired” to her country English manor home to putter in her garden. A few years ago she got over it and rejoined Fleetwood Mac, and was welcomed with open arms, I might add, for an extended tour.

Having been on the sidelines for so long, she was raring to go. Apparently she was sitting on a stack of songs, a backlog like George Harrison had after being stuck behind Lennon and McCartney. After the tour it was time to head to the studio. Christine had the songs and Lindsay always has songs. The problem it seems was coaxing Stevie Nicks back into the studio. Stevie is under the mistaken impression she’s going to recapture the solo glory of her ‘Bella Donna’ days. Ah, Stevie… I like to think of her as the Mistress of a Generation.

Lindsay, Christine along with Mick Fleetwood on drums and John McVie on bass went into the studio without Nicks. They have apparently had the songs that make up this record in the can for quite some time. Tired of waiting for Stevie, somebody just said “fuck it” and they released the LP under Buckingham and McVie’s name. I guess they didn’t want Stevie to think they’d moved on without her and it’s always nice to leave the door open.

Yesterday, the first single from this new album came out, “In My World.” I have to admit I’m scratching my head a little bit. It’s not a bad song, it’s just not a first single. Its a mid tempo, understated thing. Coincidentally I listened to Dan Auerbach’s new solo single, “Shine Me On,” and with its bold acoustic guitars bumping up against his vocals and a nice electric guitar riff, he sounds more like “Go Your Own Way” than “In My World” does.

I expected this album to be like the 1997 Fleetwood Mac LP helmed by Buckingham and Nicks, “Say You Will,” in that each singer/songwriter would take the lead vocal/songwriting duties. I didn’t expect it to be a duets album. I did expect perhaps some harmonizing between Lindsay and Christine, as they done within Fleetwood Mac on songs like “World Turning.” I guess I was thinking Robert Plant and Alison Krauss type harmonies. Lindsay and Christine have a great vocal chemistry and I would have liked them to explore that a bit more, and who knows, maybe they do on other tunes. You won’t however, find those harmonies on this song. It’s all Lindsay. If Christine plays on this song, I don’t hear her. Not even keyboards.

As I said, it’s a good song. I had to listen to it a number of times (thank God for the patience of the Rock Chick, as I hit “repeat” again and again) and it’s definitely catchy and it definitely grows on you. It’s a grower not a show-er. This song could have easily been lifted off Lindsay’s solo album, “Gift of Screws.” That record is his only solo album recently that has instrumentation outside an acoustic guitar and percussion from him slapping the body of his guitar. Lindsay’s into that cascading acoustic guitar thing. This is a straight forward, mid tempo song. It has a very Fleetwood Mac vibe set to a more modern feel. The lyrics are mostly upbeat with Lindsay singing about all the bad things that won’t happen “In My (his) World.” And lets face it, to him, it’s Lindsay’s world, we all just live in it.

The actual LP, creatively titled “Lindsay Buckingham & Christine McVie” will come out in June. I’ll have more thoughts on the album then. For now, kick back and enjoy the single. It’s as close as we’re going to get to a full fledged Fleetwood Mac album for a long time…

Artist Lookback – John Mayall’s Blues Breakers: The Guitar Hero Trilogy 1966-1967

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Ah, the blues. I must admit, when it comes to classic rock, my first love was and always will be the Rolling Stones. I picked up ‘Some Girls,’ my first album ever and it was the beginning of a life long obsession. The Rolling Stones, in many ways, were a gateway drug for me into the broad array of rock music in the world. The Stones led me to Zeppelin, then to the Beatles, Black Sabbath and beyond. It wasn’t long before I was in the basement of seedy used record stores looking for out of print Faces albums or Springsteen bootlegs. I made my friend Doug go to a used record store in a strip mall in Dallas after he’d just broken up with a girlfriend so I could look for the out of print Buckingham Nicks LP… a trip he still hasn’t forgiven me for, although it may be his unpleasant memories of that trip unrelated to “Buckingham Nicks.” I wasn’t musically sophisticated enough to understand what the root of my musical infatuation was. I didn’t understand that the common thread that links all the music I love is the blues.

By the 1960’s the blues was an underground music in the United States, segregated like so much was, in the black community. It took some groovy English youth to rediscover and reawaken interest in the blues in the States. Much of what came out of the British Invasion was what is now described as “blues rock.” There were so many key figures, people you don’t hear about any more, that were critical to that early blues rock movement.  Alexis Korner was a guy that was at the center of a lot of it and he helped fan the flame of blues in London. If time travel is ever invented, you’ll know where to find me… 60s swinging London.

Another name that I don’t hear much any more is John Mayall, leader of the intrepid Blues Breakers. I posted about these British blues rock pioneer’s American cousins, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, who were also 60s era masters of the blues, a few months ago. In the comment section, Moulty58 (whose blog, The Future Is Past is phenomenal, check it out) mentioned Mayall and the Blues Breakers. In the ensuing conversation he mentioned the album Mayall did with Peter Green, ‘A Hard Road.’ The only Mayall & the Bluesbreaker album I’d ever heard or heard of was the masterpiece, “Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton.” Could I have missed something? As a musical spelunker, I pride myself on owning anything I consider critical in music. Oh sure, I have some blindspots, like say, jazz, but I own most the LPs in the “Must Have” canon. I’m that weird guy who buys the live solo Gregg Allman albums or the solo Lowell George of Little Feat LP… Maybe I have a problem, but as Van Morrison sang, “it’s too late to stop now.” Perhaps I needed to give Mayall’s catalog another look.

In retrospect, John Mayall’s Blues Breakers could be looked at more as a musical collective than a band. They changed personnel more often than Yes, and that’s saying something. Almost every band has a connection to the Blues Breakers. Just on bass guitar alone, John McVie, Jack Bruce and Andy Fraser of Free fame all played with them. On drums, amongst a large number of people, Mick Fleetwood and Aynsley Dunbar both played with Mayall. I think Dunbar played in every band ever… I think he was even in Journey for a while. Mayall actually sang, played keyboards (mostly piano), guitar and harmonica. The thing about the Blues Breakers that is probably the most remarkable is the guitar talent that went through this band. Not only did Eric Clapton play with them but so did Peter Green (Fleetwood Mac), and a very young Mick Taylor (The Rolling Stones). Those are just the big names. Rick Vito (Fleetwood Mac) and Jimmy McCulloch (Wings) also played with the Blues Breakers, just to name a few. Paul Butterfield even shows up playing harmonica on one album. It’s quite an impressive roster. It seems if you were a British rock band in the 70’s and needed a player, you looked no further than the Blues Breakers. It was like a British Prep school for guitarists.

I quickly began an investigation of the Blues Breaker’s catalog and found that I had indeed missed a couple of essential LPs, beyond “With Eric Clapton.” There are really three albums that I consider “essential” for blues or blues rock fans. As you might guess, it’s the three albums featuring the three greatest of the Blues Breaker’s guitarists. With all due respect to fans of “Blues From Laurel Canyon,” which does feature Mick Taylor, I consider that a John Mayall solo album. The Blues Breakers moniker had been abandoned by that time. Without further adieu, here are the three John Mayall and the Blues Breaker’s LPs every fan should check out:

Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton (1966)

When Eric Clapton, who judging by his autobiography was an enormous twat, left the Yardbirds because they were veering away from his “blues purist” view of music, there was a lot of speculation about what he’d do next. He joined the Blues Breakers and their popularity began to soar… just as that looked like it was going to peak, Clapton runs off to Greece with a group calling themselves “The Glands.” They must have been a group of teenage boys with a wanker name like that. Jeez, Eric. Anyway, he realized he’d made a mistake and came back to rejoin Mayall and the Blues Breakers. This album was the result and it’s a tour de force. I love Cream, but I truly think this was the best lead guitar playing of Clapton’s career. He plays with a strength and confidence I rarely hear. This album is considered a blues rock milestone. I read in Rolling Stone magazine that this record and Clapton’s solo LP, “From the Cradle,” taken together are Clapton’s greatest blues achievement. It’s hard to argue. The instrumental “Hideaway” is simply amazing. “What’d I Say,” the Ray Charles cover is inspired. “All Your Love” is the perfect blues tune. Clapton does his first vocal on Robert Johnson’s “Rambling On My Mind” one of his first and best Robert Johnson covers. Clapton split after this record to form Cream with Jack Bruce (also a Mayall alumni) and Ginger Baker. It’s a shame we don’t have more of Mayall and Clapton together, because it’s one of the greatest albums of all time.

A Hard Road (1967)

How do you replace a messianic guitarist (well, they did used to scrawl “Clapton is God” as graffiti) like Eric Clapton? You find Peter Green. I don’t know anybody outside of Ozzy Osbourne (Randy Rhoads, Jake E Lee, Zakk Wylde) with a nose for guitar talent like John Mayall. I was surprised when I first heard this record that the Blues Breakers, despite line up changes and losing Clapton didn’t miss a beat. This is a great blues/blues rock album with inspired guitar work. The Peter Green penned instrumental “The Supernatural” is worth the price of the LP alone. I may be crazy but I hear the seeds of “Black Magic Woman” in that tune. Great, great guitar work. Green’s guitar sound is different than Clapton’s and this may sound weird, but I almost feel like Peter Green’s guitar sounds… well, sadder. The guy really conveys emotion in the way he plays. Where Clapton was more powerful, Green is more expressive. Just one man’s opinion, and I don’t play guitar. I absolutely love the Elmore James’ cover, “Dust My Blues,” and the incendiary slide guitar Green plays. They also do two great Freddie King covers, the instrumental “The Stumble” which is another stand out and “Someday After While (You’ll Be Sorry)” that blew me away. “It’s Over,” the opening track is a great John Mayall penned tune as well. This is just a spectacular album that I never heard about. You definitely hear the seeds of Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac on this album, which makes sense because after this record Peter Green, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood split to form Fleetwood Mac… I guess the formula in the 60s was, do one album with Mayall, split and form a legendary band of your own… At least there was some additional material Peter Green recorded with Mayall that turned up on the remastered, “bonus track” version of the album that came out years later.

Crusade (1967)

What do you do when you’ve lost not one, but two legendary lead guitar players. Apparently if you’re John Mayall you discover a teenage Mick Taylor. I had always known Taylor had gotten his start in the Blues Breakers but I’d never dug deep enough to check out his record with them. Actually, he stuck around for three albums, unlike Clapton and Green, before being recruited to join the Stones as Brian Jones’ replacement. “Crusade” is just another blues rock classic in the same vein as it’s two predecessors. The album kicks off with “Oh Pretty Woman” (not the Roy Orbison tune) and it’s again as if nothing has changed with the band. Although I will say I can tell Taylor’s guitar is different than Green’s. Mick Taylor had such an amazingly melodic way of playing the guitar. Even on these blues recordings I can hear how his lead guitar would mesh with Richard’s ragged rhythm guitar. There’s an instrumental on here “Snowy Wood” which is just fabulous playing (do I hear “Can You Hear Me Knocking” here?). Mayhall had employed a horn section on his previous LP, but never this prominently, they’re all over this record. I like the sax, harmonica interplay on “Man of Stone.” I love, love the version of “I Can’t Quit You Baby” the old Willie Dixon tune that was also done by Led Zeppelin and years later the Rolling Stones, post-Taylor. “Driving Sideways” sounds like a tune a blues band would open a show with… This is just another great blues guitar album.

If you’re a fan of the blues, blues rock, Cream, the pre Buckingham Nicks Fleetwood Mac or the glory years of the Rolling Stones, there is a hell of a lot to like here. A lot of people own ‘With Eric Clapton’ and if you enjoy that record I can’t more highly recommend ‘A Hard Road’ and ‘Crusade.’ Mayall went on to have a long, storied career but other than ‘Blues From Laurel Canyon’ you’re not going to find better blues/blues rock than these three albums. Any fan of guitar will absolutely fall in love with these albums.

This isn’t cry in your beer blues, this shuffle around, chooglin’ music. Pour yourself something strong, dark and murky and start moving, baby!

Cheers!