LOOKING BACK AT FLEETWOOD MAC
Stereophile|December 2020
TWO REISSUES SHOW THAT THE BAND WAS GREAT BEFORE IT WAS FAMOUS.
JOHN SWENSON

I’ve just recently finished reading guitarist/vocalist Walter Lure’s autobiography, To Hell and Back. Walter has a great story about his days in Johnny Thunders’s Heartbreakers and his own Waldos. Until he died in late August, you could still hear him playing with the Waldos and running periodic tributes to Johnny. But he also took some space to write about his first band, a hard-rock dance band called Bloodbath that pounded the risers in the North Bronx at the dawn of the 1970s. I had the extreme pleasure of being the vocalist and master of revels in this two-guitar maelstrom. We covered Fleetwood Mac songs that fit our concept: “Rattlesnake Shake” and “Tell Me All the Things You Do” worked especially well.

Like a lot of other blues fans, we held Fleetwood Mac, and particularly lead guitarist Peter Green, in high esteem. It’s strange to think that this band we thought so much of would seem so alien to the group the vast majority of Fleetwood Mac fans think of when the band’s brand is evoked. That would be the mid-’70s lineup fronted by Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, which made two of the best-selling pop-rock albums in history, Fleetwood Mac and Rumours.

But by the time those albums were released, the band already had a rich history: nine albums and an evolving sequence of band members.

Fleetwood Mac 1969-1974 (8CD Warner Records R2 596006) collects the band’s Reprise catalog leading up to the Buckingham/Nicks era. It begins with the last record made with group founder Peter Green, Then Play On. At a time when guitarists were preoccupied with classical formalism and technical dexterity, Green played with deep soul and a searing tone that was partly due to his guitar, a Gibson Les Paul with one of the pickups reversed, giving it a unique, piercing sound with a hint of distortion in its wobbling high end.

Rhino is also releasing new, midperiod Fleetwood Mac: a four-LP set (Fleetwood Mac 1973-74, 4LP Warner Records R1-596007) that brings the Penguin, Mystery to Me, and Heroes Are Hard To Find LPs back into print on vinyl, with a bonus live concert on the fourth LP. There’s also a 7 single containing “For Your Love” (mono promo edit) on one side and the previously unreleased “Good Things (Come to Those Who Wait)” on the flipside. The LP box is also available in a limited-edition colored-vinyl format (RCV1-625013).

Fleetwood Mac emerged from John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers with Bluesbreakers charter member and bassist John McVie and drummer Mick Fleetwood joining Green. The original band also included guitarist Jeremy Spencer, whose rough, dirty sound and slide guitar work provided a foil for Green’s sharp, B.B. King-like tone.

Green also brought in the young Danny Kirwan on third guitar. Kirwan’s droning, ethereal sound and great feel for rhythms blended well with Green, and together they produced the first Fleetwood Mac masterpiece, the moody, instrumental “Albatross,” which went to number one on the British charts. Other than that song, and “Black Magic Woman,” which later became a hit for Santana, the first two albums are closer to the sound of John Mayall’s A Hard Road album, on which Green replaced Eric Clapton, than to what most of us recognize today as Fleetwood Mac.

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