Print (10/23/2003), After glory days with Fleetwood Mac, Bob Welch has settled into calmer Middle Tennessee life

After glory days with Fleetwood Mac, Bob Welch has settled into calmer Middle Tennessee life

Senior Writer

Bob Welch knows ''he was a former member of Fleetwood Mac'' will be in his obituary.

''That is if someone wants to write one,'' says the 58-year-old Nashville resident as he settles toward the end of an hour-long tour through four decades of rock 'n' roll.

The guitar player's tales begin with his glitzy Hollywood upbringing and end up in a rural slice of Davidson County. His pop was Robert L. Welch (Paleface), ''the top-grossing movie producer of 1948,'' who died young after a hard-drinking life.

''I grew up in a show-biz environment,'' he says. ''Jonathan Winters would come to the house. Yul Brynner lived across the street.''

The younger Welch studied French literature at the Sorbonne in Paris and then settled into a variety of rock bands, until he hooked up with Mick Fleetwood and company.

Though his affiliation with Fleetwood Mac only lasted from 1971 to 1974, it was what defined his career. Welch was successful in various groups and as a solo artist, but he remained ''a second cousin of Fleetwood Mac,'' piggybacking on their tours and being managed by Mick Fleetwood.

It is territory he revisits on his latest recording, Bob Welch: His Fleetwood Mac Years & Beyond, an all-new digital reworking of a big swath of that music.

''The fact they are on the radar screen now and are getting good reviews doesn't hurt. It makes radio program directors more interested in talking to me,'' he says.

He laughs for a moment. ''I've learned to live with it. I'm perfectly happy to have that tag professionally by my name.''

Welch never dreamed he'd be remembered for much. ''I just wanted to play guitar in a good band,'' he says. ''I wanted to make the music I love. I wanted to travel the world and have adventures.''

Fleetwood Mac helped him achieve those goals. And it happened almost by accident. Or fate.

Legal woes had grounded an earlier band that had been successful in Europe, he says. ''In 1971, I was literally sitting in my underpants in a friend's apartment . . . in Paris. I was wondering what I was gonna do. I was 24. Maybe I was gonna head back to L.A.''

He got a phone call from a former girlfriend, who was working with the R&B-flavored Brit band Fleetwood Mac. The band needed a guitarist.

Within short order, he was being picked up at the railroad station in London by Fleetwood. ''He was driving a yellow VW. He was 6-6 and weighed about 120 pounds. He was a strange-looking human being. Was then. Is now.''

The chemistry was right and Welch became a part of the outfit during its pre-Lindsey Buckingham/Stevie Nicks, soft-rock Mac years.

The kid rescued from a desolate existence in Paris found himself an international star, eventually living an ''extremely decadent lifestyle'' that claimed so many of his generation.

Enter his wife, Wendy, a Memphis native, and their eventual relocation to the personal and geographic serenity of Middle Tennessee about a decade ago. They wanted a music town, without the headaches and the cost.

Now, away from the pressures and the glitz, he is enjoying his original passion.

''I started doing this because I loved all of those guys, Johnny Cash, the Everly Brothers, Rick Nelson, Elvis. I never wanted to be a guitar gunslinger and a star. I just wanted to make that great music.''

He says the motivation he felt is far from what he thinks drives the young artists of today. ''In Los Angeles, it's all about appearance, about what kind of car you are in driving up to the restaurant.

''People now want to be rich and famous. Not that there's anything wrong with it. I've been rich and I've been poor and rich is better.

''Music is disposable now. It doesn't have the emotional impact anymore. That's sad.''

Of course, he says, ''Maybe I'm just an old coot.''

Rockers among us

Bob Welch isn't the first rock 'n' roller to find success outside Nashville and then come here to settle. Here are a few classic rockers of various degrees of fame who have come to call Nashville and Middle Tennessee home:

1. John Kay (Steppenwolf)

2. Michael McDonald (Doobie Brothers)

3. Bernie Leadon (The Eagles)

4. Steve Cropper (Booker T and MGs and the Blues Brothers)

5. Scotty Moore (Elvis Presley's guitar player)

6. D.J. Fontana (Elvis Presley's drummer)

7. Duane Eddy (Rebel Rouser, Peter Gunn, more)

8. Garry Tallent (E Street Band bassist)

9. Steve Winwood (Spencer Davis Group, Traffic, Blind Faith)

10. Jimmy Hall (Wet Willie)

11. Billy Cox (Jimi Hendrix's Band of Gypsies)

12. Donna Summer (Love to Love You Baby, etc.)

13. Felix Cavaliere (Rascals, Young Rascals)

14. Walter Egan (Magnet and Steel)

15. Billy Burnette (Fleetwood Mac)

16. Rick Vito (Fleetwood Mac)

17. Adrian Belew (King Crimson)

18. Dan Baird (Georgia Satellites)

19. Joey Spampinato (NRBQ)

20. John Hiatt

21. John Prine

22. Janis Ian

23. Al Anderson (NRBQ)

24. Todd Sharp (Hall & Oates, Rod Stewart, Christine McVie)

— Tim Ghianni, Senior Writer