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Apr 09, 2008 at 06:22 PM

1963-1967

Before the Beginning

The origins of Fleetwood Mac can be traced from a number of greater, lesser, and simply unknown bands that roamed England in the early and mid-1960s. These bands provide something of a musical pedigree for the three nuclear members of what was to become Fleetwood Mac (all of whom were to be credited in the band's name on the first album): Peter Green (born October 29, 1946), Mick Fleetwood (born June 24, 1947), and John McVie (born November 26, 1945). It was these three men who worked together for the first time in 1967 that formed the spark that ignited Fleetwood Mac.

The first of these bands to release any vinyl was Mick Fleetwood's first band, The Cheynes, which was led by organist Peter Bardens. The Cheynes, one rhythm-and-blues band among many, cut three singles for Columbia between December 1963 and February 1965 before slipping quietly into oblivion. Fleetwood was quite accidentally recruited into the group when Bardens met his sister. Not long after their final single, "Down and Out", Bardens pulled the plug on the group to join Van Morrison's Them. Fleetwood then joined another R&B group, The Bo Street Runners, who held the dubious distinction of winning British television's Ready Steady Go band contest. Fleetwood lasted long enough in the Runners to record one single, "Baby Never Say Goodbye", before regrouping with Bardens to form an instrumental group called Peter B's Looners (later simply Peter Bees) which included one guitarist from London's East End, Peter Greenbaum (or Green), who had previously played with some local unrecorded bands. Eventually this group added the likes of Rod Stewart and a female vocalist, Beryl Marsden (with whom Green had become romantically linked), and transformed itself into Shotgun Express. Within two months' time, Green, after having broken up with Marsden, quit to become the inenviable Eric Clapton replacement in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. Fleetwood stayed in Shotgun for the remaining seven months of its existence before he also joined Mayall (Bardens would later join Camel, and in 1979 made a guest appearance on Green's comeback album, In The Skies ; Fleetwood would appear on Bardens' 1988 solo album, Speed Of Light ).

John Mayall, although relatively unknown to most Americans, was a primary influence in the development of the blues as a musical form in England; indeed he is often called "The Father of British Blues". Although he was often an autocratic leader, the influence of each of the ever-changing Bluesbreakers was frequently felt. Through his ranks passed such outstanding musicians as Eric Clapton, Mick Taylor, Aynsley Dunbar, three-quarters of Fleetwood Mac's original lineup, and later Rick Vito.

John McVie, hitherto a member of several unrecorded pop-oriented groups (and therefore a newcomer to the blues scene), was recruited into Mayall's ranks in January 1963 at the age of seventeen, and held onto his job for four-and-a-half years, a rare feat in the Bluesbreakers. He was already a member when Eric Clapton, on the rebound from The Yardbirds, joined for the legendary Clapton Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton LP. It was when this guitarist left to form Cream in 1966 that Peter Green was asked to join. Green, so obviously an unknown, found it very difficult to follow in the footsteps of Eric "God" Clapton, and felt the need to flaunt his otherwise mild personality. In October and November 1966, Mayall, Green, McVie, and Aynsley Dunbar recorded A Hard Road , a fine follow-up to the Clapton sessions, giving the world at-large a chance to hear Green's distinctive sound. Even the old master, Mayall, must have been impressed by him, because he overcame his autocratic tendencies long enough to allow this unknown not only to sing on "You Don't Love Me", but also to contribute two of his own songs, "The Same Way" and the haunting "The Supernatural", a tune in many ways a precursor to Fleetwood Mac's first hit single (in Britain), "Albatross". This version of the Bluesbreakers also went on to record the With Paul Butterfield EP (an area of some controversy: although Fleetwood's book claim that he himself participated in those sessions, all the other available information points to Dunbar's involvement. Since With Paul Butterfield was probably recorded in November 1966, Fleetwood's involvement is unlikely). Apparently Green himself was also impressed because he began to think of forming a band, once Fleetwood was hired as Dunbar's replacement in April 1967.

Fleetwood didn't last long with Mayall, staying only long enough to cut a single, "Double Trouble", before his drinking habits cost him his job a month later (somehow McVie managed to keep getting rehired by Mayall after being fired time after time for his then-prodigous alcohol intake). At the "Double Trouble" session, on April 19, 1967, Green, McVie, and Fleetwood cut a few tracks without Mayall's participation, including the Peter Green vocal "First Train Home" and an instrumental, the (as things turned out) prophetically-titled "Fleetwood Mac", both of which were to surface on The Original Fleetwood Mac album some years later.

Fleetwood had already been fired by Mayall when on June 15, 1967, Green quit. McVie himself was hesitant about leaving his steady job with Mayall, so when Green contacted Fleetwood to form a new group, they recruited Bob Brunning to play bass. Green managed to get a contract with Mike Vernon's new Blue Horizon label, and to check out another band, The Levi Set (a band who had auditioned for Vernon the previous winter), that contained the services of one exceptional Elmore James fanatic, Jeremy Spencer (born July 4, 1948). Spencer at length was persuaded to leave his old band to join Green's (apparently several songs from the Levi Set audition were recorded; two of these made it on the The Original Fleetwood Mac album; others were later released on the British Archives series of albums).

Green, Fleetwood, Spencer, and Brunning recorded the tracks that were to make up Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac's first single, "I Believe My Time Ain't Long" (a song that would wait a quarter-century before it was finally released in the U.S.) and "Rambling Pony" (which saw U.S. release only in 1975), plus one more track, "Long Grey Mare" that was included on their first album. Strangely enough, it was also at this point that Mayall began to get into free-form jazz, which was more than enough for the blues-purist McVie to reconsider Green's offer in September.

Bob Brunning, who knew his position was only temporary, amicably left the group and almost immediately joined Kim Simmonds' blues band, Savoy Brown. His only recorded output with Savoy is the "Taste and Try Before You Buy" single, which was released only in the U.K. Both sides of the single were, however, eventually tacked onto the CD reissue of the 1968 album Getting To The Point in 1990. After his dismissal from Savoy Brown (over their creative salary system), Brunning got married and became a full-time school teacher, though his blues career was far from over.

It was also around this time that John McVie began seeing a certain keyboard player/vocalist by the name of Christine Perfect (born July 12, 1944), of Chicken Shack, another group in Mike Vernon's Blue Horizon stable. Chicken Shack was fronted by Stan Webb, guitarist and vocalist, and Christine, originally recruited as bass player, would be allowed to sing whenever Webb was ready to sink a cold one. Eventually, however, Christine's importance within the group grew, not only because of her prodigious keyboard and vocal skills, but also because women in blues bands (at least in the UK) were something of a novelty, particularly ones that could write their own material.

And so the story begins....

 
 
   
 
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