Return of the Triumvirate

Nineteen Seventy-Nine was a boom-year for solo recordings. Most notably, it marked the return to music of Fleetwood Mac's original guitar triumvirate, Jeremy Spencer, Danny Kirwan, and most welcome (and longest overdue) of all, Peter Green. It also, however, marked (as of this writing, anyway) the end of the recording careers of both Kirwan and, for the next nineteen years, Spencer.

Before discussion of Fleetwood Mac Members Past, one future member's solo beginning also happened in 1979. Billy Burnette, born in Memphis in 1953, is the son of early rock 'n' roll and rockabilly pioneer Dorsey Burnette and nephew of Johnny Burnette, both of the legendary Johnny Burnette Trio. Billy's first real album, Billy Burnette , came out in January.

Burnette actually began his career as "Billy Beau" when still a small child years before, and had also released his first album, also called Billy Burnette --in 1972 at the tender age of eighteen. And in the intervening years Burnette did quite a bit of session work. But here is the real start of his music career as a solo artist.

The new album and its followup, Between Friends , released in November, both point to the direction much of his work would take, that of tasteful rockabilly and country-rock songs and ballads. His considerable songwriting talents would develop over the years and his versatile guitar playing would make him a force to be reckoned with when the time came.

Billy's cousin Rocky Burnette (the son of Johnny Burnette) would also release his debut album in the fall of 1979. Billy and Rocky (they were born six weeks apart) as children occasionally joined their famous Dads onstage, so it was only natural that Rocky asked Billy to perform on his album The Son of Rock and Roll . At first, it looked like the album would stiff in the U.S., but the honky-tonk "Tired of Toein' The Line" picked up some airplay in Great Britain and suddenly became a minor hit there in the late fall. EMI America then decided to better promote that song in the U.S., and in the following spring "Tired" rocketed up the charts stateside, finally making #8!

Bob Welch released his second album, Three Hearts , in February. Complete with quasi- erotic sleeve artwork like its predecssor (a heavily made-up Welch standing this time with a couple of cuties on each arm), it was also Bob second working of the tried-and-true formula of French Kiss , that of deliberate commercial pandering. Again the formula worked, commercially if perhaps not as well artistically. Three Hearts went gold. The disco-thumper lead single "Precious Love" was also a hit for Bob. It's B-side, the non-album track "Something Strong" is also an uptempo, dancable love song. The followup, the sugary ballad "Church" did less well, however, and the third single "3 Hearts" didn't even chart.

Unfortunately, the restraint Welch used on the Disco-beast (Disco was nearing its peak in 1979) on French Kiss is not evident on Three Hearts : the dance tunes go way over the top. About the only songs that feature Bob's lead guitar work in any prominent fashion are the opening title track and the closing one, "Little Star". More interesting is "The Ghost of Flight 401" which features Mick on drums (and Richard Dashut coproducing) and a return to the lyrics and feeling of the Bob of "Hypnotized" days. Also of note is the track "Don't Wait Too Long" which is itself a reworking of the Mystery To Me rejected song "Good Things (Come To Those Who Wait)". Christine and Stevie also appear as backing vocalists.

Perhaps sensing that it was time for a change, Welch went back into the studio in the late summer and recorded his third album The Other One . This album is a radical departure from either of the two previous LPs, and for longtime fans it was something of a relief. The title is appropriate: where French Kiss and Three Hearts had little hints of the "darker" side of Welch's songwriting, The Other One allowed these tendencies to come into full-bloom.

Welch used many of the same musicians as the previous album, but this time, with the disco gloss removed, they functioned more like a band. The combination really cooked! Best of this bunch of songs is "Rebel Rouser", a song about James Dean's demise, with Bob's guitar work solidly out in front. Also worthy of mention is his reworking of "Future Games", which seems to fit the mood of this record as well as it did the 1971 Fleetwood Mac album of the same name, and "Oneonone", which also compliments this return to The Dark Side. Sadly, however, the fickle record-buying public passed over this release. Whereas Three Hearts went to #20, and two of its singles made it into Billboard's Hot 100, The Other One only went to #105 and neither "Rebel Rouser" or "Don't Let Me Fall" charted. A shame, really, since the material is excellent. His record company, Capitol Records, has to share at least some of the blame, since it did little to promote this disc.

Danny Kirwan released his third album in April. While it was marred by many of the same problems as his first two releases--poor mixing and a muddy sound overall-- Hello There Big Boy deserves honorable mention for several reasons. One main reason is the inclusion of "Only You" an old song, circa 1969, that had never been released on vinyl, but was featured in the live Fleetwood Mac performances of the 1969-1970 period. Unlike the rest of his solo catalog, this song really rocks! Unfortunately though, this time the firery lead guitar was provided not by Kirwan, but by Kirby (previously from the band Curved Air, and also the bogus Mac). Fellow ex-Mac Bob Weston appears on two songs, and his unique style is evident in the solos he played on "Gettin' the Feelin'" and "You". And singer/actress/outre' performer Dana Gillespie duets with Kirwan on "Summer Days and Summer Nights", which added a nice counterpoint (and a more Fleetwood Mac-ish harmony element). Even the presentation of the rest of the songs is not too much to bear--the wimpy sound that would make The Carpenters seem like heavy metal was abandoned for a more Seals and Crofts or Dan Fogelberg-ish sound. The cover art is even a little reminiscent of Bob Welch's first two albums! The album did not chart, and the single, "Only You", stiffed as well. While it was not without many problems, Hello There Big Boy is certainly worth a would've been nice to have seen what Kirwan would've come up with next. With this album, however, Kirwan's obligations to Davis and DJM were satisfied and Hello There Big Boy became his swan-song. Over the years since, Kirwan has descended to deeper and deeper levels of obscurity, even homelessness, a sad testament to what the music business--and its associated lifestyle--can do to sensitive, creative talent.

The next Fleetwood Mac alumnus out of the gate was the unexpected resurfacing of Jeremy Spencer. Spencer had been out of the business since 1972's abysmal Jeremy Spencer and The Children , living in seclusion and still closely connected to his Children of God (now called The Family) cohorts. However, in late 1977 he suddenly began recording again with a group of musicians, most prominently Michael Fogarty, that would eventually be called the Jeremy Spencer Band. The seven songs that resulted (actually two of these had been recorded earlier) were entitled Flee . He and Fogarty teamed up with Eurodisco producers Silvio Tancredi and Israel Sanchez for side one, with predictable results: three tracks that were heavy disco songs that could've been done by anyone--Donna Summer, Gloria Gaynor, or The Bee Gees for that matter. Still, you can hear some of Spencer's famous bottleneck guitar buried in the mix in "Love Our Way Outta Here". But it's a hell of a long way from Elmore James! Side two is much more interesting. Spencer and Fogarty produced it themselves, and they came up with a true gem to lead it off. "Flee" is a truly excellent song with good harmony and a lively musical backdrop. The band adds a little punch to this ballad, and Spencer's guitar is quite prominent. Given adequate promotion, it should have been a hit. And the other songs on this side also eschew the disco beat for a leaner, more carefully considered sound. One of these, "Cool Breeze", was chosen to be the lead-off single, but it is not known if it got beyond the promo stage. Clearly, Atlantic expected great things from this album. Atlantic president Ahmet Ertegun executive produced it, and there was even an address for the Jeremy Spencer Band Fan Club in the liner notes! But it got no further than a "bubbling under" #208 on the album charts. Like Kirwan's album, it would've been nice to have heard Jeremy's next effort. But also like Kirwan, it was not to be. Flee is Spencer's final recording for the nearly two decades. Unlike Danny, though, he eventually would return to the stage.

All of this solo activity was overshadowed by the reemergence of Peter Green. Not long after the court-mandated commitment, his brother Michael began putting out feelers to the president of PVK records, Peter Vernon-Kell. Vernon-Kell wanted Michael's brother. And to their credit, between Michael Green and Peter Vernon-Kell they provided exactly the right atmosphere for Peter Green's comeback. They let him noodle around in the studio with some friends, including his old mate Pete Bardens from the Peter B's Looners days of yore, gradually building up his confidence and letting Green's natural creativity come out in a no-pressure environment. It worked. The resulting album, In The Skies , is a marvel.

Although it took nearly two years to release, when it finally made it out in June 1979, it proved that the long-suffering British public's patience was worth it: In the Skies roared up the charts, making it to number 33. It sold in excess of 800,000 copies in Germany. Not bad for a guy whose previous release was nine years earlier! And the album clearly merited the attention it got. It is a combination of blues, rock, and soul. Although some of the tracks featured Snowy White on lead guitar (allegedly, Green wanted White to play all the lead parts), and some religious-flavored lyrics were written by Green now-ex-wife Jane, In the Skies is Green's baby. He dusted off the old song "A Fool No More" which dates back to the Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac sessions. The new version contains added poignancy, given Green's journey, and he sings it like he means it. It and the other tracks are a mellow affair, and that fact makes it seem like the demons that haunted Peter in "Green Manalishi" seem long forgotten. Two different versions of the closing instrumental "Apostle" exist. The first version, released as a single in the UK, has a full instrumental backdrop whereas the one on the album is a very sparse acoustic affair. One is reminded a bit of "Albatross", and "Oh Well--Part 2", and yet "Apostle" seems much darker. The title track was also released as a single, though both it and "Apostle" failed to make the UK Top 50 charts. In America, the album was released five months later on the small label Sail Records, and it bubbled convincingly under the Top 200 Album Charts for ten weeks.

And the Ol' Mac Magic wasn't dormant in 1979, either. Among the many sessions the various members participated in, Mick Fleetwood appeared on Rolling Stone Ron Wood's solo album Gimme Some Neck and Buckingham made a brief appearance on Walter Egan's third album Hi Fi . John McVie produced an album, Uprooted , for ex-Grass Roots member Rob Grill. But the big news was with ex-Kingston Trio guitarist John Stewart.

Stewart had a fairly lackluster solo career since his departure from the Trio years before. All that was to change when he enlisted Lindsey Buckingham to be "Producer At-Large" for his new songs that eventually became the album Bombs Away Dream Babies and a certain female singer by the name of Stevie Nicks. The first single "Gold" featured a Stewart and Nicks duet, and the song immediately ran up the charts. Like 1978's "Whenever I Call You 'Friend'", Stevie's voice is prominent, and the public ate it up. It made it as high as Number 5, and its success and the singles that followed, "Midnight Wind" and "Lost Her In The Sun", brought the album up to the Top 10 and platinum status. Buckingham himself sang backup and played a variety of instruments and duetted with Stewart on "The Spinnin' of the World". One is left with a feeling that Bombs Away Dream Babies is almost an ersatz Fleetwood Mac album. The real thing, however, came out in the autumn.

The long-awaited followup to Rumours finally was released in October, hot on the heels of the strange-sounding new single "Tusk". For those expecting that this single would be a repeat of the very commercial pop/rock-sensibilities of the previous six singles would be in for a big surprise- -"Tusk" sounded absolutely nothing like anything that came before! The song itself was written by Buckingham based on a drum riff that Fleetwood played for him. It started out slow and builds to a fever pitch. Fleetwood also had the idea of adding a marching band--the USC Trojan marching band was recruited for the recording--and had an even bigger (and unfortunately impractical) idea to use local marching bands when and wherever the song would be performed live. The title had nothing to do with elephants or even the little dog that appeared on both the LP and single sleeve-- it's a slang word for the male member. Stevie Nicks reportedly was not amused.

Potential sales of the new double album, also called Tusk , were marred both by it's hefty price ($15.99, an unheard of price for a double LP at that time) and the inexplicable decision to air the album in its entirety on the Westwood One radio network in America, thereby potentially losing the sales of anyone who had a cassette recorder on their stereo system. Still, the album did all right on its own. And while the critics, most of whom were expecting another Rumours -like blockbuster, were skeptical (the album "only" made #4 in the US), the fans still dug deep and bought the album anyway.

Tusk is a collection of songs that shows, to a very great extent, the breadth of talent that the three songwriters possessed. They experimented with different styles and presentations of their songs, and were willing to take risks with how the public might receive them. Christine McVie, for example, shed her balladeer image--at least temporarily--with the more esoteric (usually the province of Stevie Nicks or Bob Welch) "Brown Eyes". "Brown Eyes" also featured, like "Nightwatch" before it, the uncredited guitar work of none other than Peter Green! Stevie tried her hand at more conventional ballads like "Beautiful Child". But more significant is Lindsey Buckingham's flirtation with Punk and New Wave in songs like "The Ledge" and "Not That Funny". Perhaps because of this, Great Britain, in particular, seemed to finally be listening. The album made it to Number One there.

There were four singles culled from Tusk , and the unbroken American chart success of all singles since 1975 continued. In addition to the title song already mentioned, "Sara", "Think About Me", and "Sisters of the Moon" were all released on 45. "Sara" and "Think About Me" were each dressed in distinctive picture sleeves (as opposed to the reproduced album sleeve artwork of "Don't Stop" and "Tusk"). "Tusk" made it to Number 8 on the Billboard charts in the US (and #6 in Britain!), and Stevie's beautiful "Sara" (named for Sara Recor, a longtime friend of the band) did even better, managing to hang onto the #7 slot for three weeks. Christine's "Think About Me" reached #20, but Stevie's excellent "Sisters Of The Moon" (itself a sort of updated "Rhiannon" but with some hot guitar solos) only got to #86 before quietly slipping into oblivion in June 1980.

When the CD version of Tusk appeared in the late 1980s, Warner Bros., in a effort to economize by squeezing the double album onto a single compact disc, cut nearly two minutes from "Sara" (from 6:26 to 4:37), using the edited version intended for the 45. Fortunately, this is clearly marked in the CD's track listing. However, when it came to CD-ing next year's Fleetwood Mac Live album, they opted to make that album a double-CD set!

In retrospect, if Rumours can be described as the Mac equivalent of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper album, then Tusk surely was Fleetwood Mac's artistic tour de force in much the same way as the Fab Four's double white album, The Beatles. In it, you are presented with three extremely talented songwriters exploring various ways of expressing their ideas in a format long enough to allow such freedom, all firmly grounded by the rhythm section of John and Mick. And while the results could occasionally sound a little over-indulgent, that was OK, too. About the only drawback one can see in this approach is that, in a sense, the album sounded alot like three solo albums rolled into one, since very often when one songwriter took the spotlight, the rest of the group functioned as only backing musicians, rather than as a band (similar complaints were levelled against The Beatles white album, by the way).

Once the album was out in the stores, the band hit the road for its longest tour ever...for nearly eleven months the band ran ragged around the world, playing for thousands. Some of it was recorded.