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The Capital Times, Madison Wisconsin 

Jeremy Spencer of Fleetwood Mac fame on stage again -- and performing in Belleville
Katjusa Cisar — 7/11/2008 8:31 am

Guitarist Jeremy Spencer is something of an enigma. He hasn't performed in the United States since he left Fleetwood Mac in the early '70s. In fact, he hasn't played in front of a general audience since then, either, instead focusing on performances for charities and events sponsored through the Family International, a religious movement that he joined around the same time he unexpectedly left Fleetwood Mac. (Legend has it he told the band he was going out to get a magazine at a nearby bookstore and never returned.)

Spencer's headlining appearance at the Belleville American Music Festival on Saturday (July 12, 10 p.m.) is one of only a handful in the United States -- the night before he'll be performing in Berwyn, Ill., he performed Thursday night in St. Louis.

A Norwegian promoter convinced Spencer to perform publicly again two years ago at the Notodden Blues Festival in Norway, backed by a group of Norwegian blues musicians. He's stuck with the same musicians for this tour and is plugging the 2006 album he recorded with them, "Precious Little," a mix of Spencer's trademark slide guitar blues and '50s rock-'n'-roll-tinged originals.

The Cap Times caught up with Spencer via e-mail on Thursday as he was traveling between gigs in the Chicago area.

What is it about '50s rock that appeals to you?

I wouldn't have known how to put it into words at the time I first heard it, but I would say the freshness and simplicity bordering on naivety is the appeal it still has for me. It was as though the musicians were just discovering music!

What was the first album you bought?

The first single I bought was "Bad Boy" by Marty Wilde and the Wildcats (a British '50s rock and roll group) when I was eleven years old and had just purchased a record player with some savings.

The first album I got was "Me and My Shadows" by Cliff Richard and the Shadows, which my parents bought me for Christmas. I was 12 years old at the time. Interesting to note is that with one shilling a week pocket money, I could hardly afford to buy single records, which in those days cost six shillings each, let alone albums! The thing was to buy a record and swap it with friends for a while; that way we could all share our meager record collections. The advantage of this was that you would play the record to death and get every lick and nuance into the grooves of your mind!

Why did you decide to return to the United States to perform after all these years?

To be frank, it wasn't my decision! I just feel the time is right and know that the Lord wants me to do it. He has made that obvious through circumstances and conditions. Just by my saying "yessir" and going ahead with it has given me peace to the point that I'm actually looking forward to it and have enjoyed our first experience doing a test run at the Evanston SPACE blues club in Chicago.

What can people expect at the show in Belleville at the American Music Festival?

Jeremy Spencer of today, here and now playing with Norwegian blues musicians! What was the name of that fabulous Crickets album? "Somethin' old, somethin' new, somethin' blue, somethin' else!" (But mainly blue!)

Looking back on it now, what do you think of your decision to leave Fleetwood Mac?

No regrets. It was something I knew I had to do for my spiritual and even physical survival. I would venture to say that the fact that I was with FM for three and a half years, and I've stayed with the Children of God/Family International for 37, says a lot about my decision.

How would Fleetwood Mac have been different if you'd stayed with it?

Ha! Good one! They most certainly would not have gone on to be one of the biggest bands in history! I don't say that in a self-demeaning way, because I knew when I heard the first album with the Buckingham-Nicks lineup that they had hit on something with an enormously catchy appeal.

Besides that, after I left them, I prayed earnestly that for God to reward them with success beyond their dreams.

How did hallucinogenic drugs influence your music for the better? For the worse?

I was told from many sources that it would expand my music "progressively." I found it did no such thing for me. I started to think I was somehow "out of the loop" because I saw musicians around me, including Pete and Danny expanding their musical boundaries through using it. One thing it did do for me at the time, however, was start me on a path of spiritual search through helping me realize that there is more to life than this temporary realm we live in here on earth. The moot question is, though, whether I would have been led to this quest anyway if I had not taken it. People down through the ages have come to this realization before there was any such thing as acid!

How does your involvement in Family International influence your music, your lyrics and your approach to playing?

First of all, my involvement has helped me to see (although I don't always hit the mark!) that love is the gold magic power and essential ingredient to beautiful music, whether it's blues, rock, reggae, jazz, classical or whatever. Without it, it's, as St. Paul said, "sounding brass and tinkling cymbal."

Another thing I've learned personally is that heaven wants to get through to Earth using those dear departed blues musicians and others from the other side of "the veil."

What kind of reactions do you get from fans when they learn of your longtime involvement in the Children of God/Family International?

Mixed! While some say "How could he have thrown away such a talent and opportunity?," many at least acknowledge that my musical skills have improved. The fact is that before I joined the Children of God, my talent and inspiration was waning. It was as though I was on a musical treadmill.

What attracted you to the group (TFI) and why have you stayed with them?

What attracted me to the group? The people mostly. It's funny, I felt as though I'd known a lot of them all my life. I'm sure you've experienced that, right? When you've met someone for the first time?

Another thing was that in this gray world of "do your own thing," "whatever floats your boat" subjective morality, they were able to give me solid, scripturally based answers to my many questions about life, death, love, God, Jesus and the future.

In a 1977 BBC interview, members of Fleetwood Mac commented on how your onstage persona (rock musician) was so different from your offstage persona (quiet, withdrawn Bible reader). How would you describe your onstage vs. offstage presence?

It's a mystery to me and to others to this day! But I understand that this quandary is not altogether unusual. Some big stars like Michael Jackson, B.B. King and even Elvis were painfully subject to their rather shy or withdrawn off-stage personalities! I'm thankful, however, that with God's help, I have a little more confidence meeting people in my latter years. I still prefer small, quiet company, though, to crowds and partying rah-rah!

What do you think of your kids' music group JYNXT?

They collectively have a lot of talent, and I say that not just as a proud father! To be frank, though, with them approaching or even being in their 30s, I would like to see or rather hear that talent mature and expand beyond the confines of '90s attitude Brit-chick rock. It seems that living in London, even with its multi-ethnicity and availability of all sorts of musical genres, can oddly tend to musical tube vision. Ben, for instance, plays rare beautiful soulful lead guitar, and he should capitalize on that.

Which young popular musicians do you admire now?

I like Dido's "Life for Rent" album. Although that's already about five years old by now, isn't it? When playing at Notodden blues festival, I've been impressed by the soul of some of the young Norwegian blues musicians.