Development of the British Blues and Rhythm--- show 22 --- 1-14-2014
It seems like whenever I play Fleetwood Mac I get a lot of response from listeners and our last two shows were no exception. I had a lot of good conversations, graciously accepted compliments for how good the music was (like I had a hand in making it!), and even got three pledges during the show which is unusual because I always mention it is a good idea to pledge during the marathons. Anyway, apparently a good time was had by all and that feeling should carry over through this and the next show. Originally I planned on doing three shows, but after going through all their music in my collection I was surprised at the amount of material that is out there from a band that was only together between August 1967 and April 1970, the date Peter Green dropped out.
Our first show was comprised entirely of material recorded over a three-day span at the Boston Tea Party in February of 1970 which were intended to be winnowed down into a fourth Fleetwood Mac album but was shelved for decades when Peter Green departed. What finally came out are three CDs, each containing the full show for one of the appearances with very little redundancy. Then last time we went into their earliest studio sessions comprising 45s and their first two UK LPs. We open up today’s show with a live assemblage of Jeremy Spencer’s take on 50s Rock which was previously only represented by his one side for Immediate, Somebody’s Gonna Get Their Head Kicked in Tonight, before the numerous post-mortem releases came to light. Our second set focuses on the band after Danny Kirwan joined as another influence on the group’s musical direction, and the third and closing set is made up of four instrumentals from the Then Play On album (their third) which are cumulatively referred to as the Madge sessions. Our next airing will show more of Spencer’s 50s Rock taken from live BBC sessions and later his parodies of some of the respected musicians of the day intended for an EP release that was to be concurrent to the Then Play On album. So it’s not like I’m running out of quality content and settling for filler; in fact, we’ll likely revisit the band later in the year to showcase a double LP with several of the Chess Records Chicago Blues luminaries and a separate album joining the great pianist Otis Spann. These were bucking the trend at the time of American Bluesmen traversing the Atlantic to gather together Britain’s best artists in that these sessions were recorded in Chicago and New York.
Peter Alan Greenbaum was born October 1946 in East London’s Bethnal Green district. His first influence was Bill Haley and other mid-50s rockers but, like so many other young British guitarists, the Shadows began to influence his playing by 1960. In 1962 he joined the pop-oriented Bobby Denim and the Dominoes. In 1964, in addition to his day job as a butcher’s trainee and already into the Blues, Peter moved on to the Muskrats, which included future Chicken Shack and Savoy Brown drummer Dave Bidwell. Until joining the Muskrats Peter had taken to playing the bass, but around the end of his time with them switched back to guitar. From the Chuck Berry / Bo Diddley-styled group he moved on to the Bluesbreakers late in October 1965, months after Clapton took off for a working holiday in Greece. His time with Mayall was cut to just one week when Eric returned to the band.
Early in 1966, Peter signed on with Peter B and the Looners, the B standing for Bardens, already a veteran of the Irish band Them. Mick Fleetwood was the drummer, the third band in which he was with Bardens, the Senders and the Cheynes being the predecessors. Peter got his first studio experience when the Looners put out a single, If You Wanna Be Happy / Jodrell Blues in March 66, but its lack of success led the mostly instrumental group to add vocalists Rod Stewart and Beryl Marsden, changing their name to Shotgun Express, structurally similar to and just after Rod left the short-lived Steampacket which also featured Long John Baldry, Brian Auger and Julie Driscoll. Green left before the band broke up in early 1967, likely due in part to Marsden’s declining Peter’s marriage proposal.
In August Green began his second term with Mayall’s long-standing rhythm section of drummer Hughie Flint, a Bluesbreaker since July 1964 as well as playing with John back in Manchester, and John McVie, member of a Shadows imitator band until he joined Mayall in April 1963. It is reported that at their first gig Mayall said something like “Let’s do a 12-bar in C” with McVie responding, “What’s that?” Aynsley Dunbar replaced Flint shortly after Green joined, together putting out the Hard Road album and a handful of singles. Mayall was not entirely pleased with Dunbar’s drumming; not the quality but that it was too technical and busy for what the bandleader wanted so, upon Green’s suggestion, Mick Fleetwood was brought in as Dunbar’s replacement. Fleetwood would only last about five weeks, some sources say even a shorter term, because he partied too much at the gigs. I like the way it was phrased in one of my well-used books, The Blues-Rock Explosion: “Fleetwood’s need for boozed-up good times at gigs was greater than his need to keep good time on the drums.” Mayall had already been coping with the same problem with McVie for years, resulting in multiple terminations of the bass player, and he wasn’t about to put up with it from the start with a new band member. In spite of his brief time in the Bluesbreakers, Fleetwood did join McVie and Green in backing Mayall on the 45 Double Trouble and It Hurts Me Too.
“If John Mayall made up a tape for you, you could bet on it that there would be everything there about a guitarist or band you needed to know.” Still, with all the respect Green had for Mayall’s influence and instruction, neither he nor McVie were happy with the direction the Bluesbreakers were heading by adding horns to the stage lineup.
When Green left the Bluesbreakers, he and McVie were contemplating a visit to Chicago, or maybe Peter would just put in some time jamming around for a while, but complications acquiring visa and work permits put an end to dreams of an American visit. In the meantime, one of the producers for Decca Records Mike Vernon, especially present on Blues recordings, along with his brother Richard was trying to put together a new label of their own, Blue Horizon. Being a fan of Green from his time with Mayall, Mike convinced Peter to instead put together his own group and Green desired Fleetwood and McVie to round out the trio.
Fleetwood was fine with the idea and gave up his newly-started interior design business, while McVie also liked the idea but was not ready to give up the financial security of being a Bluesbreaker. Found through an ad placed in the music magazine Melody Maker for a temporary bass player, their choice Bob Brunning was now embarking on two new careers after also just receiving his teaching credential. Bob had played in some local groups and would go on to form the Brunning-Hall Sunflower Band, but Mac was his first truly professional gigging and even though his term was limited he remained a friend of the band, as evidenced by Peter adding his guitar work (and some vocals) to four tracks for the Sunflower Band LPs. From Mac’s earliest session, Brunning appeared on two released tracks: their first single I Believe My Time Ain’t Long (its B-side required no bass) and from their first LP Long Grey Mare. The 45 would be released in November 67 with the LP following in February 68 and staying on the UK charts for nearly a year. Against Peter’s wishes, Vernon wanted to name the album Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, but through Green’s persistence this was modified to add ”featuring Jeremy Spencer”, thus giving all four members a portion of the title.
Once the lineup seemed set as a trio, Green wanted to find someone to open up for the band in order to not have to hit the stage to a cold audience, so Vernon pointed out the diminutive (5’4”) Jeremy Spencer in what was by all accounts an otherwise lackluster Levi Blues Set. Most impressive was Jeremy’s mastery of the style of Elmore James, but he was also an accomplished piano player and vocalist, all of which should satisfy Green’s desire to share the spotlight. With this in mind and the band already signed to Blue Horizon, Vernon convinced Green to make Spencer a full-fledged member of the group. After a brief rehearsal period, the band was prepared for their debut at the Windsor Jazz & Blues Festival on August 13th, 1967. Brunning’s total time with the band would turn out to be only about a month as McVie would join the lineup in time to easily make the November studio session that would fill out the debut album. The band was finally set as it had been originally conceptualized, plus the added talents of Spencer.
Regarding the debut album, Beat Instrumental declared it “the best English Blues LP ever released here”, and a writer from the New Musical Express found relief from his pondering: “I wondered where the early Animal and Stones music had gone…well, here it is.” But by the time the LP reached our shores, Rolling Stone’s appraisal was only halfway as complimentary: “On this, their first recorded effort, Fleetwood Mac have established themselves as another tight English Blues Band.” “(They) know what they’re doing, they dig the music they’re playing and that’s great, but the drawback here is that they don’t put enough of themselves into it instead of what they’ve heard from the original artists.”
A month after the successful release of their first album, the March release of the single Black Magic Woman topped out at #37, curiously low considering its influence especially on one Carlos Santana. Their next release in July, Need Your Love So Bad which featured orchestral backing, fared a little better at #31, but that month also saw their first American tour turn out a disaster mostly due to mismanagement on the US side.
By now, Spencer’s role within the band was becoming increasingly diminished which caused him to feel as though he were being slighted, so he would sit backstage and mope. His actions did not please Green either. “I had two parts to play because Jeremy wasn’t going to make the effort to learn my things – to play properly on the piano. I was told he could play properly but never saw him do that.” Therefore, when May rolled around and it was time to record the second LP, Mr. Wonderful, McVie’s girlfriend Christine Perfect (who had recently retired from “the other” Blue Horizon band Chicken Shack) was enlisted to provide piano on some of Green’s material. Also used on the album were Johnny Almond on tenor sax (one of four horn players) and Peter’s one-man-band buddy Duster Bennett blowing away on harmonica, who himself was now signed to Blue Horizon as well. Spencer is listed as playing piano but I must presume this is solely on his own material. The album came out in August and peaked at #10 UK but its American counterpart English Rose didn’t find its way into the record bins until six months later (just as was the case with the first LP) and failed to chart at all. I don’t have reviews of the full LP, but Rolling Stone did deem the album’s track Love That Burns the “finest white recording of the Blues ever made.”
On August 14th 1968 after the band returned from their US tour, an addition was made in the form of guitarist / vocalist / songwriter Danny Kirwan who, with his trio Boilerhouse, had opened up for Mac in shows dating as far back as about a year earlier. Like Spencer before him, Danny was the standout in this mediocre trio and knocked out his headliners. At first, an attempt was made to find an adequate rhythm section for Kirwan to front but, when that failed, Vernon suggested Danny would meet Green’s desire to have another guitarist to work off of. Green remembers Fleetwood suggesting, “’Why don’t you get him in?” I didn’t want to at first, but Mick persuaded me that we could do some interesting things with two guitars…and he was right. I would never have done Albatross if it wasn’t for Danny. I never would have had a number one hit record”. Brunning saw Danny at the time he joined the band as “a painfully shy and polite new-boy who was in awe of everyone in the band and even in awe of people like me who were to do with the band”.
For the group’s second American LP English Rose, several of the tunes from Mr. Wonderful were replaced by newer ones featuring Kirwan. My thought was that they wished the album to be more like the stage show but my information says the disc came out in February while the tour ended in January, so something is askew. Strange that the company wouldn’t have the two coincide.
Around December of 1968, Fleetwood Mac headed out for their second US tour which went better than the last one. The highlight of the tour was not any of the concerts but the fact that they had the opportunity to play with some of the best American Bluesmen. In January, probably due to his status as A&R man for Chess Records, Willie Dixon was able to put the boys together for two days of sessions featuring various combinations with guitarists Buddy Guy and Dave “Honeyboy” Edwards, harpman Big Walter “Shakey” Horton, tenor saxist J.T. Brown, drummer S.P. Leary and pianist Otis Spann at the label’s Chicago recording studio. Dixon, of course, added some stand-up bass to the sessions including a handful of tunes featuring Jeremy Spencer’s adaptations of Elmore James’ material. Sitting in on those tracks was Brown, who was Elmore’s sax player on so many of those classic 50s recordings, and he was blown away by the accuracy of Spencer’s renditions. I have no chart data for the album, but it must have suffered considerably since the double LP was held back until December when the band’s direction was morphing away from the strict Blues they had been known for at the beginning of the year. Spann was impressed enough that he got Green, Kirwan and McVie to join him and Leary at the end of their tour later in January for the sessions which produced his Blue Horizon album The Biggest Thing Since Colossus.
Blue Horizon had signed Mac to a one year contract with a company option for a second year but somehow the Vernons forgot to renew and Mac became free agents just as Albatross was riding the very top of the charts and just before the tour began. In keeping with Green’s ideas toward money not being the be all and end all of any kind of agreement, he was against the change but this time lost out and in early summer the band signed with Reprise. Also recorded in New York before their journey home was their next single, Man of the World paired with Jeremy’s rocker Somebody’s Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonight under the pseudonym Earl Vince and the Valiants. The 45 was released in April 1969 on the Immediate label as a one-off deal falling between the two contracts. It started slowly but payola brought about airplay and the disc rose to #2 and kicked Mac from the large pub scene into the more profitable concert halls and stadiums.
Jeremy Spencer’s humor was an integral part of the Fleetwood Mac stage shows, and an October 1968 session was held just for the purpose of creating the experience on an EP. It was plenty funny to me and I imagine some of this style of jocularity would be a hilarious addition interspersed with his 50s Rock mimicry. The imaginary Milton Schlitz is supposed to typify the American MCs who might also supplement their income by doing TV ads for used car lots. On the semi-musical side, he portrays Alexis Korner, a Doo Wop group, Lightnin’ Hopkins (the only tune omitted because it was just a little too slow), a generic psychedelic group and winds up mocking Peter Green’s mentor John Mayall. The irreverent disc was to be an accompanying piece to the band’s third LP, Then Play On, which indeed Jeremy did not play on. While the album came out in September, the EP never hit the record racks. Green said, “We would like him to do that sort of thing more often, but if an audience is cold he won’t do it.”
Spencer’s humor could often be pornographic and/or tasteless as in the time the band was banned from the Marquee after the focal point on stage was a 16” pink dildo (named Harold and Jeremy’s proud possession) protruding outside his trousers. As Chicken Shack and later Savoy Brown bass player Andy Silvester put it, “I always remember Fleetwood Mac as a happy band but a band with a bizarre humor. They used to take things too far, and Jeremy was the instigator of this”.
Ultimately, Jeremy was in a world of his own. While the others were out doing things on their days off during the 1970 US tour, Jeremy could be found all on his lonesome smoking dope and reading the New Testament.
Mac was in the studio over a four month span beginning in April 1969 to lay down tracks for their first Reprise LP, Then Play On, released in September. According to Green, “We should have had a producer on Then Play On, then it might have sold better. We tried to produce it ourselves, like other bands did at the time, thinking it would be more fun.”
Recording engineer Martin Birch took on much of that responsibility although not the producer’s title. Around this time, Kirwan began to think of his idol Green as more of a competitor, and Birch recalled, “When we’d finish one of his tracks, Danny would say, ‘I’d like Peter to hear this’. And Peter would say, ‘Well, if you like it then that’s fine with me’. I often got the impression that Danny was looking for Peter’s approval whereas Peter wanted Danny to develop himself by doing it himself.”
In an attempt to cash in on one last time on the recordings still in their vault, Blue Horizon put together The Pious Bird of Good Omen LP and released it just before the Reprise album. The album, comprised of outtakes and 45 sides that had not been on British albums previously, reached #18.
The British press came out strongly in favor of the new album, with Melody Maker seeing Then Play On as “a great leap forward for the Mac” and Beat Instrumental declaring it “Fleetwood Mac, at their very, very best. … Peter Green’s characteristic guitar is evident throughout, and this LP can only add to his fast-growing stature as one of the best guitarists in Britain.”
In a Rolling Stone review of the album, the magazine suggests that Mac is giving up the Blues: “Tired of being another British Blues band, the group has said goodbye to Elmore James and has moved into the pop-rock field. On this album they fall flat on their faces”, which prompted Green to say during the 1970 US tour, “We’re not getting out of Blues or out of anything. It’s just that we’re getting into more things – you see we did some blues tonight“. He also spoke of the album in September 1969, “There is nothing I feel I could have done better”.
Released the same month as Then Play On was Oh Well (parts 1 & 2): “I like it because it represents me at my two extremes – as wild as I can be and my first sort of semi-classical attempt.” Within a week of its release, the 45 reached #2 and stayed on the charts for 16 weeks
Although highly respected, Fleetwood Mac never did quite make the top tier as Mick felt they should. “I believe we’d have had the same status as Led Zeppelin in America. Led Zeppelin had a schtick, they had a lead singer with an image. I think Fleetwood Mac had a great image, a fun-loving bunch of lads. Peter Green was every bit as much a talent as Jimmy Page.”
“There were a million groups making a mockery of the Blues. And a million guitarists playing as fast as they could and calling it Blues. Some people think that the Blues is just a way of playing guitar but it isn’t. The Blues really is about having the Blues.” These were Green’s comments during the sixties and in a February 1996 article in Guitar Player Magazine he expressed that, “I didn’t understand the Blues well enough so I stopped. The Blues was too deep. It got too painful. … the Blues is something you spend a lifetime in, and you have to understand it to play it. …The Blues ended up hurting my soul so I stopped it and started to make up stories instead. … I had to give up because it wasn’t mine, it didn’t belong to me. … The Blues is something you have to work at and I wasn’t learning it fast enough.”
In a May 1998 Guitar Player interview, Kirwan concurred. “If you’re a white man you have to learn the Blues, you don’t know them. It’s as simple as that. … those guys were blacks singing and playing about what it is to be black in their country, which isn’t really their country.”
This would appear an appropriate place to interject another view, that of Leroi Jones in his excellent book Blues People, with one black man’s perspective on whites taking up black music. "The Negro's music changed as he changed ... (and ultimately) created a music that had offered such a profound reflection of America that it could attract white Americans to play it or to listen to it. ... Unlike the earlier blackface acts and the minstrels who sought to burlesque certain facets of Negro life, ... white jazz musicians ... wanted to play the music because they thought it emotionally and intellectually stimulating. ... the entrance of the white man at this level of sincerity and emotional legitimacy did at least bring him, by implication, much closer to the Negro ... (and) served to place the Negro ... in a position of intelligent regard it had never enjoyed before. ... The music of the white jazz musician ... was ... a learned art. ... blues is an extremely important part of jazz. ... jazz utilizes the blues 'attitude' ... the white musician could understand ... to arrive at a style of jazz music. ... Afro-American music did not become a completely American expression until the white man could play it!"
During all three of Mac’s American tours a friendship with the Grateful Dead grew as the bands shared the same tickets and occasionally got together on stage. “When I first heard Grateful Dead’s jamming, I thought it was a bit boring. But then if you listened to it when you’d taken some LSD you could get into it and understand what they were doing.” Whether it was the LSD or some other influence, Peter became obsessed with not needing money. He wished to follow in the footsteps of the Dead with free concerts and encourage bootleg tapes of their appearances.
Green was more deeply embracing both Christianity and Buddhism to the point that he even renounced his Jewish faith. “I had a strong feeling I was walking and talking with God. I was drawing away from music into being just a Christian person and it made me such a very, very happy person.” Towards the end of the Then Play On sessions, he and Spencer announced plans to do an orchestral project telling the story of Jesus but it never reached fruition.
There is a myth that was going around how Peter was abducted while in Munich and brainwashed by the use of LSD, but both Green and road manager Denny Keen, the only member of the Mac entourage who accompanied him claimed, first off, that he accepted an offer to join this group of artists for an afternoon during which, secondly, he did take the drug but that everything he did was by his own choice and not forced upon him. They stayed overnight as Green spent some time jamming to some downbeat avant garde music, but regarding the next day’s concert, “I felt marvelous – kind of fresh not grubby. We played all our usual stuff, but then when I jammed I couldn’t believe what I was coming out with – I was coming out with things I didn’t know I could play and the notes seemed to be going all around the room like machine-gun fire which left bulletmarks in the walls”.
Peter’s final gig was at the Bath City Football grounds at the end of May, followed up shortly with one last BBC appearance. The last of his recordings with the group was released that month, The Green Manalishi (with the Two Prong Crown) b/w World in Harmony, going to #10 in the UK. September saw the release of Kiln House, the first Fleetwood Mac disc sans Green, which was recorded as a quartet. Peter’s first solo release came in November with a series of instrumental jams under the album title The Name of the Game.
There is more to say about the circumstances surrounding the departures of Spencer and then Kirwan, but in order to get this out today that shall have to wait ‘til our next show, so I think I’ll make my outro here from Mick’s 1990 biography Fleetwood: My Life and Adventures with Fleetwood Mac: “We were a rude, wild, fun-loving bunch of people who simply didn’t give a fuck. Fleetwood Mac never wanted to be pure Blues like John Mayall or Rock like Hendrix or Cream. We were a funny, vulgar, drunken vaudeville Blues band in that time (1967-70) playing music as much to amuse ourselves as please an audience and make money.”
Great Balls of Fire
3 O’clock Blues
I Believe to my Soul
Wang Dang Doodle
On the Road Again
Come Back Baby
Shake Your Hips
Jig Saw Puzzle Blues
Show Biz Blues
Although the Sun is Shining
October Jam #2
The Promised Land
You Can’t Catch Me
Sweet Little Rock ‘n’ Roller
(I Am) A Lover Not a Fighter
(added if time permits)
I Hear You Knockin’
The Madge Sessions #1
Searching for Madge
The Madge Sessions #2
Fighting for Madge