Timings are approximate
A reprint of the second edition of 'Peter Green - founder of Fleetwood Mac - the authorised biography' by Martin Celmins, is published by Sanctuary.
With thanks to Dinky Dawson, Marty and Lisa Adelson, and to Jenny Baker at Cultural Fantasists.
Also available: 'Fleetwood Mac - The Vaudeville Years 1968 to 1970' RDPCD 14Z - UK, EDPCD 14 - Export
The blues-rock Fleetwood Mac era revisited
'Show-Biz Blues' is a compilation which consists entirely of previously unissued works from Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac. Included here are new songs as well as alternate versions of previously released tracks, and detailed in this booklet is the background to every track on this second 2-CD collection of early Fleetwood Mac blues. Also to be found in this booklet is new info and interviews for devotees of the original Peter Green line-up of the band, and for anyone interested in the 1960s British music scene - the time during which blues progressed into rock.
The great thing about doing retrospectives which revisit that blues-rock period is that although the 1960s are well dead and gone, back in this dot.com present fresh info is there daily and important new stuff comes to light from time to time which allows you then to dig a bit deeper. So there can be no such thing as the 'definitive' story of the original Fleetwood Mac - it is an ever-unfolding saga.
Since The Vaudeville Years collection came out, three things have been made available which add new slants to the Fleetwood Mac Story and to the Peter Green Story. First, an interview with hitherto low-profile Jeremy Spencer on Marty and Lisa Adelson's Fleetwood Mac website /penguin/qa.
Second, an evocative and often poetic autobiography has been written by Dinky Dawson, the original Fleetwood Mac's sound engineer 'Life On The Road' (Billboard Books - ISBN 0-8230-8344-6). It is essential reading for Mac fans.
The third chunk of info is not directly to do with early Fleetwood Mac but even so speaks volumes about the climate of those times and about how the pressures of fame and stardom could weigh heavy on a sensitive artist and cutting-edge guitarist. And so, watching Christopher Olgiati's television documentary about Jimi Hendrix - The Man They Made God - broadcast on BBC2's Hendrix Night in 1999, it was impossible not to see some parallels with Peter Green and Fleetwood Mac. In amongst much new archive footage from that time there is Eric Burdon's chilling assertion that "the business killed Jimi". What's more, Band of Gypsies' conga player Juma Sultan recounts bad memories of how Hendrix's creative direction towards the end - or rather a lack of it - was far more 'influenced' by management carrying shooters under their slick suits than by his own musical genius.
Ironically, Hendrix's show-biz blues towards the end came to him from his fan base many of whom only wanted to hear what they knew. He was booed at the Isle of Wight Festival for musically wanting to move on. Being aware of this, management wanted Hendrix to be a keep-playing-the-old-hits cash cow rather than an inventive musician pushing back barriers. And so, in Juma Sultan's words. "they milked the cow to death". Burdon's and Sultan's comments are stark reminders that if there was something in the air in the late-1960s and 1970 in the music business then it was not the notion of artistic freedom - something Peter Green was also discovering around that time. In 1968 Hendrix told a journalist:
"We've been playing Purple Haze, The Wind Cries Mary, Hey Joe and Foxy Lady.....we've been playing all these songs - which I really think are groovy songs - but we've been doing all these songs for two years. So quite naturally we start to improvise here and there and there's other things we want to turn on to the people, you know."
And just two years later Green - by then, with three hits under his belt - commented:
"Sometimes I think I've played this song 25,000 times - I've got to do something different with it. It's almost like being dictated to."
So, a couple of years after Jimi Hendrix, the original Fleetwood Mac - led by a blues visionary - were also poised to conquer the world with a futuristic take on the blues. To get an idea of Green's musical vision listen now to his improvisational skills on a promotional recording of Green Manalishi - Disc 2 - track 7 - extended live version. Playing at his very best, none the less he soon had to quit the business for his freedom - to escape being dictated to by his fans, and also by his band who felt safer playing accessible blues-rock as opposed to the free-form direction of Underway - Disc 2 - track 3. There lies a crucial difference between Green and Hendrix: Green got out just in time, Hendrix got trapped.
Peter Green's sudden exit came as a big shock to the band he left behind and to the business. But wasn't it a wise move in retrospect. At least he got away with his life. This was his and Fleetwood Mac's Show-Biz Blues, as he recently explained to Harry Shapiro in the Vol. 2 Issue 35 of the indispensable British Blues Connection magazine Blueprint (www.blueprint.blues.co.uk)
"You can't really say what it was all about - it's just Show-Biz Blues (a track on 'Then Play On'). That's the song that says it all. The rest of them looked like clowns and I'm part of the circus. Whatever Fleetwood Mac had become I just didn't want to play whatever it was."
The sad irony of Peter's comment is focused when listening to this collection with its many gems, and then imagining what might still have been to come.
Everybody's got the show-biz blues.
From The Vaudeville Years...to Show-Biz Blues
The Vaudeville Years of Fleetwood Mac 1968-1970, first released in 1998, is a 150-minute long take on a blues band's vaudeville-type variety, and about how a repertoire of contrasting blues-based styles brought unheard of commercial success to five young musicians who started out as a pub blues band that religiously and, very occasionally, drunkenly - blasted out Chicago bound twelve-bars. But then that same diversity took three already eccentric guitarists each into their own solitary musical space and this soon bust up the band. The potent acid floating around at the time didn't help...or did help, depending on your point of view.
Those were strange days and Fleetwood Mac as a band was big on a strangeness (of which much more later) which fuelled the music making it even more unique. The Vaudeville Years focuses this often crazy versatility, and how it meant the band came up with some serious Brit-blues but did so by indulging their wayward humour and refusing to take the blues too seriously in a way that most of their po-faced contemporaries felt obliged to do...write a blues about masturbation?? Rattlesnake Shake - Disc 2 - track 3 - live version And why not, as Peter Green recalls:
"The words to 'Rattlesnake Shake' I got from Mick Fleetwood. He came in one day and said his wife, Jenny Boyd, had left him - for about the third time but he told me that this time he was getting by all right. And then I did the words...'I know this guy, his name is Mick'."
Last but not least, the Vaudeville compilation also gave a hint of what might have been the fourth Mac album; something which was talked about but never materialised before Peter Green's spring 1970 exit from the band he had founded. There's another 'sneak preview of what was not to be' here on 'Show-Biz Blues'. It is Fast Talking Woman Blues - Disc 1 - track 17 alternate take.
To the casual listener this sounds like just another snatch of an outtake or a studio jam. But for Mac fans this track is another reminder of just what might have been in store for us had the band's leader not left when he did. It is an unissued take from the 1969 October Jam sessions included in The Vaudeville Years.
Dinky Dawson vividly remembers these sessions which took up most of the second half of that October - as a still happy time for the band, with Peter and Jeremy "completely engrossed in the various recording projects" and apparently showing no signs of the tensions and traumas just around the corner. It's highly likely that amongst these projects was the start of Mac's fourth album.
The roots of 'Fast Talking Woman Blues' go back to pre-Kirwan days and another blues demoed during the 'Black Magic Woman' sessions of early 1968. The song then - with vocals on it - was titled 'Drifting' and Peter now remembers it as him "doing a Junior Wells thing" in that he was going for a similar groove to a Junior Wells and Buddy Guy's 1965 blues called 'Ships On The Ocean'.
[Digging this blues deeper still, its roots actually go back further to 1956 and Muddy Waters' 'Just To Be With You' with Little Walter on harp and Hubert Sumlin on guitar. Both songs open up with 'In a ship that's made of paper, I would sail the seven seas.']
The bitter-sweetness of listening to this take of 'Fast Talking Woman Blues' lies in some of the modern rock guitar melodic ideas Peter was fusing into what amounts to a 1950s Chicago blues. Interesting too to note that two minutes into this track Danny stops the repetitive second-guitar riff and goes off into his own solo - a solo which backs up Peter's contention now that:
"After he joined us his style changed a lot from the blues he played with his old band Boilerhouse. But he was so into it that he cried when he played - you could almost hear Danny crying as he played."
Had this track been taken to completion - possibly with different lyrics to 'Drifting' - on the strength of what can be heard here it would have defined the classy end of blues-rock for the 1970's. But this was not to be.
And so the theme of the 141 minutes of Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac performances in this second volume 'Show Biz Blues' - echoes that of The Vaudeville Years collection. Namely, 'Show-Biz Blues' looks at the roots of the original Fleetwood Mac's take on Chicago blues and how this led to Brit blues-rock - the offshoots.
Sometimes, this digging up of roots is done in greater depth than on Vaudeville in order to see just how Peter Green, songwriter, would take time out to develop a song and its message. For instance, there are no less than three versions of this collection's title track - the song that ended up as 'Show-Biz Blues' - Disc 1 tracks 14-16 - unissued versions. He changed the title twice and made small but revealing changes to lyrics and to the music along the way.
Lastly, this booklet looks into the odd love-hate relationship between jazz and blues on the British music scene in the early and mid-1960s and how this tension worked wonders for the blossoming of British R&B, as well as the formation of Fleetwood Mac.
The Blues on a cruise.....from the Flamingo, to the Boston Tea Party.
The music on Show-Biz Blues goes on a journey which begins in early 1966 at the sophisticated but smoky Flamingo club - smoky, as in reefers and musky perfume - in Soho's Wardour Street. It ends four years later at the Boston Tea Party - home from home whenever Mac toured America - a one-time ballroom but now in 1970 it has a grungey club vibe thanks to LSD and trippy liquid light-shows.
What happened during the time in between? Well, Fleetwood Mac may have started out as a guitar, bass and drums blues trio - a trio in that either Peter Green or Jeremy Spencer would be featured, and rarely the two together. But two years later they had honed their sound into a three guitars, five-man blues-rock express. And whereas the guitar, bass and drums trio instrumentation was derived from Chicago and Buddy Guy (and from there to England via Jimi Hendrix and Cream) the three-guitars-plus-rhythm-section idea Mac evolved as their very own musical thing.
You can best hear this 'electric guitar orchestra' approach on the intro to Elmore James' classic Stranger Blues - Disc 2 track 4: Green opens with that Ray Charles riff, Kirwan joins in with stabbing, percussive chord work, and then Spencer's slide gives this version - taken from a 1970 promotional session - its vital ingredient: something Jeff Beck has described as Chicago 'dirt'. And yet Jeremy Spencer, looking back in 1999 in a Q&A session on the Penguin website, has this to say about Fleetwood Mac's three-guitar line-up:
"...it was like a battalion of guitars and to me it was overkill. Sometimes it was all three of us playing guitars and, honestly, to this day, I don't know why we didn't drop Danny or Pete out on my songs, because it was fine enough with just one back up guitarist on the Elmore James numbers!"
Picking up on the energy of 'Stranger Blues' many years on it's not that easy to understand Jeremy's view. What's more, there's a live Fleetwood Mac concert included on the 'Fleetwood Mac Early Years' video where Jeremy performs Elmore James' 'I'm Worried'. The 12-bar 'wall of rhythm' created by two guitars playing in sync the part of one second guitar was one of Fleetwood Mac's unique calling cards - with this instrumentation what they did was to make Chicago blues rock.
But the first track of this collection goes back to the real source of the original Fleetwood Mac - and that source is rooted in jazz. A promotional recording of the Booker T. Jones instrumental Soul Dressing - Disc 1 - track 1 features Peter Green soloing in the studio playing electric blues in the jazzy-R&B organ music groove favoured by his first boss, Peter Bardens. Back then in the formative years of Brit-blues there was a lot of crossover between jazz, blues and soul as Bardens explained to 'Jazzbeat' magazine in 1964 shortly before he formed the Looners:
"My ideal jazz group would be electric guitar, baritone and tenor saxes, electric organ, amplified bass and drums playing 'soul' type jazz with a strong emphasis on the blues."
It was in a Peter B's line-up (minus horns) that Green began to take the kind of solos you can hear on 'Soul Dressing'. The opening phrase is pure snappy Clapton, but then even in this solo - possibly Peter's very first studio experience in his first proper gig as a lead guitarist and not bass player - tinges of the haunting single-note melodic style he would make his very own can be heard. Hear also future Fleetwood Mac colleague Mick Fleetwood lay down a funky jazz-blues rhythm which Green would later adapt as the groove for his sparse harmonica blues 'Looking For Somebody' on the first Fleetwood Mac 'Dog and Dustbin' album. Peter recalls Mick's drumming at the time:
'Mick's drumming was more adventurous with Peter Bardens than when he joined Fleetwood Mac now I think about it. With us he wasn't that happy playing fills and he tended to concentrate more on the beat.'
By track 4 Jeremy Spencer is doing what he did best summoning the ghost of slide guitar maestro Elmore James on The Sun is Shining - Disc 1 track 4 And by Mind of My Own - Disc 1 - track 11 18-years-old blues wunderkind Danny Kirwan has completed the original 5-piece line-up and here sings as well as playing his distinctive vibrato on a fast blues he himself wrote: this is also probably his first time in the studio.
Roots and their offshoots are also to be heard in the version of Black Magic Woman - Disc 2 - track 1 unreleased version recorded on the first night of Mac's Boston Tea Party February 1970 three-night stint. The musical roots of this blues go back to Otis Rush and Chicago, but the song's lyrics deal with a universal blues theme - sexual frustration, as Peter Green and his then girlfriend Sandra Elsdon-Vigon both recall:
"My girlfriend used to call me magic nubby - nubby...I don't know what nubby means but that was my name anyway. And I didn't have anything to call her back...I was supposed to have a reply - something for her. And so I wrote this song."
Sandra completes the pictnre:
"I think I was going through these spiritual kind of celibate times which he wasn't happy about! And I think that 'Don't turn your back on me baby' was really referring to that...me not being available. Magic stick? Well...magic stick is his cock!! And he was obviously very frustrated with me, and just playing on that he came up with the words to a song."
And so with 'magic stick' cockney Green added a new term to the American delta stock of traditional blues phallic imagery such as lemon, needle, bone, and cigarette.
What's more, in the spoken intro Peter tells the crowd that this is virtually the first time since its release in February 1968 that they have performed live what was Mac's second single. From that song's beginnings as a 3-minute tightly-arranged minor hit for Mac it became this lengthy free-form live jam.
In his book, Dinky Dawson points out the next and crucial stage in the development of a classic song - a song which a couple years ago gained Green a B.M.I achievement award for 'Black Magic Woman' notching up more than two million radio airplays worldwide. Dawson remembers how during the final stages of recording the single 'Green Manalishi' at De Lane Lea studios, one Carlos Santana dropped by and an impromptu jam followed during which Carlos for the first time heard what was by now Peter's latest take on the song Santana would turn into a worldwide million-seller.
And then a year or so after this, Peter's attitude to performance and playing in general, turned 'Black Magic Woman' into a free-form epic which lasted virtually the whole gig at the Fillmore East on the last night of the tour during which temporarily he stood in for the recently gone absent Jeremy Spencer.
On Duster Bennett's Jumping at Shadows - Disc 2 track 2 - unreleased version Green's style, that began to emerge four years earlier in 'Soul Dressing', has been honed in what is probably an even more expressive solo than ones played by him on subsequent nights at the Tea Party. By now - the early 1970s - a whole new language of guitar soloing had emerged. With LSD flowing freely amongst musicians and their audiences acid-rock had arrived.
Acid-rock was the latest offshoot of the late-1960s/early 1970s Brit-blues-rock era. But its roots are to be found in 1950s trad jazz, skiffle, and 1960s soul, R&B, blues and jazz-fusion...it was from blends of these styles that the blues-based sound of the original Fleetwood Mac developed. Let's go back.
Setting the Scene - 1966-1970
The Music Biz's First Industry Revolution.
In quite a short space of time Fleetwood Mac's music changed from structured three-minute long Chicago blues'n'booze, into LSD-inspired open-ended acid-rock. Here are a few reminders of other changes going on in the rock concert business during that short time, changes which helped to evolve the Mac sound. The main point here is that, back then, if you were the kind of person who generally prefers things to stay as they are or were when you started up in the business, then you were in for a rough ride. But then again, if you got off on the changes going on - changes taking the blues-rock musicbiz from cottage industry to mainstream big business - then you were flying. Mick Fleetwood and John McVie always seemed to love being a part of a growth industry which eventually made Fleetwood Mac financially bigger than anything that had been before with the megasuccess of the 'Rumours' album...but in 1969 as the business was changing fast, Peter Green had his doubts; and from there things began to go pear-shaped:
"I want out of the cut and dried business angle...the feeling that it's good if we and the promoter make a good screw and go down well at the same time...I don't want that. I want it to be a good free thing for people...just to play music and give it to people."
Some fifteen years ahead of the gradual switch from analogue to digital (which began in the late 1970s Fleetwood Mac's 'Tusk' being one of the first rock albums recorded digitally), an industry revolution of sorts took place during the 1960s, in the shape of rapid progress made in amplifier technology and the introduction of transistorised amps that were much louder yet not as bulky.
What this meant to the original Fleetwood Mac was that in the very early days they played their first pub blues club gigs using a tatty 6-channel 100-watt Selmer amp head going through two vertical columns each consisting of four 12-inch speakers. Stage monitor speakers were unheard of at that point.
Less than three years later Mac's chart-topping success meant that amp companies were queuing up to try and get the band to endorse their equipment, which by now was much more sophisticated and loud.
So by spring of 1970 at concerts promoting the release of Green's last single with the band Green Manalishi - Disc 2 - track 7 you are listening to 2000 watts of custom-designed WEM PA weighing in at six tons. Stage monitors alone were 200 watts. All told this was quite an upgrade from the 100 watt Selmer days. Mac's sound engineer Dinky Dawson's fascinating account of his time working with Fleetwood Mac (and after that bands like the The Byrds and Steely Dan) - "Life On The Road - The Incredible Rock'n'Roll Adventures of Dinky Dawson" (Billboard Books) describes the way the live concerts business was moving forward fast in the late 1960s:
"Charlie Watkins [inventor of the Watkins Copicat and head of WEM Industries] built us a new system of four-by-twelve inch columns and two-by-fifteen bass cabinets, with four small horns on the top, four five-channel mixers that I linked together, and a Copicat echo unit. The WEM audio mixers were the most advanced available and I had Charlie modify the wiring so I could achieve a stereo effect during concerts...This allowed me to send the sound of the guitar flying back and forth in a sweep from side to side, which soon became one of my trademarks."
Vastly more sophisticated PA systems...punters with acid-enhanced hearing...liquid light shows: these were all good ways of doing bigger and better business. Even to the ludicrous point - ludicrous, that is, looking back from the year 2000 - where for a while it was loudness at gigs that was the crucial status symbol amongst bands - a case of "forget about the quality, feel the decibels". In other words, if a support act dared to crank their sound up louder than the headliner was planning on playing then tomorrow they'd be off the tour. Dinky Dawson recalls a hilarious instance of this kind of thing when Fleetwood Mac supported Joe Cocker in America.
But guess what? Bigger PA's also had big cost implications and this certainly was a part of the reason why ticket prices shot up in a short space of time. Mac's manager at the time sensed that Peter Green wasn't at all happy about this trend, and increasingly he would find himself isolated within his band because of an old fashioned integrity:
"He (Peter) always had this big thing about going on stage knowing that the audience had paid a pound to see him [more like £10-£15 today] and feeling that sometimes he's had to put on a big act to give them the best he could for their money. I think he often felt he was letting them down."
As the industry naturally grew into a bigger and bigger business, musicians now sometimes found themselves lumped together more with the breadheads and would-be fat cats running the shows, than with their own fans.
In just one year, between 1969 and 1970, the shows and festivals themselves moved on from simple but very well attended 'peace and love concerts' where sound quality often came second to the 'happening' itself. An instance of this was the 1969 free Rolling Stones concert in Hyde Park: the WEM PA belted out just 1000 watts in total - a whisper by today's standards - and Keith Richard's and new-boy Mick Taylor's guitars were badly out of tune. Today, anyone aged over forty remembers the event, but few will recall the so-so music.
The shift then was to bigger multi-media events such as the controversial and at times disastrous 1970 Isle of Wight Festival which marked the end of that peace and love era. IOW 1970 was a big turning point in the industry - it was disastrous partly because it went full on against the hippie creed by erecting a VIP enclosure just in front of the stage with exhorbitantly-priced tickets.
Surprise, surprise, those well-heeled 'freaks' who took advantage of this got pelted from the word go with beer cans and bottles thrown by ordinary festival-goers, many of whom wanted to make the event into a free "people's festival".
Ten Years After drummer Ric Lee noticed things were beginning to turn in this way during TYA's sixth tour of America in the summer of 1970, as he told Melody Maker:
"The biggest gig we have done was the Atlanta Pop Festival which was very much like Woodstock last year. But it didn't seem to have the same good vibrations that Woodstock had...American Youth is in a very funny state at the moment. They have a revolutionary feeling going around and you can sense it everywhere. When there is a festival which attracts 300,000, 100,000 turn up and are prepared to pay, but the other 200,000 think it should be a free festival and just break down the barriers. There is nothing the organisers can do about it."
As time went on Peter Green identified with the simplicity and free music philosophy whereas Fleetwood and McVie had sound business heads on their shouders...and so tensions began to mount within Fleetwood Mac.
But, then again, the industry had to move forward. Three years earlier the debut of Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac at the Windsor Festival remains a fateful and poignant moment in the band's history, and for very obvious reasons - as Mick Fleetwood reminisces in his impassioned autobiography 'Fleetwood: My Life and Adventures with Fleetwood Mac' (William Morrow & Co Inc, 1990):
"Oh, for a time machine to revisit our first gig at the 7th National Jazz, Pop, Ballads and Blues Festival held on the Balloon Meadow at the Royal Windsor Racecourse from Friday, 11 to Sunday, 13 August 1967 - the Summer of Lave."
But what nobody remembers looking back through their rose-tinted shades is that, sonically speaking, that festival was atrocious. Journalist Chris Welch covered the event for Melody Maker and couldn't believe just how bad the sound was and how thin the guitars of heroes and proven performers at the club level such as Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck sounded up on that festival stage. With all of 700 watts at his disposal - a thunderous first in those days - sound engineer Charlie Watkins fed all the guitars directly through the PA which kept cutting out - even during Fleetwood Mac's short set.
And so growing pains were inevitable in order to move from that kind of spirited amateurishness to acceptably good sound at the larger venues Fleetwood Mac played as the norm once they had achieved chart success with 'Albatross', 'Man Of The World' and 'Oh Well'.
Once the hits started coming the happy-go-lucky days of a young pub blues band were over.
In Green's own words the band had to put on show - to make people laugh, cry and be satisfied - whether they felt like it or not.
"And you're sitting there so green
Believe me, man, I'm just the same as you
I said you're sitting there so green
Believe me, man, I'm just the same as you
You want me to make you laugh, cry and be satisfied
And that's exactly what I mean to do."
Those lyrics - taken from 'Show-Biz Blues' are Peter Green reflecting on the life of superstar in late-1969. His personal pen-portrait of a young man's blues. Sadly, over the next few months his disillusionment with the business of the music business soared as much as his guitar-playing prowess. And eventually one reason he quit his band was down to money - greenbacks.
But things were very different only five years earlier: as a semi-pro musician on the Soho and Richmond scene desperate to turn pro, you couldn't imagine a hustler who hustled heavier than Pete Green. Mick Fleetwood remembers a very focused young musician in the very early days:
"He had a real agenda. He was - in a healthy way - really ambitious. He knew he had something to say musically and probably as a personality. And he took that opportunity to join John Mayall and so he recognised that that was his moment to grab for. And he did, and did very successfully."
But Green's mettle would be tested by quite a few setbacks before he finally got that Bluesbreakers gig as Eric Clapton's replacement.
From the Flamingo...
The jazz club roots of Fleetwood Mac
When the original Fleetwood Mac first got together they bonded because of two things: their devotion to Chicago blues, and a shared loathing of one short word - jazz. And yet classic early-Green instrumentals from the Mayall days such as 'Greeny' and 'The Supernatural' are jazz-tinged in themselves. This is how Peter recalls his reason for quitting the Bluesbreakers:
"I had to play on one of his songs - it was called 'Leaping Christine'. And I had to play a jazz part and I didn't like it...oh, and saxophones were playing on it."
John Mayall also remembers this:
"We used horns as an auxiliary thing on the Hard Road album and I think I may have had discussions about hiring horns for the band. I think that was when Peter said 'I've had enough - I want to form my own band'. At that point I do remember Peter was very much into Elmore James as well as BB King."
When it came to John McVie leaving Mayall, many words of persuasion by Peter Green failed to coax the bass player out of a steady gig and into the band Green already had named partly after him. But then just four words from his boss did the trick. At a rehearsal Mayall said "just play free-form" to his recently installed horns section...and McVie walked...at that point the thought of ending up playing jazz, to a macho Chicago blueser like McVie probably amounted to some kind musical emasculation. These days McVie chides himself for that kind of blinkered attitude, but one which nevertheless was rife in those days.
And yet a couple of years earlier for teenagers Peter Green, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood it all really did begin in the jazzy setting Flamingo in London's Soho as John McVie remembers in Mick Fleetwood's autobiography.
"l remember meeting Mick Fleetwood vividly, like it was yesterday, at the Flamingo Club on Wardour Street. At the time we were playing on the same circuit with other bands - Zoot Money's Big Roll Band, Georgie Fame, Long John Baldry, Graham Bond, Mick was in a band called the Cheynes with Peter Bardens."
John McVie had landed the Bluesbreaker's gig in summer 1963 through a friend, the late Cliff Barton, who was then bassist with the Cyril Davies All Stars. The 17-year-old McVie was the bass player in the 'Krewsaders', a Shadows type instrumental four-piece, and up until then was clueless about blues music.
"It was only about a year and a half after I joined [the Bluesbreakers] that I began to understand what I was playing, through John playing me records and telling me what to listen to."
Contrary to many stories that followed relating to Mayall's strictness and even stinginess, in those very early days it was the band leader who often came off worst, as McVie recalls:
"We all got a pound each for those first gigs and John would end up with ten bob."
And it was four years later when a horn section made up of Dick Heckstall-Smith and Chris Mercer joined aud gave the band more of a jazz flavour that McVie got restless:
"I hadn't been taking much notice of how the band was working and then suddenly the brass section seemed to be taking over."
The irony about Green and McVie's anti-jazz stance is that, like it or not, they were part of a jazz scene, and the Flamingo had a jazz tradition stretching back to the late-1940s. And the fact that the Bluesbreakers and the Peter B's went down well with Flamingo clubbers says something about their sound. As ex-Nighthawks and Shakey Vick drummer Mel Wright recalls, the Flamingo crowd had pretty fixed views on what music they liked and didn't like:
"The crowd went there to listen...not chat whilst sat at tables - it was in a basement and there were about half a dozen rows of leather bucket seats at the front by the stage and then the rest of the club was an open floor which would always be jam-packed.
It was mostly a black crowd of regulars in the early 1960s and so naturally people like Georgie Fame played West Indian-flavoured music. I do remember both Alexis Korner and the Rolling Stones played there and didn't go down well at all. Their stuff was more suited to Studio 51, the 100 Club and Marquee which all eventually became blues-rock venues.
So when the late 1960s blues boom took off the Flamingo began to go down. They changed the name to Pink Flamingo towards the end trying to get in on the psychedelic Pink Floyd scene but I don't think that was ever a success."
1960s Brit-blues also does owe a lot to the Big Daddy of British trad jazz, Chris Barber and to Barber's one-time banjo/guitar player Lonnie Donegan.
In the 1950s it was Barber who brought American bluesmen such as Big Bill Broonzy over and backed them on UK tours. By 1960 Barber introduced an R&B spot in his set featuring Alexis Korner and harmonica ace and 12-string guitar Leadbelly clone Cyril Davies, who eventually formed their own splinter group, Blues Incorporated. This band, initially based at the Ealing club, was one half of the core of the 1960s R&B scene.
The other half came from the Flamingo and, as Mel Wright points out, in the first stages the word Flamingo really meant Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, who had a residency there. Performing mostly to black audiences, Fame played a mixture of what they wanted to hear - American and West Indian music - and by fusing the styles of James Brown and Mose Allison and throwing in some ska-beat eventually he came up with his own unique style.
It was in this way that between then, 1962, and the mid-1960s the British R&B scene took off. English musicians with varying and personalised approaches to blues, rhythm and blues, traditional and modern jazz, would all mingle, form bands, disband and then form other bands. These were the bands that John McVie lists as a part of the Bluesbreakers mid-1960s circuit Zoot Money, Georgie Fame, Graham Bond, Long John Baldry, and Mick Fleetwood's first band The Cheynes. And this was the diverse music scene then very loosely called British R&B.
And if you want a rough indication of that Georgie Fame Flamingo sound, listen to an instrumental that eventually became The Peter B's first single: If You Want To Be Happy - Disc 1 - track 2 - rare unknown recording from early 1966 has Peter Green playing a jazzy rhythm guitar. And that's what Peter Bardens first noticed about Green's talent - his tight rhythm playing, as he now remembers it:
"I tend to think of our sound back then as R&B-type jazz. We did a couple of Jimmy Smith numbers which is more in the jazz direction...but jazz has so many other sounds to it and what we were doing with the Looners was very much Steve Cropper, Booker T which I don't classify totally as jazz...I hear that more as instrumental R&B and we did instrumental versions of typical R&B numbers. We weren't trying to break any new ground particularly and we were a happy little band from what I remember. It was a good pruning ground and above all else it was very, very tight...Mick and Dave Ambrose on bass were a very tight rhythm section and Pete played a lot of really nice Steve Cropper-ish kind of rhythm guitar and I was on the Hammond - it was that kind of sound. It was later that Peter developed as an outstanding blues guitarist and vocalist."
And so six years after Chris Barber opened the sluicegates, there were now at least four variations on the theme of British R&B: First, the Flamingo bunch; then, Alexis Korner's somewhat rarefied and modern jazz, tinged take on the blues, soon to be further developed by Graham Bond; third, his ex-collaborator Cyril Davies's rougher harmonica-centred urban Chicago blues; and lastly the radical end of Brit R&B - the Rolling Stones who fused the Chess Studios sound with Chuck Berry...and loved their electric guitars to death. With the Stones and this fourth Brit-R&B variant began a lineage of guitar-focused, blues-based bands - the Yardbirds, Downliners Sect, Cream, Jimi Hendrix Experience, Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin who via the late-1960s blues boom took the music from blues to heavy rock and eventually heavy metal.
Stones' clones soon appeared such as the Yardbirds with a Brian Jones lookalike - Keith Relf - as front man, and also the Pretty Things. Both these groups enjoyed chart success with melodic and exotic R&B, but neither came anywhere near the Stones heroic achievement of releasing a straight blues and - boosted by their scary Borstal-boys image, and their juggernaut publicity machine - sending it straight up the charts. 'Little Red Rooster' went to uumber 1 in 1964.
The Yardbirds were a serious influence on the young R&B clubber Peter Green - and because he had played bass in top ten covers outfits such as Bobby Dennis and the Dominos, and after that The Tridents (not the Jeff Beck group of that name), at Yardbirds gigs Green would be watching bassist Paul Samwell-Smith as keenly as he would eye up the fingerwork of Eric Clapton. Green has spoken of a Yardbirds influence on compositions such as 'Sandy Mary', and the other thing that impressed him about that band was their knack of coming up with blues-based commercial singles. And yet that same commercialism of The Yardbirds' first hit 'For Your Love' - written by future 10cc pop star Graham Gouldman - appalled purist Eric Clapton, especially so the insincere nod to R&B in the middle section. Enough so that he left and joined John Mayall's Bluesbreakers.
Formed in 1963, the Yardbirds were close behind the Rolling Stones on the Richmond Crawdaddy/Station Hotel R&B scene masterminded by Giorgio Gomelsky. With Eric Clapton as embryonic guitar-hero and crowdpuller, they too wanted to 'do an Animals' and 'do a Stones'...in other words, take the blues up the charts. But in those ultra-purist times, doing this was also ultracontroversial. For instance, The Animals hated themselves for 'bowing to management' and commercialising an old country blues by Rik Von Schmidt taken off Bob Dylan's first album: the resultant 'Baby Let Me Take You Home' charted and so management was proved to be right. Even so, purist Eric Burdon actually refused to perform their first hit single live.
Some Stones' clones who didn't make it into the charts were Mick Fleetwood's first pro group, The Cheynes formed by Peter Bardens - a band John Mayall remembers as "a group of strange people with long hair". This blend of long hair, maracas and Bo Diddley covers, gave the Cheynes a strong following at the Marquee (originally also a jazz club but, thanks to Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies, now fast developing as a blues-rock venue). Perhaps what they lacked was the management hustle of an Andrew 'Loog' Oldham. The Cheynes split after three failed singles, and from there Peter Bardens joined Them and promptly found himself in a top ten group as their second single 'Here Comes The Night' hit the top three.
Around this time - and a year after the fateful first hook-up down the Flamingo between Fleetwood and Mac - we're back in that same Wardour Street haunt and semi-pro bass player Pete Green has no qualms about bending John Mayall's ear a lot saying he and only he is the right man to step into Eric Clapton's shoes, as Mayall still recalls only too well:
"Peter actually emerged from the front rows of the Flamingo in the middle of an all-night session and was very kind of abusive towards the standard of guitar players I'd been using recently as possible replacements for Eric. I said, 'What do you play?' and he said 'Well, I play bass'. I said 'Well I'm looking for a guitar player' and so he said, 'Well I could probably do that too. I'm better than all of them'. Anyway, he became very persistent showing up more and more frequently at these gigs. And eventually he got his chance by sheer persistence and he was quite remarkable. But of course within a week Eric returned from his summer break and there were some very hurt feelings when I had to let Peter go."
From where he was stood on that stage John McVie's first impression of the persistent soon-to-be guitar hero was that of a "cocky punk". McVie also recalls:
"I knew Peter could play, and at that time I don't think anybody in the band viewed Eric as God...as the graffiti said. But when Peter did come in it was two very different styles...Just as exciting with Peter being more of a melodicist than Eric in my opinion."
Certainly, the two other guitarists marked out to join Fleetwood Mac over the next couple of years, Jeremy Spencer and Danny Kirwan, would prove to be far less focused about how to go onwards and upwards than their leader was as he launched into his music-biz career. Nothing was going to stop Pete Green - eighteen-years-old and very hungry for recognition in 1965.
Hungry enough to shrug off setbacks such as being dumped after a week by John Mayall first time around, and instead become the most sought-after depping guitarist in Richmond. This was whilst he was still holding down a semi-pro gig as bass player for a Yardbirds-inspired R&B band he formed called The Muskrats. His choice as lead guitarist was Roger Pearce who Peter had spotted at the Richmond Crawdaddy club playing in guitar-led R&B outfit The Grebbels, and also in the Yardbirds when occasionally Pearce stood in for Eric Clapton. Roger remembers a sociable, chatty Peter Green back in those early days, and remembers also a muso who kept a very high profile on the London and Richmond scene - back then he was the original networker.
"He liked to talk a lot and especially about music, and sometimes tried to persuade me to accompany him to the Flamingo for their all-nighters. I never did go with him...for a start it cost you ten bob just to get in and that was such a lot of money for a young guy like me."
Shortly before landing the gig with Peter Bardens' Looners he also got over a disastrous professional debut with Errol Dixon and the Honeydrippers which began and ended with the same gig, as Peter himself recalls.
"I got that gig because I'd told them I was a blues guitarist and they said they played the blues. But at my one and only gig with them I couldn't really play anything. They were into jazzy blues with all these jazz chord progressions and I just stood there on stage not being able to play a note."
So, after this baptism of fire perhaps Green's feelings towards anything to do with jazz were ones of fear as well as loathing. Looking back, it's easier to see what this musical difference of opinion was all about - namely, what was jazz and what was blues, and why was there any confusion about the two in the first place.
The confusion may go back to the 1950s when as much energy as ever was being expended on the British obsession with class - especially when it came to youth music. Every musical genre had to be neatly put in its place, to the extent that arguments would drone on in the pages of Melody Maker as to where you and your favourite music fitted in to the young persons' heirachy of hip. Trad jazz versus modern jazz; is skiffle piffle; acoustic blues versus electric blues...and so on, and so on.
Young blokes were as possessive about their music as they were about their girlfriends and, seemingly, flew into a jealous rage when they felt - rightly or wrongly - that their cherished music was being tampered with. How else can you explain the weird arrogance and disrespect of Brit acoustic blues purists foaming at the corners of their mouths in anger when Muddy Waters - a blues Buddha just down from the mountain - first hit the English blues scene in 1958 and, in their eyes, had the temerity to play blues armed with a solid-bodied electric guitar and Otis Spann's in-yer-face piano boogie.
But it looks like purism is a global mindset in that exactly the same thing happened in the States seven years later at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival when Dylan took the stage with electric blues guitar man Mike Bloomfield. It's hilarions now to learn that this small thing was enough to push committed folkie pacifist Pete Seeger over the edge and turn him, literally, into a mad axeman, as sound engineer Paul Rothchild remembers:
"Pete Seeger who had earlier in the day done a demonstration of work group and chain gang songs and still had his axe with him from a log-cutting exhibition, came running to me and said 'What's that on stage? They're playing electric music up there! If they don't get off stage I am going to cut the wires with my axe!'...This is Mister Peace talking!"
And similar purist bun-fights had also gone on in the early 1960s in London when Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies were chucked out of Steve Lane's tradjazz club because they dared to turn up to a gig with amplifiers. In a weird way this gave a rebellious kudos to the pair and so gradually electric blues rose up that heirachy of hip amongst the new youth - so it was out with the trad jazz duffle coat brigade and modern jazz beatniks, and in with tab-collared shirts and long-hatreds who loved loud amplified guitar music.
Soon this new Chicago-based electric blues most pithily could be summarised in four words...Eric Clapton's Telephone Blues. In the mid-1960s British blues was literally about to explode with the release of the Beano album - 'John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers featuring Eric Clapton'. But until that landmark album there was still a lot of jazz on the fringe of British blues, and a lot of very English snobbery around, as Eric Clapton told writer Frank Kofsky during his Cream days:
"A lot of really good jazz musicians couldn't get work on the jazz scene: so they did what critics call selling their soul and went into a lot of pop groups. Like I played with John Mayall for a while with a drummer who hated playing with a blues group. He hated it. He would get up there and sit. You know, he would read Zen books all the way to the gig and not speak to anyone. And then he'd get on stage and look straight out in front of him. He wouldn't listen or look at anybody and he hated it. He made it really clear, you know. The only thing he could ever say was, 'Well, we're making bread but Ornette Coleman's working a lift'. That's the way he wanted it to be."
In this way jazz men despised bluesers and did so possibly because of their musical sense, but most certainly for their dress sense...take another look at the Bluesbreakers 'Beano' album cover and you can see one guy who's dressed like he's intent on not going to the same party as the rest of the boys that night.
You can detect this mid-1960s 'down-with jazz...give us the blues!!' offshoot beginning to grow on the Booker/Cropper instrumental Outrage - Disc 1 - track 3 by the Peter B's, Bardens' keyboards give the music a soul-jazz flavour but the Green guitar solo is early Yardbirds Brit-blues with a distinct Eric CIapton feel to it. And if the central riff of the piece was played on a slightly distorted guitar then it's not a million miles from the essence of Elmore James' 'Shake Your Moneymaker', given tbe Chicago dirt treatment by Jeremy Spencer On Fleetwood Mac's debut 'Dog and Dustbin' LP.
And so it was in this soul/jazz/blues/r&b crossover sort of way that the seeds of the Fleetwood Mac sound began to be sown when Peter Green joined Peter Barden's Looners in early 1966, playing alongside Dave Ambrose on bass and Mick Fleetwood on drums. A few months on they were joined by singers Rod Stewart and Beryl Marsden and became a soul revue called Shotgun Express. Peter recalls getting the Looners gig:
"I got a job with them doing Booker-T-type stuff. They said they wanted a guitarist who bends the strings. so I said 'Can I try it?' and they said 'Yeah, come along and try' and I got the job."
But isn't it astonishing now to be reminded that Mick Fleetwood's first impression of 19-years-old Green was that as a pro guitarist he just didn't cut it:
"I just felt that he was too restricted as a guitar player, which is my biggest screw-up of all time. And to be perfectly honest, if it wasn't for Peter Bardens he certainly wouldn't have joined that band."
Despite this early blip as a talent-scout, history would go on to show how Mick Fleetwood had an uncanny ability to choose precisely the right guitarist at the right time - Danny Kirwan, Bob Welch, Bob Weston, Lindsey Buckingham, Todd Sharp and Rick Vito all prove that point. But it was John McLaughlin who was Fleetwood's favourite guitarist around the time he was all set to not give his future boss and life-long mentor his first break, and this in itself is interesting.
John was four years older than Peter Green and already had form on London's jazz scene most notably with Georgie Fame & the Blue Flames and the Graham Bond Organisation. As guitarists, Peter Green and John McLaughlin respectively then came from the 'less-is-more' and 'why-play-one-note-when-a-whole-bloody-diminished-minor-scale-will-do' schools of soloing. Green interestingly now remembers the Flamingo less for the smell of pot as for the availability of 'purple heart' amphetamines, and it was purple hearts that sometimes would tempt him to play McLaughlin-esque faster and busier grandstand-type solos:
"I first took purple hearts at those all-nighters at the Flamingo and I just couldn't believe the long solos I could play and not make any mistakes. But hashish was not good for playing. In Fleetwood Mac we sometimes had a smoke before going on and I would make far too many mistakes."
But the jazz versus blues badmouthing and bitching seemingly never stopped during the 1960s, as blues expert and Jimi Hendrix biographer Harry Shapiro illustrates in his excellent book 'Alexis Korner - The Biography' (Bloomsbury).
For example, no sooner had Alexis Korner coaxed John Mayall out of his day-job in Manchester and down to London to make a living as a blues band leader than he was attacking him in the Melody Maker for taking the music in the aggressive electric urban blues direction typified by 'Telephone Blues'. Korner even accused Mayall of cashing in on the mid/late 1960s Brit-blues boom by cutting albums such as 'Beano' and 'A Hard Road' which committed the sin of all sins in the eyes of a certain kind of 1960s archetype serious musician - it actually sold well enough to make it into the charts.
Korner, on the other hand, aspired to the sophistication and fine technique of pre-war bluesmen such as Robert Johnson and Blind Lemon Jefferson, even though the musical vision guiding various line-ups of his band Blues Incorporated was the music of modern jazzmen such as Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman and Roland Kirk.
Just like that Coleman-worshipping, aloof jazz drummer Eric Clapton remembers, Alexis was also a big fan:
"Then I think Ornette Coleman is a classic example of a feeling musician and he is the complete jazz blues player."
According to Alexis, these were the sort of players who were at the cutting edge in the 1960s taking further that blues sophistication which was born in the Mississippi delta in the 1920s and 1930s. Even the electric Muddy Waters was a tad too crude for Korner's sensibilities. Not surprisingly, at the time, 1966, Mayall rejected Korner's badmouthing as sour grapes.
And yet only a couple of years later he himself would take the Bluesbreakers down the free-form jazz improvisation road; first with the 'Hard Road' brass section line-up and then a drummer-less band with saxophone as the main soloing instrument.
As already emphasised, Peter Green and his future Fleetwood Mac bass player, John McVie, both would quit the Bluesbreakers because they objected to what they saw as Mayall's jazz pretensions. And yet, fastforwarding to the present - where Peter Green's resumed career is winning him and co-guitarist Nigel Watson accolades such as the prestigious Memphis-based W.C. Handy awards - Green no longer rejects jazz and seemingly has moved closer to Alexis Korner's rarefied attitude in the mid-1960s:
"I'm learning a lot more, and when I do learn it seems like more of a foothold: I sometimes think to myself, 'This is better...this sounds good...this could lead to jazz, and so perhaps I'm gonna be all right after all'. The day you stop putting down jazz you'll be all right."
What's more, Peter Green now hears the roots of jazz-and-blues in the Delta music of Robert Johnson:
"To me Robert Johnson is also the beginning of jazz and blues as a style of music...he was kind of like the original jazz singer to me in a way; a musician with a brilliant sense of humour and blues often ain't got that obviously."
So as Mac's founder sees it, the roots of jazz are found in American blues music of the 1920s and 1930s. But in England during the 1950s the blues/jazz crossover was the other way around. Here, blues first was heard coming from a jazz stage. Another important element in the roots of Brit blues-rock is the rise of skiffle - the first musical love of future guitar-heroes such as Jimmy Page, Rory Gallagher...and a ten-years-old Peter Green:
"Skiffle is close to the blues...'Alabama Bound' by Leadbelly. That was one of the Lonnie Donegan things I was playing when I was 10 or 11. I was completely crazy when I first saw guitars, tea-chest basses and washboards. I thought, this is gonna be good. I want to have a go at this."
Skiffle's significance in the development of Brit-blues was two-fold: firstly, with this kind of play-in-a-day music the guitar was the star: secondly, for the first time in England a country blues went up the hit parade, though in heavy disguise thanks to Lonnie Donegan's skiffle treatment of Leadbelly's 'Rock Island Line'.
Someone who could vouch for the fact that the guitar had arrived was the always enterprising Charlie Watkins. He started up what would become a British PA institution in the 1960s - WEM Industries - on the back of the huge demand that skiffle would cause amongst testosterone-driven youth for affordable guitars. So he first coined it in the music business as an importer of acoustic guitars from Germany, selling them in their hundreds from his small south London music shop. Soon after this - 1958 - came mass market electric guitars and the Dallas Tuxedo just beat the Watkins Rapier (the Rapier was Danny Kirwan's first electric guitar) to it as the first UK-made affordable electric solid-bodied guitars on the market. Soon after this came thousauds of guitar groups based on The Shadows. And that Hank Marvin was a major influence on Peter Green you can hear on a live 1970 version of Green's blues-rock tribute to the melodic guitar of Marvin on Underway - Disc 2 - track 3 extended live version.
In fact, Lounie Donegan - as in skiffle-boom charttopper 'My Old Man's a Dustman' and other English folk songs given his novelty-single appeal - perfectly demonstrates just how weird aud wayward what we now call musical crossovers were back in the late-1950s and early 1960s.
Donegan is not a name you would immediately link to the late great Rory Gallagher, but in fact he was also one of Rory's earliest and biggest influences; and anyone who attended the October 1997 tribute concert for Gallagher at the Buxton Opera House soon found out why. Headlining the evening at which Peter Green's Splinter Group also played, 67-years-old Lonnie (named after blues legend Lonnie Johnson) performed the most tasteful and authentic renditions of Leadbelly and Blind Willie McTell country blues classics.
McTell was a favourite of Jeremy Spencer in the mid-1960s; but Spencer possessed two other vital qualities needed to become a founder member of Mac: first, he was heavily into the electric blues of Otis Rush and, of course, Homesick James and Elmore James; second, he was an art student. Peter Green remembers first meeting him:
"So I went to see him in Birmingham and he played one song [with his band The Levi Set] and I didn't think I was going to like it at all. Then he played Elmore James' 'I Need You' and he dug into that and I thought 'Yeah...we might be able to get away with it."
At that point Green was still a Bluesbreaker alongside John McVie and Keef Hartley, who had replaced Mick Fleetwood. Mayall had to give him the push after only five weeks partly because he and McVie began to make a habit of performing when somewhat worse for the wear. Even so it was during that short time that the musical seeds of Fleetwood Mac were sown, as Peter remembers:
"When I was with John Mayall, he said would I like some studio time to do an extended play...an EP. He said, 'You can do four tracks and you can choose what musicians you like for the session'. And I used Mick Fleetwood and John McVie and I called one track 'Fleetwood Mac' because it sounded like a train going along. And I dedicated it to Mick and John."
Sick and tired of playing brassy Flamingo-sound Mayall compositions such as 'Leaping Christine', by May 1967 Green was ready to leave the Bluesbreakers. But forming his own band was not the priority. Instead he was thinking of an extended busman's holiday in Chicago working the South Side blues clubs. Possible work permit hassles kicked this plan into touch and so the Fleetwood Mac notion began to take shape.
Green's first choice for bass-player, John McVie, sat on the fence about leaving Mayall and joining Fleetwood Mac and so Bob Brunning stood in temporarily on bass. In the end McVie was swayed by the prospect of sharing the stage with Jeremy Spencer:
"Phenomenal...Just dynamite...Spencer - a ball of fire. He had Elmore James nailed down pitch perfect, it was astounding so I said I'll go for this."
Surprisingly, McVie wasn't particularly impressed with his future band's repertoire when he first saw them:
"When I first heard them at Windsor I thought they were a bit boring, everything sounded the same. But Peter and Mick were together. I knew them and I thought I'd be happy. After a while I got into it and enjoyed it."
Through the mists of time, recollections differ as to how much time Spencer spent on stage and just how much a part of the act he was in those very early days of Mac as a 4-piece. Some friends of the band at the time remember him kicking off the show and then spending a lot of time sat in the wings and sulking, but looking back Mick Fleetwood has no doubts:
"Jeremy was literally the star of the early Fleetwood Mac. He was a whole deal with his Elvis Presley impersonations and a very pornographic thing that Jeremy and me got into big time and made the Sex Pistols look like goodie-goodies. He was mischief but not trouble. A great player who lived and breathed Elmore James amongst others. And that was to be the bulk of what Fleetwood Mac was known as...that's what made Fleetwood Mac."
This Show-Biz Blues collection includes several exhibits of Jeremy Spencer's fanaticism when impersonating Elmore James, Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly, taken from promotional recordings during Fleetwood Mac's first year on the road. Mac roadie Hugh Pryce was struck by Spencer's total obsession with perfecting James' slide technique:
"Jeremy was absolutely fastidious about getting his Elmore James and Homesick James right down to a tee, and they'd sing their hearts out every night. They'd sometimes practice backstage and Peter always took his guitar back to his room. I honestly don't remember a bad gig or a poorly attended gig."
Only a few months separate The Sun Is Shining Disc 1 - track 4 and My Baby's Sweeter - Disc 1 track 8 but a lot of slide practice has obviously been going on in the interim - 'The Sun is Shining' is a convincing enough take on Elmore James, whereas the slides and occasional double-notes on My Baby's Sweeter are completely authentic and extremely difficult to learn. Guitar magazines today speak of slide guitar as a highly specialist art form - aged 19, Spencer was already a master. Elmore James was but one of at least three other musical alter egos that Jeremy would bring to life at Mac gigs - the other two being Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly. Spencer's humour in taking parody one step over the top is very clear in Presley's Sun Records-era hit Don't Be Cruel - Disc 1 - track 5. Spencer plays Buddy Holly on You're The One - Disc 1 - track 13 and used this song's groove as a template for his solo single 'Linda'. Similarly, the Conway Twittyish 'I'm So Lonesome and Blue' - Disc 1 - track 6 is the foundation of Spencer's own song 'Teenage Darling' which was on the B-side of 'Linda'.
Peter Green had far wider tastes in blues music than Jeremy, and this was partly because for the year or so that he lived in the same block of flats as John Mayall in London's Bayswater he had good access to Mayall's massive blues record collection. Even so, for a long while during his spell as Bluesbreaker and beyond Green was a B.B. King obsessive...or even a B.B. junkie judging by the words he chooses to describe his passion:
"B.B. King I was absolutely crazy about for a long while and I started playing all of his things and just couldn't be more satisfied than to play his style. When I was on B.B. King, John Mayall got that tape...went down a club somewhere in New York and he said 'I've got something for you'"
The tape in question was a very different gospel-tinged version of 'Need Your Love So Bad' recorded by B.B. King live, and which Fleetwood Mac subsequently recorded with strings added and gave them their first top thirty hit.
On this collection Peter performs two B.B. King songs, the well-known How Blue Can You Get - Disc 1 track 7 and Buzz Me Baby - Disc 1 - track 10. His need to play the Beale Street Boy's music never left him. Even when Peter's own material veered left-field towards the acid-rock style shortly before he quit the band, he would still sometimes open the Fleetwood Mac set with an extended version of his tribute to B.B. taken from the 'Dog & Dustbin' album - 'Merry Go Round'. But listening to this promotional recording of 'Buzz Me Baby' as well as the Howlin' Wolf inspired Long Grey Mare - Disc 1 - track 9, what you are hearing is a blues trio, and just under one year after they formed Peter Green is beginning to feel restricted and eager to try for new blues textures. Precisely that kind of new feel can be heard on Otis Rush's I Have To Laugh - Disc 1 - track 12. Here, untypically, Mac perform as a 4-piece with Jeremy Spencer on piano and vocals, and Peter on lead guitar. This instrumentation gave the band's music a new smokier mood which Peter subsequently took further as the groove for his acclaimed slow blues 'Love That Burns' written for the second 'Mr Wonderful' album (n.b. a previously unissued version of this is included on The Vaudeville Years collection).
After a year of heavy gigging and honing their live sound Mac released their second album. 'Mr Wonderful' was an ambivalent album as notable for its limitations - yet more Elmore James covers with that wah-dah-dah-wah-dah-dah slide riff - as its big steps forward such as 'Love That Burns'.
As Peter remembers it, a Mick Fleetwood in theatrical mode was keen to get involved in the LP cover design:
"Mick said he 'would do that album cover when he did that funny picture of himself standing with no shirt on, pulling a face with this funnny dog under his arm.
And I said 'Call that Mr Wonderful'...but thinking about it, it's not a good title for a blues album - Mr Wonderful - is it?"
But it was Mick Fleetwood who also sensed Peter's frustration over Jeremy's laid-back attitude and suggested that it might be a good idea to bring in 18-years-old Danny Kirwan - then fronting semi-pro outfit Boilerhouse on some Mac club gigs, as Mick recalls:
"Danny was a great player - he was a fan of Peter's and we got to know him because he was a young lad and, like, absolutely adored Peter."
Jeremy also remembers Peter's frustration with his laid-back attitude:
"That whole thing (Danny joining) happened pretty fast. We'd seen him play and thought he was very good, both Peter and I. But Peter was a little bit frustrated with me because I wasn't, well, I didn't really cut it as a side-guitarist - not slide, but side. Which is what Peter wanted to help him. Because he backed me up on my numbers, but I didn't back him up on his!"