Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Bob Welch - crucial link in Fleetwood Mac history

Fleetwood Mac is one of the longest lasting rock and roll bands from the mid-late 1960’s British Invasion, having been formed around 1967 as a blues band and recording into the 21st century.  Controversy and turmoil have marked their history as much as some of the finest records ever made. Even an honor such as induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was marred by acrimony and lawsuits.  And it was Bob Welch, a crucial link from the Peter Green days of blues to the Buckingham/Nicks years of Gold and Platinum pop hits, who was both in the center of the groups recording history  and the controversial decision to omit him as a member of Fleetwood Mac when the group was inducted in 1998.
The original lineup featured Mick Fleetwood and John McVie – who give the band their name – as well as Peter Green (the founder) and Jeremy Spencer on guitars.  Green, especially, and Spencer provided the musical direction.
Fleetwood Mac’s initial recordings had minimal impact in the US even while landing 4 singles in the UK Top 10.  Album sales also were laggard in US while UK lp sales followed the same pattern as their singles – Top 10 positioning.
Ironically it was a cover version of Peter Green’s “Black Magic Woman” by the Woodstock era version of Santana that had the biggest impact in the US.  However the strong association with Santana and that song in the US, coupled with both Green’s and Spencer’s increasingly erratic behavior, cost Fleetwood Mac any chance to capitalize in the US with any sustained success.
The departure of Green, Spencer and, a few years later, Danny Kirwan effectively ended Fleetwood Mac’s tenure as a blues band.  Christine McVie (nee Christine Perfect) joined the band fulltime after the “Bare Trees” lp was recorded (she contributed both vocals and the album cover art), but it was the addition of American guitarist Bob Welch that arguably was the glue that held the band together until the mega success years after Lindsay Buckingham/Stevie Nicks joined the band – to replace Bob Welch.
The irony of Welch’s tenure is that his being American did help boost US record sales and provide the band with a higher profile outside the UK, even as the band saw UK sales drop off.
The history of Fleetwood Mac is marked by turmoil and turnover amongst the members and the Bob Welch era was no different.  The biggest obstacle to the band during Welch’s term was their own manager.  Clifford Davis put out a toring band as Fleetwood Mac – without any actual members of Fleetwood Mac involved.  This bizarre turn of events was triggered by the firing of lead guitarist Bob Weston who had an affair with Mick Fleetwood’s wife.  The band sued their own manager, but the damage was done in that the band once again was thwarted in their attempts to build some momentum to support “Mystery to Me”  their latest release. 
Shortly after the recording of “Heroes are Hard to Find” Welch left the band.  He later admitted to feeling a sense of estrangement from the McVies, although he continued his career with Mick Fleetwood as his manager.
The real problem started when Welch became aware that Fleetwood and the McVies had negotiated an increase in royalties for the recordings made during his time with the band.  The inevitable lawsuit followed having the impact of keeping Welch from being able to communicate with Mick Fleetwood – and it was during this period that Fleetwood Mac was voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
It is the Hall of Fame who decides, when a band has had many changes in the lineup over their history, who is honored and who is not.  That is not to say that the band has no influence (see who is in as part of the Grateful Dead band – Jerry Garcia lobbied for a few folks whose contributions were questioned), but it appears that Welch’s timing was once again off.  Mick Fleetwood – nor any other Fleetwood Mac representatives – stepped up to plead the case for the 1st American band member.  Welch not only was friendly with Buckingham and Nicks prior to their joining Fleetwood Mac, but he also recorded his Fleetwood Mac song “Sentimental Lady” with members of the band.  So it does not appear that any of the band lobbied against his inclusion
One has to assume that Welch’s snub was more a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame decision and reflected the bias the hall seems to have towards more pop oriented rock and roll.
If that was the case, then this excerpt from the official Fleetwood Mac bio on the website for the R&R HoF just adds to the mystery as to why Bob Welch as snubbed (note – my added emphasis):
… guitarist Bob Welch, a Southern Californian who became the group’s first American member and a harbinger of new directions. This configuration produced a pair of ethereal pop masterpieces, Future Games (1971) and Bare Trees (1972).
Fleetwood Mac was a UK favorite from the start, but it was not until Bob Welch added some stability and consistent song writing to the group that they began to make inroads in the US.   Bob Welch was more than just a stopgap in the story of storied band – he was a crucial addition.

Sadly Bob Welch will never see the day where this wrong will be righted as he died on June 7, 2012.

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