Fleetwood Mac - History - Transitional Era (1970–75)

Transitional Era (1970–75)

Kirwan and Spencer were left with the task of having to fill up Peter's space in their shows and on their recordings. In September 1970, Fleetwood Mac released Kiln House. Kirwan's songs moved the band in the direction of 70s rock. Meanwhile, Spencer's contributions focused on re-creating the country-tinged "Sun Sound" of the late 1950s. Christine Perfect, who had retired from the music business after one unsuccessful solo album, contributed to Kiln House, singing backup vocals, and drawing the album cover. Since Fleetwood Mac were progressing and developing a new sound, Perfect was asked to join the band. They also released a single at that time; "Dragonfly" b/w "The Purple Dancer" in the U.K. and certain European countries. Despite good notices in the press, the single was not a success and the B-side has been reissued only once, on a Reprise German-only "Best of" album, making it one of their most obscure songs.

Christine Perfect was married to bassist John McVie, and made her first appearance with the band as Christine McVie at Bristol University in May 1969 just as she was leaving Chicken Shack. She had had success with the Etta James classic, "I'd Rather Go Blind", and was twice voted female artist of the year in England. Christine McVie played her first gig as an official member on 6 August 1970 in New Orleans. CBS Records, which now owned Blue Horizon (except in the US and Canada), released an album of previously unreleased material from the original Fleetwood Mac called The Original Fleetwood Mac. The album was relatively successful, and the band seemed to be gaining popularity again.

While on tour in February 1971, Jeremy Spencer said he was going out to "get a magazine", but never returned. After several days of frantic searching, the band discovered that Spencer had joined a religious group, the Children of God. Liable for the remaining shows on the tour, they convinced Peter Green to help finish the tour. He brought along his friend, Nigel Watson, who played the congas (twenty-five years later Green and Watson would collaborate again to form the Peter Green Splinter Group). Green, however, would only be back with Fleetwood Mac temporarily, so the band decided to search for a new guitarist.

In the summer of 1971, the band held auditions for a guitarist in their large country home, "Benifold", which they bought prior to the Kiln House tour. A friend of the band named Judy Wong recommended her high school friend, Bob Welch, who was living in Paris at the time. The band had a few meetings with Welch and decided to hire him, without actually playing with him or listening to any of his recordings.

In September 1971, the band released Future Games. This album was radically different from anything the band had done up to that point. There were many new fans in America who were becoming more and more interested in the band. In Europe, CBS released Fleetwood Mac's first Greatest Hits package, which was predominantly composed of songs by Peter Green, though there was one song by Spencer and one by Kirwan.

In 1972, six months after the release of Future Games, the band released the well-received album Bare Trees. Bare Trees featured Welch's "Sentimental Lady", which would be a much bigger hit for him five years later when he re-recorded it for his solo album French Kiss, backed with Mick Fleetwood, Christine McVie, and Lindsey Buckingham. It also featured "Spare Me a Little of Your Love", a bright Christine McVie tune that would become a staple of the band's live act throughout the early-to-mid 1970s.

While the band were doing well in the studio, their tours were more problematic. Danny Kirwan developed an alcohol dependency and became alienated from Welch and the McVies. It wasn't until he smashed his Les Paul Custom guitar, refused to go on stage one night, and criticised the band afterwards that Fleetwood finally decided that he had no choice but to fire Kirwan.

The next two and a half years proved to be the most challenging for the band. In the three albums they would release in this period, they would constantly change line-ups. In September 1972, the band added guitarist Bob Weston and vocalist Dave Walker, formerly of Savoy Brown. Bob Weston was well known for playing slide guitar and had known the band from his touring period with Long John Baldry. Fleetwood Mac also hired Savoy Brown's road manager, John Courage. Mick, John, Christine, Welch, Weston, and Walker recorded Penguin, which was released in January 1973. After the tour, the band fired Walker because his vocal style and attitude did not fit in with the rest of the band.

The remaining five carried on and recorded Mystery to Me six months later. This album contained the song "Hypnotized" which got a lot of airplay on the radio and became one of the band's most recognisable songs to date. The band were justifiably proud of the new album and were poised to make it a hit. However, things were not well within the band. The McVies' marriage at this time was under a lot of stress, which was aggravated by their constant working with each other, and John McVie's considerable alcohol abuse. During the tour, Weston had an affair with Fleetwood's wife, Jenny Boyd Fleetwood, the sister of Pattie Boyd Harrison. Fleetwood soon fired Weston and the tour was cancelled. Due to lack of touring, the album sold less than its predecessor.

In what would be one of the most bizarre events in rock history, the band's manager, Clifford Davis, claimed that he owned the name Fleetwood Mac and put out a "fake Mac". Nobody in the "fake Mac" was ever officially in the real band, although some of them later acted as Danny Kirwan's studio band. Fans were told that Bob Welch and John McVie had quit the group, and that Mick Fleetwood and Christine McVie would be joining the band at a later date, after getting some rest. Fleetwood Mac's road manager, John Courage, worked one show before he realised that the line being used was a lie. Courage ended up hiding the real Fleetwood Mac's equipment, which helped shorten the tour by the fake band. But the lawsuit that followed put the real Fleetwood Mac out of commission for almost a year. The issue was who actually owned the name "Fleetwood Mac". While it would seem obvious that the band was named after Fleetwood and McVie, they had signed contracts that showed the band forfeited the rights to the name.

During this period, Welch stayed in Los Angeles and connected with entertainment attorneys. Welch quickly realised that the band was being neglected by Warner Bros., and that if they wanted to change that, they would have to change their base of operation to Los Angeles. The rest of the band agreed immediately. Rock promoter Bill Graham wrote a letter to Warner Bros. to convince them that the "real" Fleetwood Mac were in fact Fleetwood, Welch and the McVies. While this did not end the legal battle, the band was able to record as Fleetwood Mac again. Instead of getting another manager, Fleetwood Mac decided to manage themselves.

The fake Mac consisted of Elmer Gantry (vocals, guitar), Kirby Gregory (guitar), Paul Martinez (bass), John Wilkinson (keyboards) and Craig Collinge (drums). Gantry and Gregory went on to become members of Stretch, Gantry would later join The Alan Parsons Project and Martinez would eventually become a bassist for Robert Plant's solo efforts.

After Warner Bros. made a record deal with the real Fleetwood Mac, the quartet released Heroes Are Hard to Find in September 1974. For the first time in its history, the band had only one guitarist. On the road, they added a second keyboardist. The first was Bobby Hunt, who had been in the band Head West with Bob Welch back in 1970, and the second was Doug Graves, who had been an engineer on Heroes Are Hard to Find. Neither proved to be a long-term addition to the line-up, although Graves was preparing to be a full member of the band following the US tour in late 1974. At the time he said:

I'm looking forward to adding something to this already great band; I helped engineer their album 'Heroes Are Hard to Find' and got to know each member well. It came to me as a shock when Mick asked me to join but I am enjoying playing live with the band, and hopefully will start a new studio album with the band soon.

However, Graves did not ultimately join full-time and Welch left soon after the tour ended, having tired of the touring and legal struggles. Nevertheless, the tour enabled the Heroes album to reach a higher position on the American charts than any of the band's previous records.

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