Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, supported by a shaggy bass player, a singing female keyboardist, and a very tall drummer. That seems to be how most younger folks think of Fleetwood Mac. But there’s much more to the story than smooth, glossy, highly-produced, massively successful California pop.
In 1966 a bloke by the name of Peter Green replaced Eric Clapton as lead guitarist for John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Hailed as a genius, with inspired and inspiring technique, and driven by the heavily blues-laced rock success of Cream and Jimi Hendrix, among others, Green left the Bluesbreakers in 1967, taking drummer Mick Fleetwood with him. Within weeks, bassist John McVie also left Mayall’s outfit to join Green. Slide guitarist Jeremy Spencer joined the group, and Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac was born.
Their eponymous first album was a massive hit in the UK, spending nearly a year on the charts, but failed to capture attention in the States. Their second album Mr. Wonderful failed to generate excitement on either side of the pond, but their third, English Rose, featured two Peter Green-penned tunes that made the blues-rock faithful stand up and take notice. The first of these, Black Magic Woman, was a latin-tinged blues number that would be covered with massive success by Carlos Santana and his band. Albatross was an intensely lyrical, melodic, instrumental combination of blues-rock and Calypso, with complex and eccentric definition.
Their fourth album Then Play On moved away from the blues a bit, with the hard rocker Oh Well being the most recognizable cut on the recording. Then Play On is perhaps the finest recording of the Peter Green era – it features marvelously intricate compositions filled with fiery, interweaving triple-guitar attacks by Green, Spencer, and new bandmate Danny Kirwan. Christine Perfect (later McVie) of Spencer Davis Group and Chicken Shack makes her first appearance with the band on this album, although her presence is uncredited.
Peter Green began a rapid descent into madness during the tour to promote Then Play On, fueled by his huge consumption of hallucinogens. He left the band mid-tour, giving away all his money and disappearing from the music scene almost entirely.
Christine Perfect had married John McVie and joined the band full time by the time of their first post-Green album, 1970’s Kiln House, a mixed foray further away from their blues roots. Kirwan and Spencer perform admirably, but without the complex stylings and songwriting of their erstwhile leader, the band flounders on the recording. Following in Green’s footsteps, Jeremy Spencer began to suffer serious mental problems as a result of extreme drug use – he disappeared in the middle of the tour and joined a religious cult.