Team Classic Rock
by Henry Yates
23rd Aug 2016
He got the boot from the Bluesbreakers, helped Bill Clinton into office, played the fool with Arnold Schwarzenegger and nursed sore heads with Keef. He’s Fleetwood Mac mainman Mick Fleetwood
No wonder Mick Fleetwood has the best stories – he has the best view. For the best part of 50 years, the six-foot-sixer has looked down on rock’n’roll landscape from his lofty perch on the Fleetwood Mac drum stool, observing the great, the good, the drunk and the doomed – and frequently hopped off to partake in the festivities. Like many of his vintage, Fleetwood has weathered the personal storms of bankruptcy, divorce and cocaine addiction. But he’s emerged with his band, his humour and – critically – his memory intact. Good thing too, as Classic Rock intends to take him back to a time when a fresh-faced Cornish tub thumper arrived in 60s London to cut his teeth on the club circuit…
Rod was a star then and he’s a star now. He turned himself out like nobody else. And although I was by no means the dandy that Rod will always be, I’m sure that’s where I inherited my love of a well-cut suit. We were in Shotgun Express together [in 1966], and we soon learnt that Rod was not about to get his clothes messed up unloading the van. He would invariably pick up one microphone: “Is that alright?”
Our feathers had been ruffled a few times, but we were okay with that, because we realised Rod had to be deluxe when he hit that stage. He would put lemon juice in his hair to make it stick up. And if he’d been stood in the rain in the middle of winter we wouldn’t have had ‘the star’ looking good on stage. He wasn’t just some old gigster, he was always suited to being a star.
This is a confession from someone who is the biggest advocate of Peter Green’s playing. In 1966 Peter auditioned for Peter B’s Looners, the band I was in with Peter Bardens and Dave Ambrose. He walked in with big sideburns down his cheeks, plugged in his Les Paul and started playing. After he’d left, like an idiot I said: “Well, he doesn’t play very much.” Luckily my opinion didn’t count for much. Peter Bardens said: “Mick, you’re so wrong. This is going to be one of the greatest guitar players to come out of England.” And within days, I just couldn’t believe how I’d missed the point. It was his tone. I’d never heard anything like it. He was the master of less-is-more.
Because of his illness, people often think of him as tragic. But the Peter I knew and hung out with was incredibly funny. Nobody thought this was someone who indulged in misery. But I think there were parts of Peter’s background that drew him to the blues, and he was carrying a cross for something that was, for the most part, hidden. He was way more sensitive than we could have possibly imagined.
For a while I had terrible problems with wanting him to be okay, but that’s a selfish thing. Peter’s journey took him where he is. You just have to accept it.
The nicest way to put it is that John Mayall ‘let me go’ from the Bluesbreakers [in 1967]. Me and John McVie were the wild men. I realised we were getting too loose and a couple of gigs had been affected, and one of us had to go. John McVie had already been let go four times for disorderly behaviour, but he was always asked back because he was such a great bass player. So I knew my head was on the block.
We were in the back of the van and I had my day sheet with the gigs all written out on it, and I wrote a note about halfway down, next to the tenth gig – ‘Mick fired’ – because I sensed it was coming. And I handed it to John Mayall and asked him: “Is that about right?” Give or take a day or two, it was. But it was in good humour. I forgave him. Me and John McVie were too crazy, it was too much.
Fleetwood Mac [Rumours Era]
I would be remiss if I didn’t say that intra-band relationships are disastrous. Remain friends – not lovers. John and Christine McVie were friends first, and seemed incredibly suited when they got married, but showbiz and working together was a bridge too far. Their break-up was terrible – having to walk on stage and make albums together. Both of them were in pain.
But a lot of passion has always been flying around in Fleetwood Mac. Stevie Nicks and I were great friends, and we fell in love, and we were in a band together. Which, according to my formula, is not the right thing to do. Luckily we’re still incredibly close, and Stevie is now like a sister to me.
The 1989 Brit Awards will be on both our gravestones; Samantha and myself will forever be a pair of idiots who didn’t know how to compere an awards show. Which is actually terribly unfair.
We rehearsed that whole show perfectly, but what we didn’t realise was that on the night, some boy band had picked 400 fans and put them in the front row to spice things up. Well, they ruined it, because they screamed all the time and nobody could hear anything on their walkie-talkies. We’d read the auto-cue perfectly in rehearsals, but suddenly we were like lambs to the slaughter. The timings were changed, they couldn’t get hold of the celebrities, the script fell apart, and nobody could change it because they couldn’t hear what was going on. I basically gave up. We’d read: “Here we go, Ronnie Wood!” and Paul Simon would walk on.
Poor Samantha and myself were hung out to dry. It wasn’t her fault and it certainly wasn’t mine. No, I haven’t worked with her since.
I won’t see Jimmy for a long time, and then we’ll have a great, heartfelt conversation. It could be about anything. When we played in London last year he came to see us. And I was talking to him from a fan point of view, telling him: “Come on! So many people want to see Led Zeppelin back together!” And he was telling me: “No, man, the rest of the guys don’t want to do it right now” and “I don’t know if I’ll be able to pull it off.” But I told him: “Come on! You gotta do it! If we can do it, you can!” So I wouldn’t say I was responsible for Zeppelin getting back together, but after that they did play that great tribute gig.
Bill Clinton used Don’t Stop for his 1993 election campaign. And although we weren’t involved with him politically, Christine said that’s fine, because if I was voting he’d be the one I’d vote for.
I got to know him a little bit. He was bigger than life, our Bill. He was incredibly bright. He did a lot of great things that, sadly, were systematically ripped down by the inheritor. He was everything that people think he was – very knowledgeable. And he obviously loved life and people, and that got him in a bit of trouble down the road. But I think he’s one of the great presidents the US has had.
We actually played at his farewell party on the White House lawn. We were all happy about it apart from John, who enjoyed the experience but he’s a staunch Republican. I seem to remember Bill hovering around at rehearsals, but he never did get to play sax with us.
I got to know Arnie because of [playing a character in] The Running Man . His main thing in life is going from one prank to the next. It could be a car not starting, or maybe a camera wouldn’t work and the cameraman wouldn’t know that some vital part had been taken out. We’d watch the cameraman die a thousand deaths, everyone looking at him, like, what the hell is going on?’ when we all knew Arnie had taken the batteries out.
Other times it would be something horribly involved; he’d work on an elaborate prank for three weeks. And I’d get involved in some of them. I’d go into his trailer on the set like it was a military operation, and then you’d be sworn to secrecy as the pranks unfolded. Mostly it was all in good humour, but a couple of things would make you go “Whoa.” Funny guy. But look at his journey. He’s the Governor of California. He’s the Gover-nator!
I used to go down and see The Rolling Stones at Eel Pie Island [south London] when I didn’t know them at all. Then we [The Cheynes] went on tour with them in 1964. And to this day Keith Richards is one of the three people who call me Michael; John McVie and Eric Clapton are the others. I don’t know why, but it’s like [admonitory tone] ‘Michael!’
There’s only one Keith. His lifestyle is his world. I thought I was a heavy drinker but… my God! The Stones really are my favourite band. My dream has always been that Charlie Watts gets the flu and I get to save the day and play with the Stones for a week. But the call has never come.
Jimi actually came to one of Fleetwood Mac’s first rehearsals in London, because I’m sure he’d heard about Peter Green. He came down with producer Mike Vernon to the funny little club where we rehearsed, and I remember he was very shy, a lot like Brian Jones in many ways. Shy but suddenly bigger than life. Which is often the way with shy people. Here was this guy who’d been saying ‘yes sir, no sir’ to us, and then you’d see him on stage and he’s eating half a Marshall amplifier.