Oct 28th 2014
Interview by DAVE DIMARTINO
Portrait by PIPER FERGUSON
The venerable sticksman and rhythm commander for nearly 50 years with Fleetwood Mac opens up on blues, booze, change, constants. “My nature is to keep it all together,” says “I have the template.”
THERE IS A WORD THAT POPS UP MORE than once in conversation with Mick Fleetwood, a word that does not usually surface in conversations with other rock’n’roll stars. That word is “intact” — deﬁned by at least one source as “not damaged or impaired in any way”.
It is a word that has special relevance when your band is a few years scant of celebrating its 50th anniversary, when it has sold more records than nearly anyone, when its colourful cast of characters comprises the most visible ongoing soap opera in the annals of rock, and time, as always, takes its inevitable toll.
To cut to the chase: everything in Mick Fleetwood’s world this August morning appears to be intact. He is, as always, tall, lanky, polite, happy to do whatever is required of him as a photo shoot takes place on the premises of this lovely large, hilariously photogenic Santa Monica estate, and in ﬁne spirits. His is very popular band is rehearsing for their ﬁrst tour with celebrated member Christine McVle in 16 years, and that is no small thing: This core group of ﬁve Fleetwood Mac members Fleetwood, McVle and her ex-husband John, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks got together in 1975, recorded a series of famous albums that sold billions, took rock’n’roll from the cover of Rolling Stone and plopped it onto People, inﬂuenced an entire generation of future white-winged doves enraptured by Ms Nicks, and then seemed to putter out in a strangely non-elegant manner in the mid ’90s when Dave Mason walked in.
But now the boys — and the girls — are back in town. And they are intact. Plus, there is the book, Mick’s second. Play On: Now Then And Fleetwood Mac, by Mick Fleetwood and Anthony Bozza.
Out this month, almost a quarter-century after Fleetwood: My Life And Adventures With Fleetwood Mac, penned by Fleetwood with Stephen Davis, ﬁrst saw the light of day Much has probably happened since, which may be the point of today’s get-together. What on earth could have changed since then?, I ask him with the straightest of faces, as we sit clown in the sort of leather couches one ﬁnds in estates renting for $4,000 monthly as this one does, and he checks to make sure he’s heard me correctly “What on earth. ..?’,” he ponders. “I would think rather a lot!”
Well, what’s the most notable difference between your two books?
To be blunt, when I put that book together with Stephen, I was quite a different character in terms of the wear-and-tear aspect of my life. I think it’s hugely different, really. I think there’s a better perspective on stuff. As my last marriage falls apart I thought I had it right there for a while, so who’s to say? – but I think that everything that’s happening now, l am way more in the present. Some of the stuff is more painful – but I think that’ s good, to go through the pain versus just getting numbed out, socially and medically. That’s majorly different. And it’s still intact.
What do you mean by that?
My approach to the way I live is still intact. If I walk Out of here tomorrow, and you hear that I’ve become a reprobate again, this wild and crazy dude all of which is still there, and I’m certainly not a goody two shoes, I enjoy a modicum of drinking, but really very little – I’m blessed that I was able to make that transition without saying goodbye forever.
If I were writing a book like this, I might ask myself, am I really remembering this, or am I remembering the remembering of them?
I remember talking about this with Anthony, exactly this carbon copy concept. This reminds me of that book that The Beatles all partook in, which was blow for blow what happened in the studio. Some dude [likely Mark Lewisohnl put this really incredible document together [likely The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions: The Ofﬁcial Story Of The Abbey Road Years) with a microphone and a lot of recording stuff, and they did interviews about working on these songs, and you would’ve sworn they were all on different planets (laughs) “What was your recollection?” “Well, I wrote most of that song” – and then John says, “You know, I think I wrote most of it!” It was totally like – mostly – confusing.
It’s the story of life.
Yeah, everyone’s got his or her perspective on stuff. Which is why it was really good to have some input certainly even from Lynn, my recently ex-partner, mum of my lovely girls. That was really helpful. I wanted them to feel part of having a voice, anyhow. They were both very ordered. I think someone who’s gone through the ﬁre with you, sticking together with you to some extent, they probably had like a dossier of “Oh boy, do I remember that” (laughs), and some of that was quite sobering in itself, that they had so much information and dates, which didn’t necessarily make me feel very good sometimes. And then you have stories you recollect from your childhood and it does blur you’re telling stories, mythological stories that sometimes get aggrandised, and you end up like O.J. Simpson, actually believing that you didn’t kill somebody (laughs). [Simpson was found not guilty of the murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and Ronald Goldman in 1995; in a 1997 civil suit brought by both sets of the deceased’s parents, he was found guilty of wrongful death and ordered to pay damages.) You almost think that he believes that he didn’t do it. It’s a weird sort of connection.
Right. You could make a case and you have in both books that you had a happy childhood, and if you believe you had a happy childhood, then… you did, effectively.
I know I had a happy childhood. So much so that back in what I call quite dark ages about 18 years ago, when I was really drinking a lot, you know, and I needed to watch out – and I’m not in The Program , though I totally applaud all of that dynamic I was around some of that. I went to some meetings here and there – very few – and actually why I stopped was, I would hear so much pain about very often childhood stuff and I’m sitting there talking, and I’m going like, “I don’t have anything…” I got panicked, I used to make up stories, and go, “Well that might be why I’m drinking too much.” Sol really don’t have any recollection – zero – have no complaint certainly in that department with Mum and Dad. My whole life has been blessed.
Ther e is the cliché about the kid standing in front of a mirror singing into a hairbrush. How did the young Mick Fleetwood say, I think I want to do music, I think I might be good?
The only thing I can come up with is that my father it’s pretty obscure but he used to play (slaps hands on trousers, the couch) the change in his pocket, military beat and things, and at parties he’d play spoons and glasses with water in them, bottles with different notes, (makes noises) doing stuff like that. And Mum used to play the BBC in Norway and started tapping on things, with no thought of, “I’m going to be a drummer.” I remembered she listened to the BBC Home Service while she cleaned. And she would clean and she would only smoke a cigarette when she cleaned, and I remember often she had a port, she would have a cigarette and clean and then have the radio on, or some 785, with some stuff that she used to like. And I started going like this (beats on couch) when I was around the house. That’s probably the nearest I can come to it. And then bored in school, in the Sea Scouts, I gravitated towar d someone who literally had a toy snare drum like the little Tin Drummer boy, and I said, “Oh, I’ll take that” – and I put it on and they would all march behind me, and I’d be like the Pied Piper. And really, that’s about it.
The early days, meeting Peter Bardens, The Cheynes, The Bo Street Runners, Shotgun Express… When you think about those days, was it just a random toss of the dice that they didn’t become massively larger than they were? What happened that made the Fleetwood Mac experience different? Labels? Radio play? The wrong managers? The right managers?
Oh, it’s such a hard one because… well, the chemistry that brought Peter Green into my life, I have no problem saying that was different. We were all there and I get it but Peter Green was extraordinary. And with or without me and John, you would have heard from him. I have no doubt. In fact, you basically already had, when he took over from Eric [Clapton, from John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, in 1966), whose huge shoes he had to ﬁll, and he didn’ t miss a beat, because he was profoundly different, and profoundly his own person. So that in comparison to the bands I’d already been a part of. And come to that, Jeremy [Spencer ] with deference to John and myself. It’ s what you have out there in the front line and the chemistry, of course, is everyone. Jeremy Spencer was not the same creature as Peter, who was deeply steeped in so much emotional content, and searching, plus his ability but in Jeremy you had an unbelievably great performer. He was like the goblin of goblins, and he had his Elmore James thing, which was so suited for the band that’s all we played almost. Peter handed him the palette on that ﬁrst album, just listen to it – it’s one Elmore James song after another, pretty much, and Peter willingly did that, which was also a real lesson, I believe.
When you were just starting Out together , in your very young prime, did you envision a lifetime ahead of you reinterpreting American blues? What was the ﬁrst indicator that there might be more ahead?
I think we were unbelievably happy and would have done that ’til the cows came home. That was it. What happened was a natural progress on mainly from Peter. I don’t think he realised the journey he was on which gets into another story, apart from his illness, which eventually took him down in so many ways – but Peter, his nature would have been to push. I think he himself was surprised that he went so far out – which was part of a challenge that I think ended up being too much for him in many ways. Had he stayed in this straight blues band and just ended up like John Mayall, who knows? But it wasn’t to be. We were so focused, and I think it shows, when you listen to early Fleetwood Mac. It’s almost like someone was pressing some channelling button somewhere – it’s pretty sophisticated considering we were 18 years old.
Some of the early recordings featured you playing with some famous bluesmen in Chicago. How did you feel as an 18-year-old working with these masters? Intimidated?
Mike Vernon and Richard Vernon of Blue Horizon organised that with Marshall Chess, and Willie Dixon was our guide and he put so many great people together and was the champion of champions. He knew us and was so kind. But there was a lot of, “Who are these little punks?” I didn’t go, but the second night we were in Chicago, Willie took Peter and I think maybe John went and went down to where you don’t go, to a joint. And Peter got up and played, and Willie was with him, and from that moment on, something clicked. And in the studio, it deﬁnitely clicked. We had J.T. Brown, Elmore’s sax player and he’s in tears in the corner, he’s going, “My God,” it was like the ghost of Hamlet or something. It really opened up. There was like a stand-off stuff going on for two, three days, and we were in the hall of the mighty. Then it was hugely fantastic. We were like pigs in shit.
But then things happened. People started leaving the band. Had you thought the personnel would stay constant? Were you all taken aback?
You mean change, change, change? The ﬁrst change of having Peter gone was so catastrophic. First of all he was truly an unbelievably close friend, and we came from different worlds, and he allowed me, in the same way as my parents, almost to do something that I thought I couldn’t really do. So the ﬁrst change was so huge, and we survived it. It was like a tsunami of whooaaahh. Everyone was in shock, it could have probably gone out the window – but we just blunderingly kept going, a form of shock, probably. (Imitates an onlooker) “Doesn’t that guy know he’s just lost his leg? (thumps his leg on the ﬂoor repeatedly) He still thinks he’s fuckin’ walkin’!” I think that was going on – we didn’t quite know. Had it been more like we handled it straightaway, we probably would’ve said, “Well that’s that we’re done.” But we didn’t even have the sense to say that (laughs). We just kept walking with one leg. So I would say that that was huge, but it also allowed me to say, when the next thing happened, “Well, it certainly isn’t as bad as when Peter left,” (laughs). Right? And that’ s where I learnt that. Not in a ﬂip way I just kept going. And John was always with me. Besides that, what’s a rhythm section going to do? Go out and look for a job?
You are, perhaps, the most fortunately named band in history.
Oh, I thank Peter every morning. I believe we touch on it in the book years later, I remember where he literally said, “Well, I won’t be here one day, and I want you and John to be able to keep going.” And I forgot about it. And I know it was a real piece of information not one of those things where I was believing to believe. And that’s pretty amazing. And also – it’s sort of sad. Because he left. And then he really left. And he’s never really come back for anybody.
There’ s Peter, there’s Jeremy, there’s Danny Kirwan. Did you ever for a fraction of a second say, “What is it me?”
Nah, me and John joke we still joke about that. You go like, “Are you kidding me?” Lindsey even says it, because he went down for a while, too. But he came back. I really don’t know. Nah, in humour one asks, “Are we part of some satanic cult that’s doing this to people?” And the answer is obviously no. But in many ways, John and I joke, “Oh my God, it pepper ed with people who have had some very sad things happen.” However, this is a tough world. And then you start looking to a band like The Rolling Stones. Really very similar in many ways things have happened growing up, what happened there, and Brian, losing his girlfriend to Keith this stuff is all sort of heavy shit. And this band is a cauldron of stuff.
There have been fans of many versions of the band the ﬁrst, the Future Games model, and of course the one with Lindsey and Stevie. I remember seeing you on-stage circa 1973’s Penguin, though. Was there ever a time or a few times with all those personnel changes, when it got as close as it ever could to just going away for good?
Well, that would have been one of them – when we added (pauses) umm… I’m blanking out…
No. Bob was cool, Bob was cool. A great player. Ummm… The lead singer from Savoy Brown.
Oh , Dave Walker.
Dave Walker. Great front man, took over for Chris Youlden in Savoy Brown. We did a whole lot of gigs, and we had the manager [Clifford Davis) and we lost the plot. He said “What you need is a guy out front like a cheerleader,” and like idiots we did it. And we knew Dave, and it was a mistake. It was a mistake. And much later on, with all credit to Dave Mason, [1995′ s] Time album was a real example of my having the leg syndrome, in retrospect. It was just… too much had gone by. I obviously wasn’t thinking, just saying, “We’re carrying on, that’ s what we do.” It was great band with Bekka Bramlett and Billy [Burnette] [for Time] but with the wrong name.
If I plopped the needle on a cross section of Fleetwood Mac albums over the years, is there any one thing they all of them, to a fault, have? Is it just people? A great rhythm section, the blues roots?
The rhythm section (laughs). I think if you look at the variance of music from the very ﬁrst band to Then Play On and what Peter was doing when he left – we were already changing. I always say, without an air of presumption, there was so much talent in Peter’s writing, we might have sort of gone the way Led Zeppelin had – because they started experimenting, and doing cool things, and using orchestras. Peter had… he had that thing. God knows, I ﬁnd out to this day how much inﬂuence that band alone had on other bands.
I would imagine there is a generation of metal fans who ﬁrst heard Green Manalishi via Judas Priest.
Well, that too. I don’t know [Metallica’s] James Hetﬁeld very well, but he lives in Maui, and we were in an old antique store, and we got introduced. It was just the two of us, and I said, “Great meeting you,” the usual thing and he said, “No, No, you don’t understand…” And I said, “Why?” And he said, “We attribute.., this band… Fleetwood Mac is like, it.” And he didn’t mention Peter Green, right? And I’m saying, “That’s fantastic,” trying to put it together in my head. I’m singing Rhiannon in my head, going, “This is bizarre.” And he said, “No, you don’ t understand, I’ve got to tell you.” And then he went (Fleetwood imitates Hetﬁeld singing a roaring instrumental intro to Green Manalishi), and I went, “Ohhhh!” That unfolds all the time.
After all this time, when all is said and done – you’ve been at the centre of things. Is this because you have the strongest constitution, because you are always dependably Mick, without the freakishness, because you’re tallest?
I think there was a grey period when I was too loaded but my nature is still to keep it all together , to stick together, to take a breath, certainly, because I wasn’t the person writing songs. My thing has always been, “I’ll help you do it.” And it became my vague kind of mutated art form a quietly obsessive-compulsive desire to do that. But it was always in good humour. And I had the comfort apart from a couple of choices where the band was too much for Billy and Dave Mason and things like that, I had the template that it has been good. I don’t lie in bed like Scrooge and go, “What did you do?” I don’t. I think maybe some of that’s luck, that I don’t wake up sweating sometimes, but it’s never happened.
And now a new tour, with Christine McVie.
Yeah. First of all, just the fact that she’s back – I feel like a member of the audience right now. It’ s going beyond anything we can imagine, it’s going great, she’s totally intact and just fantastic. We’re able to concentrate on bringing all those songs that haven’t seen the light of day in so long, so we’re going to celebrate that. One of the things that I’m really excited about and quite frankly it’s something that me and Lindsey especially feel very strongly about: we went in the studio, just the three boys, about two years ago probably, hoping Stevie would maybe do some bits and pieces, and it never happened. And later on she did something on the EP we put out for the last tour [Extended Play], and we had fun doing that. No time, touring, to go any further, you know, and that was kind of percolating. But the vision is that we want a body of work to come out and there’s a lot of wonderful effort now. Chris, John, myself and Lindsey went in the studio about eight months ago, me and Chris were actually here, in this house. We had the greatest time; we went back to The Village and cut a whole lot of songs, about 10 or 11 things. Again, Chris is super intact, and Lindsey and I really hope that Stevie will ﬁnd time. Stevie had a solo project that is coming out [as the tour launches], and that will be gone. And in truth, we’ll very much be free agents at that point. We don’t know where well be – we could do it ourselves, we could do it with Warners, there’s sort of a sense of freedom, of realigning stuff maybe. We’ll probably stay where we are, with Warners, who knows? But I really hope, and I will be so bold as to say that there will be another lovely album from this band, and there’s some unbelievably fresh, lovely stuff that people are going to enjoy, and that’s my hope – that by, certainly the end of 2015, that will be my dream.
It would be like putting a bow on it all.
Yes. We have to. I know, because we got so much great stuff, and with the advent of Chris coming back, it was a perfect segue into what ye were doing. And in truth, it’s a perfect
segue for Chris coming back to be doing this, which was huge for her. To know that she
could do it and feel good about it – that whole two months in the studio, realigning, really connecting with something that should never have stopped. So that was gorgeous, Chris came into the rehearsals so alive and with such confidence, it was all fantastic. And when the band was in the studio, Stevie was doing her [own] album, and in truth, I’m actually glad that she wasn’t there. Because the band learned to play again. The band has rehearsed, and we’ll be on the road, and when we cut her shit, she’s going to get the best bang for her buck. We will be a well-oiled machine – which will certainly be helpful, because I think we’ll be in a little bit of a brusque tempo to try and get it done before another four years goes by or something.
You’ve written two books now, made dozens of albums and have led a very public life for many years now. What aren’t you sharing?
I’ll tell you one thing. This is not in the book. I don’t want to be maudlin and I don’t want to be reaching, but… it would be this. What’s happened with us, and our story – and it is a real story – you couldn’t invent this shit, and it’s true. You take that and you look at where we are right now, where it’s sort of magically being given back. People my age, your age, had the marriages, had the this, had the that. You know it all started with a bit of a dream, then really got knocked in – especially the majority of people who put aside those childish things, not maybe someone like myself or maybe yourself, but… baby boomers. And now they’re sort of free. And now they’re taking a breath, where how cool is it that the last few pages of our story will be told complete? I think there should be hope for people who are aligning getting ready for, quite frankly, leaving the planet. That’s why I said I didn’t want to be maudlin: We know Fleetwood Mac, we’re here for maybe it’s five years or whatever, but… here’s a window and you’re going to go through it… that’s what I think this is. In terms of a little message. We’re able as a band to almost be a template that we can get our house in order before the book is closed. This book.
Mick Fleetwood chooses his three band-defining songs….
Love That Burns
(BLUE HORIZON, 1968)
“One would be Love That Burns by Peter Green. It is so pregnant with his story, it’s certainly what appealed to all of us wanting to play blues and ﬁnding a simple format to express and plug into passion. I think we didn’t really know. But looking back, that’s what it would be – it certainly was for me, going along for the ride. It just pushes those buttons, that song, and for sure pushes the button for what I think of Peter.”
I’ll pick Crystal. Buckingham and Nicks – it was on their album, but we redid it. That song had so much connective power to our story. That’s one of maybe three songs I heard that day when someone walked me into that studio and Keith Olsen played and it marked a trigger in my head. I spent not even an hour walking around a pretty funky studio in the Valley [Sound City Studios], and that led us into this unbelievable story which is unfolding again. I think it would be unbelievable to do something like Crystal on this tour – it has so much power in terms of what happened to us. It is a signpost that needs to be read in this band’s story.
(WARNER BROS, 1977)
I think I’ll just end up by choosing something that was just the same thing as the ﬁrst song, Songbird. That is right as I see it right now Chris has come back, it’s an outrage how she came back. And that song has been, in its way, missed. Her, and our audience. Although we’ve had a great run and maybe everyone got a little one-legged for carrying on. That has to be huge that’s she’s come home, as it were, this won’t mutate again without her. The one-legged man would not be allowed to continue; you’ve got to stop.
Mick Fleetwood’s autobiography Play On: Now, Then And Fleetwood Mac is published by Hodder on October 30, priced at £20.