Psychosis, sex cults, suicide and the curse of Fleetwood Mac guitarists | Daily Mail

Daily Mail
Monday June 11th 2012
by Tom Leonard

An autumn night in 1972, and minutes before Fleetwood Mac are due on stage for the latest gig of their U.S. tour, a drama is unfolding in their dressing room. Danny Kirwan, talented guitarist and the glamour boy of the band, is drunk. At just 22, he is an alcoholic who goes for days without food, existing only on beer. Increasingly mentally fragile, he suddenly loses his temper over the simple process of tuning a guitar. Banging the wall with his fists, he hurls his expensive Gibson Les Paul instrument at a mirror, showering broken glass over his bandmates. He then stomps off into the auditorium, pausing only to smash his head against a wall until blood pours from his face. Refusing to come on stage, he spends the show heckling the band from the audience as they struggle to play without him. Perhaps it’s not surprising to learn that after he was swiftly sacked, Kirwan developed mental health problems as the effect of drink and drug abuse caught up with him. He even ended up living homeless on the streets of London. But if Danny Kirwan’s story is a salutary warning of the excesses of rock and roll, he was certainly not the only member of Fleetwood Mac to suffer bizarre breakdowns or personal tragedy.

Now, yet another former guitarist with the group has succumbed to what many people regard as something of a hoodoo.
Last week, Bob Welch, 66, was found dead by his wife after writing a suicide note and shooting himself in the chest. Bob Weston, another former guitarist with the band, was found dead following a brain haemorrhage at his flat in North London in January. He was 64. According to one source, Welch — who lived in Nashville, Tennessee — had spinal surgery three months ago. Informed by his doctors that he would never recover the use of his legs, he told his wife Wendy he did not want her to have to care for an invalid. It was a heartbreaking end for the soft-spoken Californian who years ago fell out with his old bandmates after he sued them over the rights to royalties — and was then excluded from Fleetwood Mac’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame.

The band’s singer Stevie Nicks said his death was ‘devastating’, hailing ‘an amazing guitar player, he was funny, sweet and he was smart’. She was, she added: ‘So very sorry for his family and for the family of Fleetwood Mac — so, so sad.’
Sad for sure, but Welch’s tragic end could not be called entirely unexpected given that — even by the standards of rock bands — the Fleetwood Mac ‘family’ is as turbulent and dysfunctional as they come.

The long-lasting British-American group may be remembered for such hits as Don’t Stop, Little Lies and Go Your Own Way, but in terms of drug-bingeing, partner-swapping, back-stabbing drama, it made the Rolling Stones look like a village fete brass band. And perhaps no job in rock has proved so ill-starred as being a Fleetwood Mac guitarist. Welch was the second of them to die this year.

Bob Weston died in London in January from a haemorrhage aged just 64. He was found in bed with the TV on at his flat in Brent Cross, North London. Friends had called police after not being able to contact him for several days. What current frontman Lindsey Buckingham recently dubbed ‘The Curse of the Fleetwood Mac Guitarist’ started back in the late Sixties.

Guitar hero Peter Green founded Fleetwood Mac as a blues band in London in 1967. Colleagues noticed that by the time they released their fourth album in 1969, he was going off the rails mentally. After taking large amounts of the hallucinogenic drug LSD, he grew a beard, began to wear robes and a crucifix and told the band’s manager he was Jesus. He became obsessed by the supposed immorality of them becoming rich and wanted to give the band’s earnings away. The others could not believe he was serious. Touring Europe in March 1970, Green binged on dangerously impure LSD at a party thrown by a bunch of rich Communists in a Munich commune. Friends said he was never the same again, transforming from mildly eccentric to fully-fledged basket case. Green, who said he’d had a vision at the party in which he saw an angel holding a starving child, left the band two months later, complaining drummer Mick Fleetwood had refused his request that they donate all their royalties to charity.

He was later diagnosed with schizophrenia. Green spent time in various psychiatric hospitals in the 1970s undergoing electroconvulsive therapy, and his friends were shocked to find him in an almost continual trance.

The man who had been hailed as one of the finest blues guitarists of his generation fell into destitution, having to find work as a hospital porter and even a gravedigger. Much of his financial troubles were self-inflicted. In 1977, police surrounded his house and he was arrested for threatening the band’s accountant, David Simmons, with a shotgun. Bizarrely, Green said he was furious because Simmons was still sending him royalty cheques. Mick Fleetwood used to visit Green regularly, but eventually gave up. ‘I was just so sad I couldn’t wave a magic wand and have him be the person I wanted him to be . . . he was very sick,’ he said.

Green managed some sort of recovery after he moved in with his mother in Great Yarmouth and even managed to resurrect his musical career in 1995 with a band called The Splinter Group. But he will always be remembered as one of the great Sixties musical talents cut off in his prime by drugs.

Slide guitarist Jeremy Spencer, one of the Fleetwood Mac’s original members, was notoriously wild on stage, imitating Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly. Offstage, he couldn’t have been more different, a closet religious fanatic who sneaked away from the rest of the band on tour to read from one of the small Bibles he hid in the linings of his jackets.

Former band members say Spencer, too, had a bad trip — in his case on the mind-altering drug mescaline — during a 1971 tour of the U.S. After an earthquake hit Los Angeles, he had a premonition that something bad would happen there. It did — for Fleetwood Mac. Spencer told Mick Fleetwood he was popping out to Hollywood Boulevard to buy a magazine. He never came back. Days later, his frantic fellow band members discovered he had joined the Children of God, a sinister cult which used sex to ‘show God’s love’ and win converts. Spencer refused to rejoin the band.

He later explained he had been approached in the street by a Children of God member named Apollos, got chatting about religion and was invited to visit a nearby ‘church mission’. He still works for the organisation, now called The Family International, writing and illustrating stories.

Then there was Kirwan, a talented if humourless musician who was so emotional he would cry as he played. Landed with much of the songwriting duties after Spencer vanished, he was soon out of control, struggling to handle fame and gradually unravelling — as the story of the smashed guitar illustrates all too well.

And what of the tragic Bob Welch, who took his life last week? A young hippy whose father was a successful Hollywood producer, he joined the band after Jeremy Spencer joined the Children of God. Mick Fleetwood credited Welch with saving the group — a sane and good-humoured presence who kept spirits up in those dark years. Sadly for him, he left the band in 1974 just before Fleetwood Mac recruited Nicks and Buckingham, and made Rumours — which until Michael Jackson’s Thriller was the best-selling album of all time.

Before his departure, though, yet another guitarist sparked a drama that threatened to tear the band apart. Plymouth-born Bob Weston was revealed to be having an affair with Mick’s wife, Jenny Boyd — sister of Pattie Boyd, the former wife of both George Harrison and Eric Clapton. Devastated, Fleetwood sacked Weston and the band cancelled a planned tour of America. Determined to recoup some of his financial losses, manager Clifford Davis launched one of the most bizarre stunts in the history of rock. Without telling the band, he formed a ‘new’ Fleetwood Mac — none of whom had ever played in the group — and packed them off to play the U.S. dates. In the ensuing legal battle over ownership of the band’s name, neither the real nor the fake Fleetwood Mac were able to play. Bob Welch put up with the madness for another year before he left and launched a moderately successful solo career.

Today, after going through a staggering 15 different personnel line-ups, Fleetwood Mac still reunites for occasional project. As for the curse on their guitarists, Buckingham is still going strong, somehow avoiding ever becoming a deranged alcoholic, drug-addled schizophrenic or Bible-carrying cult member. In his last interview, Welch mused that he, at least, had found happiness in Fleetwood Mac. ‘I just wanted to play guitar in a good band,’ he said. For several of his old bandmates, it wasn’t quite such a great career move.



Bob Welch obituary | The Times

The Times

Guitarist with Fleetwood Mac during the band’s transition from hard-driving blues to mainstream rock

Elvin Bishop and Bob Welch, 1980

Bob Welch played a key role in the transition of Fleetwood Mac from gritty British blues band to multimillion-selling American soft-rock heroes. As a guitarist, singer and songwriter, he performed on five albums by the band in the early 1970s, including Heroes Are Hard to Find (1974), which gave Fleetwood Mac its first American Top 40 hit.

Welch was widely credited with keeping the group going through several difficult years. Under his influence Fleetwood Mac swapped its early hard-driving blues sound in favour of a more melodic and radio-friendly style, heard to fine effect on compositions such as Sentimental Lady and Hypnotise. The first American member of the British-based group, he was also instrumental in persuading Fleetwood Mac to relocate to his home town of Los Angeles, a move which was pivotal in their subsequent success.

He left the group in late 1974 and was replaced by Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. The new line-up went on to record Rumours, one of the biggest-selling albums of all time and a record which, in many ways, was the logical outcome of the musical direction in which Welch had taken the band.

Initially there was no bitterness on his part at having missed out on the group’s greatest commercial success. He remained close friends with former bandmates Mick Fleetwood and Christine McVie, both of whom played on his 1977 million-selling album French Kiss, which also gave him three hit singles with the title track (which he had previously recorded with Fleetwood Mac), Ebony Eyes and Hot Love, Cold World.

But his solo career subsequently petered out, in part due to heroin addiction, and relations with his old bandmates also turned sour. He sued for underpayment of royalties. Although the case was settled in 1996, the resentment lingered. Two years later, when Fleetwood Mac was inducted into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame, he was not among the former members invited to participate. “My era was the bridge era,” an angry Welch complained at the time. “It was a transition, but it was an important period in the history of the band. Mick Fleetwood credited me with ‘saving Fleetwood Mac’. Now they want to write me out of the history of the group. It hurts.” Continue reading Bob Welch obituary | The Times