Mick Fleetwood and Anthony DeCurtis - photo by Gianna Bertoli
The first thing I was struck by was how very tall Mick Fleetwood is. At 6’6, lanky and dressed like an English aristocrat, the 70 year old drummer for Fleetwood Mac over its fifty year existence makes for quite an impression. The ensuing conversation between Fleetwood and Anthony DeCurtis, a veteran music based writer and journalist, centered around Fleetwood’s new book, called “Love That Burns - A Chronicle of Fleetwood Mac, Volume One, 1967-1974.” It was put out by Genesis Publications, a high end outfit based in England. On the cover of this very handsome and hand bound release is a doll made by Günther Kieser that was originally featured in the promotion of a Fleetwood Mac tour appearance in Munich, Germany in 1970. It’s included as a numbered print, co-signed by the artist and Fleetwood. It also includes illustrations by former band member Jeremy Spencer and selected memorabilia. Only 2,000 copies of the book were printed, rendering it an instant collector’s item. The cost? Well, be prepared to drum up the sum of 495 pounds, which is $643.
The book hinges on Fleetwood’s recounting his childhood, the earliest bands he played in, Fleetwood Mac’s 1967 debut performance at the Windsor Jazz & Blues Festival in Berkshire England, the band’s first tours that followed and the antics within, playing alongside blues legends at Chess Studios in Chicago, Peter Green’s genius and subsequent mental and physical unraveling and the goings on of the other band members that came and went from their start in 1967 through 1974. Fleetwood was quoted for prior press about the book as saying: “The line ‘Please don’t leave me with a love that burns’ applies to a lot in the Fleetwood Mac journey. When Peter Green left the band, that’s how I felt - that the love would be irreplaceable, and in many ways it was.”
DeCurtis engaged Fleetwood in a discussion that was anchored by a series of photographs from the book that span from Fleetwood’s childhood through 1974. These intimate pictures were projected on a screen behind them. Taken by a slew of people, they include Clive Arrowsmith, Henry Diltz, Bruno Ducourant, Bob Gruen, Jeff Lowenthal, Barry Plummer, Michael Putland, Dominique Tarle, Amalie Rothschild and Daniel Sullivan. There’s nothing as effective as vivid footage to illicit stories, memories and discussion, especially with both men being articulate and thoughtful. Fleetwood was further engaged by DeCurtis having seen the band in January 1970 at the age of 19 at Action House in Island Park, Long Island, New York. They reminisced about that exciting experience with DeCurtis saying that he was blown away and felt pinned to the wall. He noted that this concert stood out from the ubiquitous gigs that he was attending during that formative period of his young life.
A major topic of discussion was the band’s first gig at the aforementioned Windsor Jazz & Blues Festival. It turns out that John McVie and Christine Perfect, soon to be Christine McVie, were both there in their respective bands at the time, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and Chick Shack. Both of them would imminently join Fleetwood Mac, and as a couple with them marrying the following year of 1968. Of this big time festival, Fleetwood has said “It was such a significant musical gathering, like Paris was for artists in the 1920s.” That festival, by the way, was in its final throes of featuring jazz and would become all rock and blues based, becoming the even more successful Reading Rock Festival.
It was Peter Green, (born Allen Greenbaum) the main guitarist and songwriter of the early band that was the prime source of conversation. Green was a purist in many ways, and this included wanting to have a straight ahead, no frills blues band. He was also a hard core stickler for being in tune, and would spend much time being certain that he and the entire band was. This was a few years before the advent of clunky, expensive although effective tuning devices that first became available in the mid 1970’s. Green was tuning the old fashioned way: Using his ears, intuition and perhaps blowing into a mouth piece that sounds off each note to duplicate with your instrument. One of the most revealing photos was of Green holding up the entire body of his Gibson Les Paul (the guitarist/inventor of the modern electric guitar, multi tracking and a sonic genius) to his ear. Fleetwood said that if anyone was out of tune or off in general, the band would immediately stop and correct it, and that they do this still.
By 1970 though, Green himself was off kilter. He was acting erratically, seeing God, and wanted to do things such as eschew monies that they made, saying that he thought they should give it all away to charities. This, of course, couldn’t work. Green was increasingly losing grip with reality and interest in the band, leading to his leaving that year. Much of this was due to his having too many bad acid trips (especially one in Germany during the previously noted tour) and having what would later and sadly be diagnosed as schizophrenia.
Fleetwood says that Green never truly realized how talented he was, especially concerning his beautiful tone and touch, and still hasn’t. Fleetwood has always considered Green not only the most gifted guitarist to come out of England, but also his mentor and the person responsible for his career upon being taken into what was initially called Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac. The central theme that Fleetwood spoke of is the generosity and encouragement that Green showed him. He said that while Fleetwood had some insecurity about lacking the technical prowess of other drummers such as contemporary Ansley Dunbar, with whom Green had played with in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers when he replaced the departing Eric Clapton. Fleetwood had replaced Dunbar in that band, and John McVie was their bassist. The trio would form a close bond musically and personally, and when Green left to form his own band he wanted Fleetwood and McVie to be his rhythm section. Fleetwood, who had by then been dismissed by Mayall for drunkenness, immediately joined Green’s new ensemble. McVie hesitated for a few weeks but then came aboard as Mayall’s band was getting away from the blues to go in a more jazz direction, which McVie wasn’t keen on.
Fleetwood spoke of how Green expressed to him that his drumming was great and right as it was, to not think about all the complicated stuff that Dunbar and the like were doing, and to just keep playing from his heart. Green stressed that it was the passion that Fleetwood played with that made him special. Fleetwood also explained that Green was so caring and generous that he named the band after a combination of Fleetwood and McVie so that they would both always have the security of being the namesakes of their own group.
The most moving sentiment that Fleetwood shared regarding Green was a conversation they had on the phone while Fleetwood was preparing this book. He said he asked Green to tell him exactly why he chose him for the band. Green replied that he did so not only because of his heart felt playing but because Fleetwood seemed sad after being sacked from the Bluesbreakers, and that he wanted to bring him the joy of being in a band that he could truly be a part of. Fleetwood said that he had never known this, and was left speechless.