Friday, February 28, 2014

# 34 Jammin with Fleetwood Mac

   The unfortunate reality for blues singers is they usually don't have a long shelf life in the much coveted mainstream market. If they do break into the pop market, there is an immediate need to diversify their format in order to maintain the larger audience. Artist such as B.B. King (3 O'Clock Blues), Little Walter (Juke), Ray Charles (Confession Blues), Paul Butterfield (Born in Chicago) are all examples of artists who achieve initial mainstream success with blues, but make concerted efforts to crossover. (Many pop fans will have only one blues album in their collection, and it is usually an artist who has expanded their repertoire.)

    It seems easy enough to speculate on the causes of this reality, but the reasons are probably very complex. It might be as simple as the adult nature of blues songs bar a true catharsis for the younger pop audience. The idea being that while the younger audience can sympathize with the singer's experience, their lack of life experience prevents them from feeling true empathy. Then again, Blues is often labeled in the press as a sad music which is totally falseBlues is a folk music, and consequently comments on all levels of emotion in the human experience. All theories aside, blues doesn't do well in the pop market. It is a reality which is very obvious in the Blues Rock trend of the 1960's

   Similar to the U.S., by '66 the U.K. is also in the midst of a electric blues revival. The rising star over there is John Mayall (see post # 20), who for all intensive purposes is copying the format that The Paul Butterfield Blues Band popularizes a year earlier. Like Butterfield, he hires a agile guitarist, Eric Clapton, but the young guitar slinger has greater ambitions to realize, and leaves the band before any of the heavy promotion of the Bluesbreakers begins.

   So 1967, Mayall hires Peter Green as Clapton's replacement, and even gives him free studio time as a signing bonus. Green accepts the gift, borrows Mayall's band, and records five songs. One of the songs is an instrumental which he names after the rhythm section, Fleetwood Mac. The recordings receive enough industry encouragement that Green decides to leave Mayall, and then steals the blues singer's band on the way out the door. By 1968, Peter Green establishes his own blues band which he calls Fleetwood Mac.

    They release their first first album, Fleetwood Mac in February of '68 as a no frills blues album which is yet another attempt at capitalizing on the success of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band sound. In spite of the fact the album has no singles for the pop market, it climbs all the way up to number 4 on the U.K. charts. This success impresses their label, Blue Horizon, who insists on a single from the band. So, Fleetwood Mac releases Black Magic Woman (Santana will have a hit with it in 1970), and Need Your Love So Bad.

   The success of Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac in Britain spawns a spring tour of the U.S., which will include some dates inside the epicenter of Blues Rock.  By June they are in San Francisco for a three night stay at the Carousel Ballroom, and either Butterfield volunteers to sit in with the band, or their management hires him to perform with the band. The fact is that by '68, Butterfield is definitely the most famous young bluesman in San Francisco, if not whole country, so he doesn't need the attention.  The probably is good that the unknown Fleetwood Mac hires Butterfield to appear on stage with them as an endorsement by an established Blues Rock Icon.   (You can tell that Butterfield is just sitting in because he asks Green what key they are playing in at one point.)

   Fortunately, for fans of early Fleetwood Mac there is a good quality soundboard recording made over the three nights, but also captures the level of blues expertise the band is working toward.  Many of the European blues acts tend to get stuck replicating the music they hear on the original recordings of blues artists. This shallow approach to the music regularly produces wooden performances by foreign artists. Just listen to Spencer's replication of Elmore James' work on this album.

    The good American bands don't fall into this trap. Even a limited repertoire like Canned Heat's feels more visceral than the Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac. Most good American Blues Rock bands tend to approach the music as a continuation in the life of an art form rather than an effort to preserve it. This approach is probably just another of the subtle influences that the Butterfield's band has on Blues Rock.

   In the coming years, Fleetwood Mac will change many of its members, and completely remove blues from their repertoire in favour of pop songs. The crossover proves to be a great success as they will earn enormous worldwide appeal in the mainstream soft rock market of the 70's and 80's. It is doubtful that many of their fans even know that they were once a blues band.

Below is the track list from the show they do at the Carousel Ballroom, San Francisco, June 7, 8, 9, 1968. 

Fleetwood Mac: Peter Green: Guitar & Vocals, John McVie: Bass, Mick Fleetwood: Drums, Jeremy Spencer: Guitar & Vocals, Paul Butterfield: harmonica where highlighted.

1) Madison Blues, 2) My Baby's Gone, 3) My Baby's Skinny, 4) Worried Dream, 5) Dust My Broom, 6) Got to Move, 7) Worried Mind, 8) Instrumental 9) Have You Every Loved a Woman 10) Lazy Poker Blues, 11) Stop Messin' 'Round, 12) I Loved Another Woman, 13) I Believe, 14) The Sun is Shinning, 15) Long Tall Sally, 16) Willie & The Hand Jive 17) Tutti Frutti, 18) Band Introductions, 19) Ready Teddy, 20) I Need Your Love So Bad, 21) I Believe, 22) Shake You Moneymaker 23) Ready Teddy, 24) Announcer Outro.

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