Posts Tagged ‘Peter Green’

Esoteric Recordings are pleased to announce the release of a newly re-mastered and expanded 50th anniversary edition of the first solo album by the legendary Peter Green.

Peter’s work with Fleetwood Mac needs no introduction. His acclaimed guitar playing and writing graced several albums and a succession of hit singles before he departed the group in 1970. He embarked on the recording of his first solo album only a month after leaving Fleetwood Mac,

The End of the Game would be an entirely instrumental affair, quite different in feel from Green’s work with Fleetwood Mac. Released to very little fanfare, unjustly so as it was an imaginative work with Green’s instantly recog-nisable guitar playing. “The End Of The Game” and it was as much a departure from “The Green Manalishi” as that same track had been from the rest of Fleetwood Mac’s entire output. Through three tracks per side, Green pursued a far looser strand of improvisational rock comprised of wholly instrumental outings that were entirely un-bluesy, extemporaneous free rock borne on the wings of Green’s guitar with its expansive tone evoking the loosest of feels, often drenched with emotional wah-wah pedal use of hair triggered sensitivity. The rhythm section of Bluesbreaker and ex-Anysley Dunbar Retaliation bassist Alex Dmochowski and Geoffrey Maclean on percussion allow Green all the room to explore through distended lines of fragile but strongly poetic counterpoint as the addition of twin keyboardists Zoot Money (grand piano) and future Hot Tuna keyboardist Nick Buck (organ, electric piano) sporadically appear only to colour in a clutch of fine points which Green has left wide open as he is in a constant state of unhurried transit and always onto the next subtly-turned phrase.

The album rises up to a slow fade and into the raucous nine minute wah-wah led jam of “Bottoms Up.” As the title suggests, it’s carried along by a heavy bass line that sallies forth unswervingly to provide Green with a woody and thriving backdrop to begin the odyssey of successive circular wah-wah guitar configurations. Electric piano lines twinkle and fall like stars once Green lets up to recollect before another sweet and extensive wah-wah outpouring and the band is solidly back to stabilise Green’s ever-migrating wah-wah guitar textures. “Timeless Time” passes by silently like a gentle current under the land bridge that links the two jamming continents of side one together. The elongated “Descending Scale” opens with jumpy off-beats of piano clusters and busy though sensitively played drums like a send up of a jazzbo warm up until Green throws the whole discordant array into a high pitched wah-wah crescendo that reverberates into another unresolved conclusion that soon all but quietly slips away but for the accompanying half-erased instrumentation.

Side two begins with “Burnt Foot” and Dmochowski’s over-recorded, punctuation bass pummeling over the taking care of bizniz jazz drums that cascade all around Green’s riffing quietly traipsing in the background until it breaks down into a drum solo of sizzling cymbals with no drum skin spared from a multitude of lightning quick flourishes. Dmochowski’s bass returns to erratically shift gear into a gritty jam with Green’s churning wah-wah fanning out into a 359 degree arc of groove before its premature breakdown and subsequent fade. “Hidden Depth” opens with strategically played and watery-echoed wah-wah, with the returning piano and organ choppy in the intro and then straightening out with interplaying tones as emotions and riffs that suggest the breaking of a new dawn. Nick Buck’s organ colourations take on the same role of melancholy as Rick Wright’s from “Mudmen” or Tom Constanten’s emerging springtime renewal in “Quadlibet For Tenderfeet” off side one of “Anthem Of The Sun.” And all the while, Green’s restrained guitar of reversed pick-ups rings out truly unheard of tones with a natural delight for spaciousness and innuendo. All is peaceful until broken by a quick cut into the screeching wah-wah opening of the title track, ”The End Of The Game” which closes the album aggressively hectic and free form — loosely strung together not by rhythms but phrasing and a requited, unspoken understanding between the players.

The following year saw the release of a single ‘Heavy Heart’ b/w ‘No Way Out’, which received some airplay and saw Green perform ‘Heavy Heart’ on Top of the Pops. A collaboration with Nigel Watson followed early in 1972 for Green’s final single for Reprise Records, ‘Beasts of Burden’ b/w ‘Uganda Woman’.

This new and expanded Esoteric Recordings edition has been newly remastered from the original Reprise master tapes, features four bonus tracks (drawn from the two non-album singles) which appear on CD for the first time. It also features a booklet with new essay and an exclusive interview with Zoot Money on the making of the album.

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Arguably, no bandleader in modern history has attracted more sterling guitarists to his line up than John Mayall. During the ’60s and ’70s, Mayall hired and shaped some of the most distinguished axemen of all time, including Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Mick Taylor, Jon Mark and Harvey Mandel. In a frenzied, fourteen month period, between 1966 and ’67, Mayall released the seminal “Bluesbreakers With Eric Clapton” album, followed by “A Hard Road”, which showcased the string-bending talents of Peter Green right before he formed Fleetwood Mac, chased by “Crusade” , which introduced the world to later Rolling Stones’ guitar wiz Mick Taylor.

And it’s not just guitarists who are drawn into Mayall’s orbit. In addition his ever-shifting bands have included such vaunted bass players as John McVie, Jack Bruce, Andy Fraser and Tony Reeves, while, on drums, he nurtured the classic stickmen Mick Fleetwood, Aynsley Dunbar, Keef Hartley and Jon Hiseman. To boot, he provided early showcases for British sax icon Dick Heckstall-Smith and fusion violin pioneer Don “Sugarcane” Harris.

“I guess I’ve got good taste,” said Mayall, with a laugh. He’s also got longevity. At 83, Mayall still tours widely and puts out albums, including a crisp and toned new one, Talk About That

John Mayall Talk About That

The music on the album honors, and reemphasizes, the star’s more than half century devotion to the blues. Two cuts feature contributions by Joe Walsh. “Apparently, it was on [Joe’s] bucket list to play with me,” Mayall said. “I didn’t know his qualifications as a blues guitarist, to be honest. But he fit right in. He was only with us a few hours but it was a magical experience.”

Much the same could be said of Mayall’s many collaborators over the years. Few of them tarried long in his band, but each left an indelible impression. After more than half a century of talent scouting, it’s high time to celebrate everything John Mayall did with, and for, the star musicians he nurtured.

If you ask Mayall what he brought to all these axemen in their formative phases, he’ll answer with one word: freedom. “If I hire somebody to play with me, I’m hiring them because I love their playing,” he said. “I don’t want to usurp that by saying ‘you must play this and you can’t play that.’ I gave them the freedom to help them develop their own style.”

Mayall’s age helped him assume that mentor role convincingly. He was already thirty when he got his first record contract and began his storied hiring spree. His father had also been a guitarist and jazz fan, though John leaned closer to the blues as a teen after hearing artists like Lead Belly and Pinetop Smith. Armed with a guitar and a harmonica, Mayall played in blues bands during his time at the Manchester College of Art. Years later, the visual flair he honed at school would allow him to design some of his early album covers. In 1962, Mayall formed the group Blues Syndicate, mixing that genre with jazz, a balance inspired by Alexis Korner’s band. Korner convinced Mayall to move to London where, in 1963, he formed his first version of the Bluesbreakers, featuring John McVie on bass. Mayall himself sang lead vocals and played rhythm guitar. The group secured gigs at the Marquee Club, which led to a contract with Decca Records. In 1964, Mayall’s band received an amazing opportunity—to back John Lee Hooker on a British tour of clubs and festivals. “We learned a lot from playing with him,” Mayall said. “The first thing we noticed was that, where all the English bands were playing as loudly as they could, there was a different dynamic from the American blues greats. From them, we learned all about dynamics and volume.”

Mayall believes that the British and European musicians had more respect for the roots players than their American brethren did back then. “There were two separate societies in America at the time because of the color bar,” he said. “When the black jazz and blues musicians came over here they were treated like Gods. So it was inevitable that Europeans would eventually come to the blues line of work themselves.”

While some accused the British players of ripping off American blues stars, in fact they brought a different level of velocity, virtuosity and abstraction to the form. Essentially, they applied the expansions of free jazz to the chord structures of the blues. “Everybody found their own style within that structure,” Mayall said.

John Mayall Plays John Mayall

Not that the older generation in the music industry understood what these young bucks were doing. Mayall says his label, Decca, hadn’t a clue what he was up to on his debut work, John Mayall Plays John Mayall a live album released in 1965. On the disc, he sang and played harmonica, organ and 9 string guitar, while Roger Dean served as the band’s first lead guitarist. “Decca washed their hands of me after that first album,” the musician said. “It didn’t sell well enough for their executives. But Mike Vernon, the producer, talked to them and, they thought, ‘if it’s okay with Mike, then.. Still, things might not have been okay for long had Mayall not made a crucial change in his band that year. On the small London music scene, he had heard buzz about a young guitarist in the band The Yardbirds—one Eric Clapton. At first, Mayall wasn’t interested. When The Yardbirds made that first big single, “For Your Love” it didn’t impress me very much,” Mayall said. “But it had a B-side, “Got To Hurry” which was an instrumental. That was the thing that knocked me out.”As it turned out, Clapton felt much the same way. He hated the pop direction of “For Your Love” enough to ditch the band. “I approached him to see if he wanted to join my band,” Mayall said. “All we were doing was playing blues and that’s exactly what Eric wanted.”

Clapton replaced the departed Roger Dean and the refigured band began to cut their teeth in the London clubs. Unfortunately, Clapton proved to be a mercurial soul, prone to moodiness and hard to control. Mere months after cutting some sides with the Bluesbreakers, he announced he was running off to play with a bunch of virtual amateur musicians he had met in a group called The Glands. The unflappable Mayall told Clapton he could always come back if he changed his mind. In the meantime, the band leader subbed in another promising young, blues-obsessed guitarist from the scene: Peter Green. By November of ’65 Clapton came to his senses, pushing Green out. The next year the reconstituted band recorded that first Bluesbreakers release, an instant classic. Mayall said he considered the album just “a nice opportunity to go into the studio and put down what we were doing live. We never realized it would have the success that it did.”

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Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton

‘Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton’ shot to to No. 6 on the U.K. Top Ten. The material on it included some original pieces by Mayall, who played keyboards and sang on the album. But mainly the repertoire emphasized covers of blues songs by artists like Otis Rush, Mose Allison and Little Walter. Clapton’s solos dominated the disc, fully earning the star billing he received on the cover. It was Mayall’s idea to highlight his impeccable contribution right on the album sleeve.

The album struck such a deep chord with the public, it inspired that famous graffiti scrawl in London, “Clapton Is God.” It also set the template for all the rock guitar heroes to come over the next decade. Some fans believe ‘Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton’ contains the most fiercely emotive work of the guitarist’s career. At the time of its release, however, Clapton had already met bassist Jack Bruce who, together with drummer Ginger Baker, had a notion for new kind of band—a power trio. Clapton formed that group Cream without telling Mayall, who found out the way everyone else did—by reading about it the music press.  One can hear the very direct influence of Buddy Guy and a handful of other American bluesmen in the playing. And lest anyone forget the rest of the quartet: future pop/rock superstar John McVie and drummer Hughie Flint provide a rock-hard rhythm section, and Mayall’s organ playing, vocalizing, and second guitar are all of a piece with Clapton’s work. His guitar naturally dominates most of this record, and he can also be heard taking his first lead vocal, but McVie and Flint are just as intense and give the tracks an extra level of steel-strung tension and power, none of which have diminished across several decades.

Remarkably, Mayall considered the surprise defection of his star attraction no big deal. “It was inevitable,” he said. “Eric and Jack wanted to do something different and Ginger Baker was there to talk them into it. From my point of view, this has always been simple. If somebody left the band, I found a replacement. And it seemed there was always somebody out there that I’d like to work with. As a bandleader I had the privilege to hire anybody I wanted.”

Mayall rallied by asking the 20 year old Peter Green to come back to the fold one year after he’d been shown the door. “He was a bit reluctant to trust that this job would be reliable,” the bandleader said. “Peter had the opportunity to work with The Animals and go to America. But because of his love of the blues, he decided he’d rather play in my band.”

John Mayall Bluesbreakers A Hard Road

Again, the chance to stick with pure blues became Mayall’s selling point for his young players. The result paid off with another Top Ten album, the critically hailed ‘A Hard Road,’ out in February of ’67. It featured two songs written by Green, and two sung by him. Green had a more economical style than Clapton, with a tone so sweet, B.B. King later said that it brought him to tears. Original pieces dominated ‘A Hard Road,’ most of them written by Mayall. As with Clapton, Green only remained with Mayall for a year, but when he left, he inspired a major defection, taking with him then drummer Mick Fleetwood—and bassist John McVie not soon after. Together, they formed Fleetwood Mac.

Even with so with another huge a blow to his band, Mayall kept an even-keel. It helped that he soon ferreted out another six-string master—18 year old Mick Taylor. Finding three such amazing players in a row makes Mayall seem like the brains behind Menudo, an act which subbed in new kids every time one got too old. Only in Mayall’s band, age wasn’t a factor and every young guitarist he hired turned out to be a genius.

John Mayall Crusade

The reborn band’s debut, ‘Crusade,” released in September of ’67, followed its predecessors path by shooting straight into the U.K. Top Ten. The music found Taylor in a commanding position. “He has a very elegant sound,” Mayall said. “He was more jazz influenced than Peter or Eric. but no one sounds like Mick, even today.”

The final album of an (unintentional) trilogy, Crusade is most notable for the appearance of a very young, pre-Rolling Stones Mick Taylor on lead guitar. Taylor’s performance is indeed the highlight, just as Eric Clapton and Peter Green’s playing was on the previous albums. The centerpiece of the album is a beautiful instrumental by Taylor titled “Snowy Wood,” which, while wholly original, seems to combine both Green and Clapton’s influence with great style and sensibility.

While it seems amazing that Mayall surfed so smoothly through all these fast changes, brisk switch-up weren’t at all unusual in the ’60s or early ’70s. The culture itself was moving at warp speed. Each year brought a whole new look, sound, and sensibility to the culture. The tender age of Mayall’s proteges also played a part. “They hadn’t much experience in playing,” he said. “They were in the process of finding their own style and finding out what they wanted to do in music. Being with my band helped them to develop rather more quickly than they might have done otherwise.”

“When one looks back you can see that speed,” of the changes, Mayall said. “But when you’re involved in it, you’re just doing a job, playing seven or eight gigs a week. You don’t have time to notice the big picture.”

John Mayall Bare Wires

To momentarily stave off more changes, Mayall pulled a fast one himself. He cut his next album The Blues Alone nearly entirely himself, penning all the songs and playing all the instruments save the one manned by drummer Keef Hartley. The album contains a rare example of Mayall playing lead guitar. It didn’t pay off commercially, but the bandleader rebounded strongly on 1968’s Bare Wires, his first album to crack the U.S. charts (reaching No. 59). “Wires” devoted a full side to a single suite, gave new reign to Taylor’s fluid guitar and provided a showcase for saxist extraordinaire Dick Heckstall-Smith.  The album began with a 23-minute “Bare Wires Suite,” which included more jazz influences than usual and featured introspective lyrics. In retrospect, all of this is a bit indulgent, but at the time it helped Mayallout of what had come to seem a blues straitjacket (although he would eventually return to a strict blues approach). It isn’t surprising that he dropped the “Bluesbreakers” name after this release.

Blues From Laurel Canyon (Remastered)

‘Wires’ marked the final album credited to the band name Bluesbreakers, but that wasn’t the strongest break Mayall made at that time. Late in ’68, he left England to take up full time residence in what was then the newest hotbed of musical creativity—Laurel Canyon. While that locale gave rise to the whole singer-songwriter renaissance, as well as to the CSNY axis of creativity, Mayall says he didn’t participate much in the scene. “The only person I met there was Frank Zappa,” he said. “But I fell in love with the place. It was everything I hoped America would be.”

Turning Point,

Mayall trumpeted that love on Blues From Laurel Canyon, a seamless work which ran all the songs together in rootsy reverie. Soaking up the mellow L.A. atmosphere had an even greater impact on his next album, aided by a key loss. In June of ’69 Taylor bolted to replace the just-deceased Brian Jones in the Rolling Stones. The jolt brought out something revolutionary in Mayall. For his next work—the aptly named The Turning Point.

Mayall ditched high-octane, top volume blues for an acoustic-based band that featured no drummer. “I just got tired of the same instrumentation,” the bandleader said. “With a drummer-less band, there are more dynamics and no one gets drowned out. People who heard about the album were very skeptical. Promoters were horrified that they were booking a band that had no drums. But I went ahead anyway.”

Mayall had key help from folk guitarist Jon Mark. A sensitive player, Mark had previously been part of an overlooked gem of a band, Sweet Thursday, which included piano wiz Nicky Hopkins and future Cat Stevens collaborator Alun Davies. For the new project, Mayall amped up the role of a sax and flute player he’d already collaborated with: Johnny Almond. Mayall’s inspiration for the radical project was the record The Train and The River by Jimmy Guiffry, which featured just guitar and sax. To nail the immediacy of his new approach, Mayall cut ‘The Turning Point’ live at The Fillmore East. One song, Room To Move became an FM staple, prized for its brisk rhythm and wild mouth-organ flourishes.

Empty Rooms

In this incarnation, the group put out one studio album, 1969’s Empty Rooms, Immediately afterwards, Mark and Almond broke off to form their own acoustic-jazz group, inventively named The Mark-Almond Band. Some thought they ran off with Mayall’s idea but the magnanimous bandleader prefers to view MAB simply as “a continuation” of the style. Either way, the defection paved the way for yet another creative leap, this one involving the dexterous guitarist Harvey Mandel (late of Canned Heat) and fusion violinist Don “Sugarcane” Harris. The latter had made key contributions to Frank Zappa’s Hot Rats as well as to great Mothers’ albums like Weasels Ripped My Flesh The new band issued USA Union in 1970, pushing the sound deeper into jazz while retaining the drummer-less motif. “For me, jazz and blues have always been intertwined,” Mayall said. “There’s no dividing line.”

Back to the Roots

As a perfect capper for Mayall’s classic era, he released Back To The Roots. in 1971, a work which briefly reunited him with Clapton, Taylor, Almond, and other great players from his past. Mayall says he has maintained good relationships with all of his starry graduates of his group in all the years since. Taylor, for one, has often returned to play with him. The bandleader harbors no jealousy for the successes his proteges have achieved with other bands, most of them far greater than his own. Mayall’s insistence on sticking with the blues, rather than moving into more pop friendly sounds, accounts for the disparity. He believes he had no choice in that. “Blues is the only thing I know how to play,” he said.

Over the past few decades, Mayall’s blues-rooted bands have given platforms to other significant, if less celebrated, guitarists, including Coco Montoya, Walter Trout and Buddy Whittington. His current band has no lead axeman at all, the better to let the three players shine. At 83, Mayall still tours 100 days of the year and records regularly. The latest album ranks as his 41st. “There’s never a shortage of ideas,” he said. “I just love music, and so I always want to explore it.

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Fleetwood Mac’s legendary three night performance at the Boston Tea Party, all in one vinyl box set.

Madfish Records presents Fleetwood Mac’s legendary Boston concert recordings from an earlier era of the band’s colourful history, featuring the classic blues line-up of Mick Fleetwood, Peter Green, Danny Kirwan, John McVie and Jeremy Spencer.

Originally recorded at the Boston Tea Party venue over three nights in February 1970, for a planned release later the same year, these recordings were left in the can, unissued, following leader Peter Green’s sudden decision to leave the band a few weeks after the dates.  Tracks from the shows were eventually released in various forms in the mid-80s but these releases were blighted by poor sound sources. The discovery of the original 8-track tapes and a number of previously unreleased tracks in the late 90s allowed the material to be re-mixed, re-mastered, and substantially overhauled for release on 3 separate CD volumes.

In 2013 the current incarnation of Fleetwood Mac embarked on a massive world tour. Dates in North America were followed by gigs around Europe, with Australia and New Zealand planned shortly. The dates so far saw the band playing sold-out shows to huge arena crowds and created another surge of interest in this much-loved band. Boston is a 3CD set which collects live recordings from an earlier era of the band’s colourful history. The set features the classic blues line-up of Mick Fleetwood, Peter Green, Danny Kirwan, John McVie and Jeremy Spencer. The discovery of the original 8-track tapes and a number of previously unreleased tracks in the late 90s allowed the material to be re-mixed, re-mastered, and substantially overhauled for release on 3 separate CD volumes. This new set brings together all of these re-mastered recordings a 3CD set to present a complete document of these historic shows. The set is packaged in a clam box with a 24 page book. The booklet contains new sleeve notes and reworked artwork.

This new set brings together all of these re-mastered recordings for the first time as a 4LP box set, and a 3CD box set, presenting a complete document of these historic shows.

Love That Burns

A Chronicle of Fleetwood Mac, Volume One: 1967–1974 by Mick Fleetwood

“I have dreamt of one day working to present a documentation of the early story of Fleetwood Mac. This moment has arrived! And I’m thrilled to be in the safe hands of Genesis Publications.” – Mick Fleetwood In 1967 Fleetwood Mac debuted at the Windsor Blues and Jazz Festival. 50 years later one of its founding members Mick Fleetwood documents the rocky beginnings of a band that emerged from what is now referred to as the British Blues Boom.

The Windsor Jazz & Blues Festival was Fleetwood Mac’s first official gig. It was such a significant musical gathering, like Paris was for artists in the 1920s.” – Mick Fleetwood

Mick Fleetwood is a self-taught drummer and a founding member of one of the most successful bands of the last 50 years, Fleetwood Mac. Released in 1968, their first album Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac came in at no.4 in the UK charts and brought the band overnight success. They went on to release the no.1 hit ‘Albatross’ and a series of critically acclaimed albums, with further hit singles including ‘Black Magic Woman’ and ‘Need Your Love So Bad’.

A constant in Fleetwood Mac’s frequently changing line-up, Mick Fleetwood took over management of the band two years before they released Rumours which – having sold over 40 million copies worldwide – remains one of the best-selling albums of all time.

Fleetwood Mac got famous so quickly; we were still playing small clubs even as we were becoming pop stars.” – Mick Fleetwood

This official limited edition chronicle, “LOVE THAT BURNS”, contains over 400 rare images and an original manuscript of over 20,000 words with exclusive contributions from early Fleetwood Mac band members including John and Christine McVie, Jeremy Spencer and the legendary Peter Green.

“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.” – Mick Fleetwood

Love That Burns contains original manuscript from Mick Fleetwood recounting his childhood, early bands, Fleetwood Mac’s debut performance, first international tours, live gig antics, playing with blues legends at Chess Studios, the genius of Peter Green and the many talented members that formed Fleetwood Mac in the years before 1975.

Love That Burns features text commentaries by Peter Green, Christine McVie, John McVie, Jeremy Spencer, John Mayall, Mike Vernon, Sandra (Vigon) Elsdon and Jenny Boyd and is narrated with more than 20,000 words.

“Every page turned in this precious book reflects the efforts and life force of each band member that was part of this early journey that Fleetwood Mac took.” – Mick Fleetwood

Love That Burns features images from the Mick Fleetwood archives and various contributions from friends of the band including rare unpublished images, unseen archival material, and original illustrations by Jeremy Spencer.

Top photographers include Clive Arrowsmith, Henry Diltz, Bruno Ducourant, Bob Gruen, Jeff Lowenthal, Barry Plummer, Michael Putland, Dominique Tarle, Amalie Rothschild and Daniel Sullivan.

I have dreamt of one day working with Genesis to present a documentation of the early story of Fleetwood Mac – This moment has arrived! And I’m thrilled to be in the safe hands of Genesis Publications.” – Mick Fleetwood

Love That Burns is published in a numbered, limited edition of only 2,000 copies worldwide. Every hand bound book is individually signed by the author, Mick Fleetwood. Handcrafted in Milan, Italy, the limited edition is quarter bound in leather with foil blocking, yellow sprayed page edging and a padded cover featuring the Fleetwood Mac artwork of Sixties graphic artist, Günther Kieser.

An exclusive 7″ vinyl picture disc includes ‘Love That Burns’ from the 1968 album Mr Wonderful, and a rare instrumental track recorded in June 1967, entitled ‘Fleetwood Mac’, from which the band took it’s name.

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At their most guitar-centric Fleetwood Mac, featured not two but three players on the guitar. In 1969, the group hired 18-year-old Danny Kirwan to add a new hue to the palate created by the original line-up featuring guitarist Jeremy Spencer and star player Peter Green. To Spencer’s rockabilly flair and Green’s hard blues power, Kirwan brought more melodicism and nuance. Their three-way frisson came to fruition on the band’s third album, ‘Then Play On’, especially in songs like “Oh Well” which presented a blues riff so tight, Mac kept it in their set through multiple personal changes for decades to come. Another song from that album, “Searching for Madge,” let Green and Kirwan spar in a ten-minute free jam. A particularly hot version of another song from that era “Rattlesnake Shake” , appeared on the band’s “Live In Boston” the guitars slashed and burned with a violence the band rarely achieved in the studio. On the other end of the spectrum, Kirwan and Green made their instruments sweetly entwine in “Coming Your Way” , a song the former wrote which opens ‘Then Play On’.

The whole set is more like a seamless `suite` of songs, with two instrumentals dedicated to a devoted Mac fan named Madge punctuating them. I bought the original LP and played it a lot. It sounded unlike anything else at the time, and it still has a unique feel to it. What is such a relief is to find how wonderful it still sounds, after so long.

The interplay between Spencer and Kirwan came to the fore on the 1970 studio next release “Kiln House”, cut after Green left. One year later, Kirwan found a new sparring partner in the American-born Bob Welch.

 

Everyone knows of the trials and tribulations of Fleetwood Mac, they are the mega-selling incarnation fronted by Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. And any rock aficionados know the original, blues-rooted version of the band starring Peter Green. But there’s a bridge between those two starry incarnations led by a key figure lost to rock history guitarist vocalist and brilliant songwriter Danny Kirwan. Fleetwood Mac’s two records, Kiln House and Future Games, have between them provided me with perhaps a hundred hours of enjoyment. And that’s the ultimate test of a record’s worth. 

Danny was a quantum leap ahead of us creatively,” Mick Fleetwood said of Kirwan’s early influence on the group. “He was a hugely important part of the band.”

Hired by Fleetwood Mac at the age of just 18, Kirwan utterly transformed the group’s sound, adding both an unusually sweet guitar vibrato and a dreamy songwriting style. His pensive approach dramatically countered the driving blues structures that dominated ’60s British rock. And the contrast paid off: Three years into his tenure, he became Fleetwood Mac’s de facto frontman, buttressed by fellow singer-songwriters Christine McVie and Bob Welch on such under-appreciated, early ’70s albums as “Future Games”  and “Bare Trees” . In the process, he provided the lifeline between the barrelhouse British sound of early Fleetwood Mac and the warm California-pop style that would eventually make the band huge names.

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Unfortunately, Danny Kirwan’s story involves as much tragedy as triumph and both aspects seemed baked into his story.

The outsized talents of this Brixton-born guitarist revealed themselves early. When he was 17, Kirwan’s blues-based trio, Boiler House, secured gigs in London, where he would come to check out his idol: Peter Green. “He used to come hang at the Nags Head in Battersea, which is where we played a lot,” Fleetwood said. “He would always be sitting in the front row, staring.”

The ambitious Kirwan talked up his band to Fleetwood and, while the drummer found his guitar playing “amazing,” he told the young hopeful, “if you want to get anywhere, you need to unload your band.”

Kirwan wasn’t pleased about the advice but, eventually, he took it, inspiring Fleetwood and Green to try to find new sidemen for his protege. As it happened, none proved worthy. Around the same time, Fleetwood Mac’s  second guitarist Jeremy Spencer began diverging from Green’s interests, moving into a more rockabilly sound. The idea arose to hire Kirwan in order to give the band’s top star a more appropriate foil. In the process, Mac earned a rare configuration, boasting three axemen at the front. “Danny filled a hole that allowed Peter to move forward creatively,” Fleetwood said.

Future Games

He also brought new influences to the band, from sources as broad as ragtime and jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli. Kirwan played with an almost scary intensity, according to Mac’s early producer, Mike Vernon. In a vintage interview, Vernon said that Kirwan was so into the music “he cried as he played.”

By the time Kirwan joined The Mac, they already had two albums out, Kirwan’s contribution showed on very his first recording with the band: , The track “Albatross” an instrumental penned by Green in late ’68. The song anchored on two, languid guitar lines, with Kirwan offering a ghostly answer to Green’s lead. The cadence of the melody took influence from the swaying Hawaiian guitars of Santo and Johnny’s hit Sleep Walk.

Years later, Green said he never would have written the song without his protege’s influences. Still, the fluidity, and introspection, of “Albatross” alarmed the band’s early fans. According to Fleetwood, they considered it “schmaltz.” Regardless, it became a No. 1 smash in the U.K. The B-side featured a Kirwan original, Jigsaw Puzzle Blues , which showed his debt to the work of Django Reinhardt, a rare influence in the British blues scene of the day.

Kirwan’s impact extended exponentially on his first full album with Fleetwood Mac, ‘Then Play On’, released in September of ’69. “Peter gave Danny half the album, which was unbelievably generous,”

Fleetwood said. Not only did Kirwan write seven songs for the album, he penned the kick-off track, “Coming Your Way”, fired by a glistening guitar line which teased Mick Fleetwood’s wild tribal drums. Other Kirwan originals included the wan “Although the Sun is Shining,” the blues-hued “Without You”, the weighty psychedelic “One Sunny Day” , and the airy acoustic ballad “When You Say.” Kirwan’s songs balanced tranquility with yearning, suggesting a rich interiority of feeling. Fleetwood said a key inspirer of those compositions was the work of Harry Nilsson.

Kirwan sang his songs in a voice of boyish hurt. His physicality suited the sound. With his fine blonde hair and choir-boy features, Kirwan looked like a fallen angel. As a character, however, he was brooding, and the music reflected it. His instrumental, “My Dream,” showcased the shivering vibrato of his tone, a sound that suggested both preciousness and peril.

“His vibrato was perfect,” Fleetwood said. “Danny had pure, resonant note comprehension. Many guitarists make the vibrato sound like a dying cow or a mosquito in heat. Danny had an unbelievable touch.”

Still, several of his songs were left off the original U.S. version of ‘Then Play On’ to make way for a Green piece that would became a Mac classic: “Oh Well”. A true guitarist’s showcase, the song has became so associated with the band, they performed it right through the Lindsey/Stevie era. In “Part 1”—the better known section—Kirwan took the main solo, displaying a capacity for aural savagery equal to his bent for beauty. Both the U.S and U.K. versions of ‘Then Play On’ featured the only song Kirwan ever wrote with Green, “World In Harmony”, a staple of the band’s live show.

A particularly telling Kirwan original from the era, “Something Inside Of Me”, turned up on Shrine 69, a live album not released until years later. Though his song ostensibly addressed a lost love, it seemed to channel something deeper: a lost soul, with lyrics that spoke of an inner torment the narrator couldn’t shake. At the time, Kirwan suffered from increasing self-consciousness, both socially and as a figure of public focus. “He felt less than perfect in ways you and I can’t even imagine,” Fleetwood commented.

Danny Kirwan wasn’t the only troubled member of the band. After a bad acid trip, Green became mentally unstable and, combined with his already conflicted feelings about fame, he decided to quit the band in May of 1970. Shorn of their star, the band felt adrift. Yet, just four months later, they rallied to record the album “Kiln House”. Fleetwood calls it “a funny little album by a vaguely lost band. But I love it for that reason. It’s pure and sweet.”

An unusual affair, ‘Kiln House’ ping-ponged between Jeremy Spencer’s Buddy Holly/rockabilly salutes and Kirwan’s originals which, this time, took a harder turn. For the album, Kirwan penned one of the hottest guitar tracks in Mac history, “Tell Me All the Things You Do”. The song proved he could idealize a frenzied style as well a ruminative one. Kirwan epitomized the latter mood with his mournful instrumental “Earl Grey.” Another stand out track penned by Kirwan, “Station Man”, attracted the attention of Pete Townshend of The Who told Fleetwood it was one of his favorite songs. “I remember Danny saying, ‘wow, I would have thought he would have fucking hated it,’ the drummer recalled.

To beef up the band in that shaky period, they added a “guest” keyboardist on ‘Kiln House’—Christine Perfect, who had just become Mrs. McVie. Under her maiden name, Mcvie had performed in the blues band Chicken Shack and released a solo album which featured playing, and composing, by Kirwan. Still, she found the young guitarist strange. In a later quote, McVie called him “really, really neurotic and difficult to work with. He was one of those people who would never look you in the eye. To be around him was a very nerve-wracking thing. So he and I never wrote together.”

On his own, however, Danny Kirwan remained prolific. Two songs he wrote for ‘Kiln House’, which didn’t appear on the album, became part of their live show and favorites of arch fans, including the billowing “Dragonfly” and the psychedelic rocker “Purple Dancer”.

Kiln House

As eccentric as Kirwan could be, Spencer upstaged him in the strange department in early 1971. Smack in the middle of a U.S. tour, he bolted the band, announcing he was joining a religious cult known as The Children of God. For those keeping score at home, that makes two guitarists gone off the rails in less than two years. If nothing else, Spencer’s defection precipitated a major shift in both the band’s sound and in their home base which, together, led to a new prominence for Kirwan.

When Spencer left, the band had to re-orient itself somewhat: Kirwan has become the sole focal figure, and this central role has forced him to deal in the visceral as well as the moody areas. But Kirwan had already shown on Kiln House that he was well equipped to handle both. His “Jewel Eyed Judy,” “Tell Me All the Things You Do,” and “Station Man” are among the best examples of the soft-hard rock song, with their lovely, silky vocals and smoking guitars. If Kiln House holds up somewhat better than the gentler Future Games, Kirwan’s dynamic songs are at least as responsible as Spencer’s presence on the former album.

Shaken after losing Spencer, the band decided to anchor themselves in the U.S., soaking up the style, mood and lifestyle of L.A. at its mellow peak. To aid in the transition, they hired their first American member, singer-songwriter Bob Welch. His contemplative sound fit perfectly with Kirwan’s approach. Better, McVie had began to write, together shifting the band’s focus from a triple guitar act to a three-way singer-songwriter collective. The first songs McVie penned leaned towards Kirwan’s mix of the ethereal and the romantic. At the same time, Kirwan forged more adventurous harmonic structures than ever, evident in his hypnotic tracks off the band’s first U.S.-based album, ‘Future Games’. His “Woman Of A Thousand Years” sounded as unusual as a David Crosby song of the era, or like some precursor to the grey and braided sound later minted by Elliot Smith.

Bob Welch, who contributed key songs to the album, greatly admired Kirwan, saying in a later interview that “at twenty four, he played with a surprising maturity and soulfulness.” But he also called him “one of the strangest people I’ve ever met. He didn’t seem to ever be able to distance himself from his work. Danny was the definition of ‘deadly serious.'”

Bare Trees

Despite Kirwan’s growing inner turmoil, he perfected his art the next year. The ‘Bare Trees’ album, released in March of 1972, was a note-perfect work, with five of its nine tracks penned by Kirwan, including the chugging opener “Child Of Mine”, a song which addressed his absent father.

“Bare Trees” falls somewhere between the last two Fleetwood Macs; that is, it hits harder than Future Games, but its concerns are much more introspective than those of Kiln House. Kirwan has written two melancholic, really elegiac songs based on the bittersweet poem of an elderly woman, “Thoughts on a Grey Day,” that closes the album. The first song, “Bare Trees,” its title suggested by a line from old Mrs. Scarrot’s poem, moves along exhilaratingly, even though its lyric is a metaphor of age and approaching death; perhaps it’s the acceptance of the cycle that gives the music a hopeful, almost happy feeling. The second, “Dust,” is a great deal more somber, but it retains Kirwan’s deft melodic touch, manifesting itself in both the sighing vocal and in the guitar lines that sweep softly alongside it. “Dust” sets the stage for the poem, which is similar in effect to the “Voices of Old People” track on Simon & Garfunkel’s Bookends. The group has thoughtfully preceded the poem with about 15 seconds of silence, sufficient time to pick up the tone arm if you’re not in the mood.

The rest of Bare Trees isn’t nearly so melancholy, nor is it structured to conform to the theme Kirwan has developed. Christine McVie’s two songs, “Homeward Bound” and “Spare Me a Little of Your Love” make it clear that she’s become a fine songwriter and a persuasive vocalist–she’s somewhere between Sandy Denny and Dusty Springfield, and there’s no doubt that she could make it on her own.

Though Welch wrote the album’s FM hit, “Sentimental Lady” and though McVie greatly upped her writerly chops—Kirwan’s sound defined the album on songs like the title track  or the wah-wah guitar work-out on “Danny’s Chant”.

As before, it’s Danny Kirwan who made the difference. Maybe there’s nothing on Bare Trees to equal “Station Man” and “Jewel Eyed Judy,” but, aside from “Dust,” Kirwan’s songs here rock much more than his Future Games material did. He really lets loose on “Danny’s Chant,” which features tough-guy electric guitar sounds purely for their own sake. His “Child of Mine” is a lyrically disjointed but musically forthright rock ‘n’ roll song. And Kirwan’s instrumental, “Sunny Side of Heaven,” shows off his unique electric guitar style to good advantage. Like most outstanding guitarists, Kirwan gets a sound that is more plainly human than mechanical. His guitar tone is piercing but tremulous–powerful but at the same time plaintive, especially in the upper ranges.

With his multiple skills, Kirwan could’nt help being the focal point. It is his presence that makes Fleetwood Mac something more than another competent rock group. He gives them a distinctiveness, a sting. He makes you want to hear these songs again.

Bare Trees’ also set a template for the band. While they released three albums between that 1972 work and their breakthrough self titled “Fleetwood Mac” disc in ’75 (the one which debuted the Nicks/Buckingham team) there’s a crucial connection between the former, and latter, works. According to Fleetwood, it has to do with cohesion. Both albums found the band sustaining a beguiling mood from start to finish. “Bare Trees’ is the beginning of the band showing a body of work with all the proper connections made,” he said. “It’s a well-rounded album. Like Lindsey, Danny had the chops with layering techniques, and the ability to know what’s right and wrong in the studio.”

‘Bare Trees’ also got the band to focus on harmony, an aspect which would later define the most successful version of the band. To showcase “Bare Trees”, Fleetwood Mac went on tour with Savoy Brown and Long John Baldry during the Spring and Summer of ’72. The tour, billed as “The British are Coming” turned out to be a traumatic affair. On the road, Kirwan “just got more and more intense,” Fleetwood said. “He wouldn’t talk to anyone. He was going inside himself which we put down to an emotional problem that we had no idea about. We thought he was just being awkward. I had no idea he was struggling to that level.”

At one pivotal gig, Kirwan and Welch fought over tuning, to the point where the troubled guitarist refused to go on-stage. “That’s the cardinal thing you just don’t do,” Fleetwood said. “In essence, he had a breakdown.”

Kirwan smashed his guitar, then let the band struggle through their performance without him. Afterwards, he launched into a critique of their playing. “It was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said Fleetwood. “That particular pain and story needed to stop.”

“Looking back, Danny was not suited to this business,” Fleetwood said. “It was too much pressure. He and Peter were both highly sensitive people, not suited to take the blows.”

Kirwan went on to release a few solo albums for DJM Records. They contained some sweet moments but more pale ones. His mental deterioration led to periods of homelessness in the ’80s and ’90s. In 1998, Kirwan had a potential lift: He was inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame along with the other key members from Fleetwood Mac’s strange and convoluted history. But he didn’t show up to accept the honor.

In the decades since Kirwan left the band, Fleetwood has had little contact with him, though he remains in touch with his ex-wife Claire. She told him the guitarist “lives a very simple life and is pretty much disconnected from what you, or I, would call any form of reality.”

Despite the sustained pain surrounding the guitarist’s tale, Fleetwood remains committed to stressing his unique talent and his pivotal role in the band. “I cared for Danny a lot and I care for his legacy a lot,” he said. “Lindsey Buckingham also has a huge regard for Danny. He is the lost component. In many ways, Danny is a forgotten hero.”