“The Original Fleetwood Mac” – Fleetwood Mac
Released on Blue Horizon CBS 63875 May 1971
It’s normal practice for bands to bring out their greatest albums while they’re still together, but Fleetwood Mac perversely managed to issue theirs after half the band had left. A collection of jams, out-takes, and previously unreleased tracks, simply titled “The Original Fleetwood Mac,” it’s the last and surprisingly also the best of their Blue Horizon releases.
The group had already left Blue Horizon to cut ‘Man Of the World’ for Andrew Oldham’s Immediate label, and though the single had been a great success, the label itself was failing. Mac manager Clifford Davis sought a new contract for the band, and they signed with Warner Reprise, where you can still find them today. ‘Then Play On’ was released as their fourth album, shortly after Blue Horizon’s compilation LP ‘The Pious Bird Of Good Omen’ which contained singles, tracks from earlier albums, and two songs with US Bluesman Eddie Boyd. By this time, Fleetwood Mac boasted a precocious new talent, ex Boilerhouse guitarist Danny Kirwan, who’d been brought into the line-up to support and accompany Green, as the divide between Peter and Jeremy Spencer widened irreparably.
“ Jeremy wouldn’t learn any of my songs,” Green complained. “But I was never sure if the reason why he didn’t join in more was that he wouldn’t, or he couldn’t. He was a music fanatic – I’m sure of that. But with us he would only move at his own speed. ” In effect Jeremy only played on one track of that album – he contributed piano to “Oh Well Part II” – but though the musical chameleon recorded five tracks of excellent and accurate parodies intended for a bonus EP, they never saw release at the time.
‘Then Play On’ featured material by Green and Kirwan in equal measure, with increasing focus on their guitar interplay and instrumental jamming, as the band’s style developed towards a “Progressive Rock” sound, but the hyper-sensitive Green’s mental stability was already starting to suffer. In a much later interview, he explained: “The Blues was too deep, it got too painful. The Blues is something you spend a lifetime in, and you have to understand it to play it. There’s levels that most people, including me, never got anywhere close to. But then it got much too deep for me and I got lost. The blues ended up hurting my soul, so I stopped it.”
Finally, after failing to persuade the others to give all the band’s earnings to charity, Green quit the group, forcing Spencer and Kirwan to the fore. The resulting 1970 album, ‘Kiln House,’ showed a different kind of Fleetwood Mac again, and by this time it seemed the Blues was far behind them. But it still lived on in the vaults of Blue Horizon, where Mike Vernon had reels of tape cut by the original line-up. And what prizes he possessed…
Trk. 1) “Drifting” (no relation to ‘Drifting Blues,’ the classic from Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers) begins with a stark drum beat married to a very spartan riff, until almost without warning Greenie kicks into the most shattering, scorching guitar intro. His voice, as always, is steeped in sorrow and yearning. He ain’t never missed a woman like he misses his baby now, and his every word is totally convincing. After only one verse of vocals, he serves up some more searing axe-work, and though you could say there’s not much to this track, what Peter delivers is more than enough to satisfy.
Vernon recounts, “The song then – with vocals on it – was titled ‘Drifting’ and Peter now remembers it as him “doing a Junior Wells thing” in that he was going for a similar groove to a Junior Wells and Buddy Guy’s 1965 blues called ‘Ships On The Ocean’.” Junior’s seminal “Hoodoo Man Blues” album, from which that track comes, is a magnum opus in understatement, with a tight, raw, stripped-down sound that generates tons of tension. There’s no doubting that it was an influence on Peter, as his harmonica work on the first Fleetwood Mac album already showed traces of Junior’s style, and he’d greatly admired Mr. Guy when Buddy gigged with his trio in London. What he does on this track doesn’t sound a lot like Guy & Wells, but he definitely captures that “groove.”
Trk. 2) Peter’s “Leaving Town Blues” has a rather “retro” feel with the guitar very much downplayed. A slightly country-flavoured song with an irregular 12-bar sequence, it’s a little reminiscent of “Sitting in the Rain,” which Peter cut with John Mayall. It’s a beautiful piece, elegant in its simplicity, and showing a very different, “down home” side of Greenie.
Trk. 3) “Watch Out” is a very fast swing blues with excellent driving bass and drum work and an extended guitar work-out at the front. Cut as a trio, with no overdubs, it sounds as impromptu as a jam, and really cooks. Top notch.
Trk. 4) “A Fool No More.” After a handful of false starts, we get one of the most touching slow Blueses ever, from one of Britain’s best. The hurt and aching in Peter’s voice is palpable and the guitar playing is passionate and beautiful, as delicate phrases sit side by side with fiery bursts. There’s a later version on a solo Peter Green LP “In The Skies” which is very much slower, and which gives the impression that his vocals & guitar were recorded separately, but this one is the real deal. Untouchable.
Trk. 5) “Mean Old Fireman” is an Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup cover with lyrics that echo Otis Rush’s ‘So Many Roads.’ Here, Jeremy, backing himself with an acoustic guitar, manages to work up a great deal more feeling than he does with some of his fully-accompanied Elmore covers, and you can’t help but wonder why this remained unreleased so long. There’s some really lovely slide playing on this cut, and it shows us a Spencer that we haven’t heard before.
Trk. 6) “Can’t Afford To Do It,” a ‘Homesick’ James Williamson cover, is more like the Jeremy we know. A straightforward rocking boogie in the ‘Moneymaker’ tradition is bashed out with evident relish by the 4-piece band, some of whom offer vocal responses on the chorus. Nice.
Trk. 1) “Fleetwood Mac.” Yes, this is the one that gave them the name! Recorded during Peter’s days as a Bluesbreaker, on studio time given to him as a birthday present by John Mayall, it’s a hard-driving instrumental which shows off Greenie’s terrific harp playing. His harmonica work’s economical but his delivery’s faultless and there’s a good dash of Junior Wells’ feel thrown into the mix.
Trk. 2) A cover of B B King’s “Worried Dream” is taken at a slower pace, and sensitive and fluid piano fills from Christine Perfect completely transform the band’s sound. Without the brass that punctuates BB’s arrangement, this version has a very intimate feel, complemented by the way Peter’s voice is recorded, unusually dry and high in the mix, as if he’s singing directly into your ear. Absolutely delicious. Oh, the guitar’s pretty good, too!
Trk. 3) “Love That Woman.” A Lafayette Leake composition, first recorded by Otis Rush for Cobra in 1957, features Spencer providing his own piano as well as some burning hot slide. The uncommonly heavy bass & drums make this sound a little clumpy at first, but it does grow on you, and certainly stands out from the slew of Elmore James material that Jeremy favoured on the first two albums.
Trk. 4) “Allow Me One More Show” is credited to Jeremy Spencer, but so was Buster Brown’s ‘My Heart Beat Like A Hammer,’ so you may be forgiven for taking that claim with a pinch of salt. But whatever its provenance, this solo acoustic ballad, with its irregular bar lengths and constant interruptions of bottleneck, sounds very authentic, delicate, and quite touching. An unexpected delight.
Trk. 5) “First Train Home.” A beautifully phrased guitar solo intros this slow twelve-bar. Furious flurries of sweet notes drip deceptively easily from Peter’s fingers, while he sings what sounds like an agoraphobic’s Blues. Having ‘A Fool No More’ and ‘Worried Dream’ to compete with makes this slip into third place, but it’s still first rate.
Trk. 6) “Rambling Pony No. 2” is another stab at re-working the Baby Face Leroy Trio version of ‘Rollin’ & Tumblin’.’ First recorded in 1950 on Parkway, it featured Leroy Foster (vocals/drums), Little Walter Jacobs (harmonica/vocals) and Muddy Waters (guitar/vocals). The single, issued with ‘Part Two’ on the B-side, was sufficiently noteworthy to be reviewed in the Chicago Defender, where Edward Myers described it as having “the sound and beat of African chant.” But Waters’ part in the recording soon came to the attention of Leonard Chess, who had Muddy under an exclusive contract. As a result, Waters was persuaded to record his own version of the song for the larger Chess label, in order to attract attention away from the Parkway recording, and since then the number has always been associated with him.
As far as the Mac’s version is concerned, things are a little cloudy there too. Mike Vernon’s sleeve notes for the 1994 Dutch CD version state: “ The album title itself might be considered to be a trifle misleading for in truth only one item – “Rambling Pony No. 2” – features the truly original line-up of Peter Green, Bob Brunning and Mick Fleetwood. And immediately I have to question even this. My memory tells me that we did cut two different versions of this song, but that the second version was recorded at CBS Studios in New Bond Street with John McVie. The aural evidence doesn’t firmly establish one point of view or another and doesn’t really help to identify which one is which. Who cares anyway – enjoy it for what it is – a wonderful piece of rocking down-home blues featuring the redoubtable talents of none less than Mick Fleetwood on washboard!“
So by the time the Blue Horizon CD was released in 2004, John McVie was credited with the bass on this track. To confuse things further, if that’s “No. 2” then “No. 1,” the version released as a B-side to their debut single, “I Believe My Time Ain’t Long,” must surely have been the one recorded with Bob Brunning – and yet that version seems to have no bass at all.
Other major differences are that “No.1” (sometimes even more brain-addlingly referred to as ‘Rambling Pony No. 2- alternative original mix’ ) gets much closer to the sound of the Baby Face Leroy Trio recording, the guitar figure is more in line with Muddy’s, and Peter’s harp is fairly well to the fore. On “No. 2” the pace is much faster, the guitar figure’s been altered, and the harp and washboard are pretty well drowned out by a powerhouse bass and drums. Of equal concern are the lyrics, which say, “She’s a married woman, only nine years old.” Are you sure, guys?
Okay, I digress. Perhaps, like Neil Slaven, I’ve got a touch of the Tristram Shandys. Bartender, two Tristram Shandies, and make mine a large one. If called out on it, I’d have to say I prefer the version issued on a B-side in 1968, but if you haven’t got that one, then this one’s still good, and a nice lively end to the album. If indeed your album ends there.
The 2000 re-release featured four bonus tracks – “Mighty Cold,” Spencer’s cover of Pomus & Shuman’s 1959 B-side for Fabian; A live recording of the band doing Duster Bennett’s spine-tinglingly fabulous “Jumping At Shadows” with gorgeous guitar from Greenie; “Somebody’s Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonight,” Jeremy’s Rock’n’Roll pastiche from the B-side of “Man Of The World,” where it was credited to ‘Earl Vince and the Valiants’; and his raw, but uncomfortably accurate lampoon of John Mayall, “Man Of Action.”
Alternatively, the 2004 CD includes an incomplete, second take of “Watch Out,” alongside six tracks by Danny Kirwan, three of them being various, almost-imperceptibly-different takes of “Something Inside Of Me,” which only expose his weakness as a Blues singer and writer, when compared to Peter Green. Anyway, he wasn’t even an “original” member, so there, Q.E,D., I rest my case.
My final word on the matter is this. Whichever version you end up with, don’t be without it, for the twelve tracks which comprise the 1971 Vinyl LP release are indispensable to a lover of British Blues. All the staggering guitar pyrotechnics that Greeny was capable of which you didn’t hear on ‘Dog & Dustbin’ or ‘Mr. Wonderful,’ and all the Blues that Jeremy recorded which weren’t Elmore James covers, have ended up here together, giving you a far more complete picture of their extraordinary talents, and the tremendous range that Fleetwood Mac possessed in their earliest incarnation as a British Blues band. If that doesn’t make it a Classic Album, I’ll eat my hat. (Pass the HP Sauce!)
© Stevie King 2015 for the British Blues Archive.