“Fleetwood Mac” – aka ‘the Dog and Dustbin’ album
Recorded Nov/Dec 1967
Released on Blue Horizon 7-63200 Feb. 1968
Quickly established as one of the brightest new stars of British Blues, Peter Green was becoming frustrated within the Bluesbreakers, and yearned for more freedom. Yet at the same time he was happiest just being “part of the band.” So how could he form his own group without having to become the world’s next god-like guitar hero? The answer lay in a Bible-reading, pot-smoking teenager from Lichfield who could somehow channel the spirit of Mississippi Bluesman Elmore James.
John Mayall had been using horn sections on record since the “Beano” album, and recalled, “I may have had discussions about hiring horns for the band. I think that was when Peter said ‘I’ve had enough’.” When John gave Green a birthday gift of studio time, Peter got Fleetwood & McVie to help him cut some instrumentals. Green named one track after his favourite rhythm section, “Fleetwood Mac.” “From then on,” said Mayall, “I guess it was a matter of time.”
With his original plans of going to Chicago scotched because of work permit problems, Green turned to Mike Vernon for help and advice. Vernon had recently had his attention drawn to a band based just outside Birmingham called the Levi Set Blues, featuring Jeremy Spencer on guitar and vocals, backed by two brothers, Ian and John Charles on drums and bass. Vernon was interested, going as far as inviting them down to do an audition tape for Decca, but though he felt that the rhythm section wasn’t up to standard, Spencer was another matter.
“Jeremy really blew me away,” Vernon recalled. “He was on the short side, with a flock of curly hair, and he played slide on this large, F-hole semi-acoustic with a pick up. He was playing Elmore James songs– he even sang like Elmore James.” Vernon passed the word on to Green, who recollected “I went to see him with his band, and he played one song, and I didn’t think I was going to like it at all. Then he played Elmore James’ ‘I Need You’ and he dug into that, and I thought ‘Yeah… we might be able to get away with it’.”
Mick Fleetwood was similarly impressed. “Jeremy was something to see, a tiny chap, pretty quiet off-stage, who became a whirlwind of raw power once he plugged in,” he recalled. “He was a dynamo onstage, impossible to ignore, and Peter just loved him.” Spencer was struck by Green’s enthusiasm, claiming “He said that I was the first guitarist that made him smile since Hendrix! ” There was only one fly in the ointment – McVie was reluctant to leave the Bluesbreakers and the steady work the band offered him. Enter Bob Brunning.
Brunning, who’d been bassist with his college band, Five’s Company, and recorded three singles for Pye, answered an ad in the Melody Maker which simply read ‘bass player wanted for Chicago-type blues band.’ As Bob confirmed in his essential 1986 book ‘Blues In Britain,’ “It proved to be a wrong number due to a misprint, but a hunch told me to pursue it.“ Surprised and pleased at passing the audition, Brunning asked where the first gig would be, and was astonished to hear their debut was at the seventh prestigious Windsor Jazz and Blues Festival in August, on a bill featuring Cream, the Bluesbreakers, the Jeff Beck Group, and Chicken Shack – no pressure!
In ‘Fleetwood Mac – Behind The Masks’ Bob wrote, “Jeremy was playing an important musical role in the band, milking his astonishingly authentic-sounding Elmore James riffs and vocals to the full,” and eventually McVie was swayed by the prospect of sharing the stage with Spencer, whom he called “phenomenal…just dynamite…a ball of fire. He had Elmore James nailed down pitch perfect, it was astounding, so I said I’ll go for this.” After six months or so with the band, Brunning, ever the gentleman, stepped down in favour of McVie, and walked straight into a job with the Savoy Brown Blues Band.
Elmore James’ music, his exuberant vocal style and his famous and much-copied “Dust My Broom” slide riff, has always had a buoyant, upbeat quality that’s appealed to Blues fans the world over. So Spencer’s inspired and frighteningly accurate impersonation could hardly fail to excite UK audiences who’d never experienced the originator. Mick Fleetwood has gone so far as to claim “Jeremy was literally the star of the early Fleetwood Mac,” and even (arguably) “Our first album was almost entirely Jeremy Spencer doing his thing,” but there was one drawback to his eccentric talent, of which he himself was very aware.
“ Peter was a little bit frustrated with me because I didn’t really cut it as a side (backing) guitarist,” he recalled, “which is what Peter wanted to help him. Because he backed me up on my numbers, but I didn’t back him up on his!” Whether this was due to the restrictions inherent in the tuning of the slide guitar, or because Spencer was too mindful of his own limitations as a player, it did imbue the band with a rather schizophrenic identity, which becomes quite obvious on this debut album.
Trk. 1) “My Heart Beat Like A Hammer” kicks off like the archetypal Elmore James number, how strange then that it’s not. It’s actually a cover of Buster Brown’s 1960 Fire single, ‘Don’t Dog Your Woman’ with the verses in the wrong order. According to Vernon’s later notes this was “originally slated as Don’t Dog Your Woman” and there’s no suggestion why the title was changed, though it could have been to facilitate Spencer receiving the composing credits. (Suspicious Stevie) All that said, it combines all the bounce and vigour of Elmore James with Buster’s incredibly catchy riff from ‘Fannie Mae’ and ‘Doctor Brown’ and the end result is some of the most authentic-sounding, “feel-good” rocking Blues ever recorded in the UK.
Trk. 2) “Merry Go Round” goes immediately to the other end of the spectrum with a tasteful medium-slow 12-bar. McVie & Fleetwood alone hold down the rhythm – Green commented “Jeremy had a funny way of not being around the studio when we recorded my tracks!” – and Peter’s mellow, soulful voice alternates with his captivating “out-of-phase” guitar to create a thing of beauty. First class.
Trk. 3) “Long Grey Mare” is one of the few tracks that made it to release with Bob Brunning on bass. Based around a riff that’s nearly Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘Killing Floor,’ it’s very tight and clean, and Peter throws in some lovely acoustic harmonica. At least, I presume it’s Greeny who’s blowing harp, as he’s the only one credited. Donald Brackett, in his ‘Fleetwood Mac – 40 Years of Creative Chaos’ claims that this album was recorded “completely live, with no overdubbing whatsoever” – but that’s surely not Jeremy playing guitar? There’s a flourish of harp at the end that’s straight out of the Junior Wells songbook, and I suspect somebody had been listening to Junior’s seminal 1966 “Hoodoo Man Blues” LP.
Trk. 4) is Robert Johnson’s “Hell Hound On My Trail,” bizarrely credited to ‘Trad. Arr. Peter Green’ though he doesn’t even appear on it. Instead, it’s a solo performance from Spencer, who accompanies himself on rather halting piano and gets the words back to front. Jeremy’s closing admission that he didn’t know the words was faded out for the LP release, though it’s reinstated on the Remastered CD edition, where Vernon’s notes suggest that with hindsight “perhaps (this track) might have been replaced with an alternative title.” Nonetheless the warmth and simplicity conveys intimacy, and it makes an interesting change of pace and tone.
Trk. 5) Spencer covers Elmore’s classic “Shake Your Money Maker” and the band rips into it with even more energy that Elmore himself. In fact the guys get so carried away that they pick up speed quite noticeably, but their enthusiasm is so infectious that we don’t care.
Trk. 6) “Looking For Somebody.” Once again the band’s down to a trio, this time without a guitar in earshot. Fleetwood & McVie hold down the stark and compelling riff on this unusual 16 bar, which, despite its disguise, is another one of Peter’s beloved minor rumbas. Green’s harmonica work is concise and effective, and his impassioned voice conveys a genuine sense of emptiness and yearning as he sings “I got a feeling, Blues gonna be my only way.” He wasn’t wrong. Excellent, and completely original.
Trk. 1) This is Howlin’ Wolf’s “No Place To Go” (sometimes confusingly called ‘How Many More Years’ or ‘Wreck My Life’) a mesmerising, one-chord riff of a number where Green’s harp and vocal take centre stage. His only cover on this album (all his other tracks are self-composed) it’s a brave move, and it comes off surprisingly well.
Trk. 2) “My Baby’s Good to Me.” Spencer’s own composition’s very much in the mold of a standard Elmore James shuffle, though Green’s inventive rhythm guitar accentuates a loping beat and brings a new dimension to an otherwise predictable number. The online reviewer who described it as “a solid mid-tempo funk exercise” evidently has a whole different idea of what constitutes funk!
Trk. 3) “I Loved Another Woman.” We’re back to the trio, as Peter once more explores the fascination with minor rumbas that would eventually bring him to write the unforgettable ‘Black Magic Woman.’ Reminiscent in both style and subject of The Wolf’s ‘Who’s Been Talking,’ but in a very cool and restrained way, with beautiful fluid guitar lines peeping out from behind a heavy curtain of reverb. Moody and evocative.
Trk. 4 “Cold Black Night” is Spencer’s own equivalent of James’s ‘The Sky Is Crying,’ though it rather misses the sax and piano that traditionally filled out the gaps in Elmore’s slow Blues. A fade-out as Jeremy goes into his final solo disguises the fact that the original take collapsed before the end, but as it wasn’t unusual for one of Elmore’s slowies to be faded on a solo, the treatment’s not inappropriate.
Trk. 5) “The World Keep on Turning” Peter goes into what’s almost John Lee Hooker territory with this heartfelt solo acoustic Blues, and when he sings “nobody knows the way I feel” you can believe he means it. For all his skills as a guitarist, Green’s voice is his most convincing instrument. The real deal.
Trk. 6) “Got to Move.” After a fade-in intro, Jeremy sounds as effervescent as Elmore on this spirited James cover, and the whole band seems to be having a ball here. Mac roadie Hugh Pryce said: “Jeremy was absolutely fastidious about getting his Elmore James right down to a tee, and they’d sing their hearts out every night. I honestly don’t remember a bad gig or a poorly attended gig. ” A lively performance that ends this album on a suitably high note. “Fleetwood Mac” spent 40 weeks in the charts, peaking at No. 4.
Mick Fleetwood still recalls “Jeremy was the focal point onstage,” but however crowd-pleasing Spencer’s astonishing mimicry was, it’s Peter Green’s maturity and unfeigned emotion that carries the album. Green possessed an unique quality, both as a guitarist and a singer, as Mayall put it, “His emerging voice aspired to say as much as possible in a few well-chosen notes, delivered with a haunting, sweet yet melancholy tone.”
Brunning remembered “Peter’s sparse, emotive liquid guitar playing was moving to hear, and his voice too was already rich and full of feeling and power.” American Blues stars praised him, including famed guitarist BB King, who claimed “He has the sweetest tone I ever heard; he was the only one who gave me the cold sweats,” and pianist Eddie Boyd, who said succinctly “Peter’s a great Bluesman. He’s a negro turned inside out.”
Sandra Elsdon, his then girlfriend and the inspiration for “Black Magic Woman,” felt Green’s depth of feeling had its roots in the bigotry and prejudice he had suffered as a child. “Being Jewish, his parents and family really had a terrible time,” she said. “He was teased and taunted, and the scars were still there. And to me, those are Peter’s blues; the Blues for him are Jewish Blues.” Wherever they come from, they’re palpable throughout every song he sings here, and contribute to making this one of the Classic Albums of British Blues.
And on a final note, let’s hear it for Bob Brunning. I met Bob just once, when my band played his South London Blues Club, BB’s, and remember him as a charming and dapper old gent, who seemed to have shrunk considerably since the photos of him on stage with the Mac at Windsor. Sadly his musical legacy with the band has been reduced to three tracks – ‘Long Grey Mare’, ‘I Believe My Time Ain’t Long.’ and ‘Ramblin’ Pony’ (a re-working of the Baby Face Leroy Trio version of ‘Rollin’ & Tumblin” on which there is no bass.)
Beyond that there’s only Windsor – their set was bootlegged and can still be found on CD, though it doesn’t come cheap, and the audio quality is very poor – and their first date at the Marquee, which suffered similar treatment. Though these may be important historic documents, they’re not for the faint-hearted listener, and no reflection on Bob, who was a fine and capable bass player who remained active on the British Blues scene all his life. I’m indebted to the late Mr Brunning for his informative books ‘Blues: The British Connection,’ later adapted as ‘Blues In Britain,’ and ‘Behind The Masks,’ the story of Fleetwood Mac. Bob died in 2011 after a heart attack, aged 68. RIP Bob, and thanks for everything.
© Stevie King 2015 for the British Blues Archive.