Mick Fleetwood Looks Back on Fleetwood Mac's Early Days

With release of new band history 'Love That Burns,' drummer reflects on group's blues origins and why he owes everything to Peter Green

Ahead of 'Love That Burns,' a new book on Fleetwood Mac's early history, Mick Fleetwood discusses his relationship with Peter Green and more. Credit: Michael Putland

This Sunday, August 13th, marks the 50th anniversary of Fleetwood Mac. On that date in 1967, the band played their first ever show, alongside artists like Cream and Jeff Beck, at the Windsor Jazz & Blues Festival. But according to drummer Mick Fleetwood, even with their massive success in the years since, much of Fleetwood Mac's early history remains unknown to everyday fans, many of whom quite likely believe the band to have begun life in the mid-Seventies, with Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks at the helm. The drummer intends to shine a light on his band's oft-ignored formative years as a crack British blues outfit with a new book, Love That Burns: A Chronicle of Fleetwood Mac, Volume One 1967–1974, due September 19th from Genesis Publications. "It's about giving kudos to the founding fathers of a very strange journey that Fleetwood Mac ended up taking over the course of all these years," he tells Rolling Stone.

Those founding fathers include the founding father of Fleetwood Mac, guitarist and vocalist Peter Green, who formed the band with Fleetwood (the initial lineup was rounded out by guitarist Jeremy Spencer and bassist Bob Brunning; John McVie, the "Mac" in Fleetwood Mac, replaced Brunning not long after the Windsor gig) following a stint in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. They soon welcomed a third guitarist, Danny Kirwan, and achieved success in the U.K. with Green-penned songs like "Black Magic Woman," "Albatross" and "Oh Well." Over the next few years, the band cycled through members and musical styles; Green, Spencer and Kirwan each exited under unusual circumstances, among them psychological and emotional struggles exacerbated by drug and alcohol abuse, while later members like guitarists Bob Welch and Bob Weston and keyboardist and vocalist Christine McVie – who remains with Mac to this day – came in and helped to lead the band down new sonic paths. In late 1974, Fleetwood and the McVies were joined by Buckingham and Nicks, which is the point at which Love That Burns concludes. "That's why it's called Volume One," Fleetwood says. "And hopefully there will be a Volume Two that will pick up from there. But I wanted this to be a separate story, because it is an important story in its own right."

In Love That Burns, this story is afforded a gorgeous presentation. Fleetwood's insightful and sometimes humorous first-person account of the band's origins is fleshed out by more than 400 stunning (and in some cases never-before-published) images, as well as intimate archival material and rare memorabilia. There are also additional recollections from those close to the band at the time, including John Mayall and early Mac members Jeremy Spencer, Christine McVie, John McVie and the rarely-heard-from Peter Green himself. It's all gathered together in an exquisitely produced large-format tome that is limited to just 2,000 copies, each one signed by Fleetwood himself. "A lot of care and a lot of love went into this, and I give kudos to Genesis for that," Fleetwood says. "They don't do it unless it's done right. And there aren't hundreds of thousands of these books that are going to be made. So it really is a labor of love that something like this gets to exist, and it also is great to know that this story can be told, and anybody who has an interest in it can now know about it.

"To me, selfishly, that was an important thing," Fleetwood continues. "Because you know, at some point in the next few years Fleetwood Mac will bonk it on the head. We probably won't be active. So there is some relevance to starting to tell this story. And this book, as with any type of chronicle, contains all of those potions of magic moments, of sad moments, all the moments that unfold when you're doing something like this. It's like going through an old family album. It's been a trip, and I'm so glad we've done it. And I hope we've done it beautifully."

With Love That Burns you clearly want to bring attention to the early history of Fleetwood Mac, a period that, at least in America, isn't very well known.
No doubt. I'm hoping this tells exactly that story, and that's why the book is dedicated to Peter Green, who started the band with me in 1967. He is the reason I'm here and the reason there is a band called Fleetwood Mac. So all of that is pregnant with having put this book together. And the hope is that someone who doesn't know that story will read about it here and they'll find it quite intriguing. And Genesis Publications, you know, they're certainly up there in that special area where there are only a few publishers that do books like this. In this day and age, it's sort of refreshing, to be quite candid. I almost don't know how any of that type of approach is even surviving anywhere on this planet right now, where it's all this "here today, gone tomorrow" mentality. What we've done is an art book, really.

There are so many spectacular photos in the book. Tracking down and sorting through all the images, and likely coming across many that you hadn't seen in a long time, if ever, must have been pretty intense.
Absolutely, 100 percent. And it was revealing. We tried to tell the story with pictures that mean a shit to the story of Fleetwood Mac, and I had to rein myself in so that I wasn't overloading the book with stuff that was only relevant to me. There are pictures in there that selfishly do tell a story to me, because I am sort of the maître d' of putting it together. And that makes it personal to an extent. But I had to watch out that I wasn't being too reactive on a personal level. But, yes, it was an extraordinary experience. There are things like the [1969] Chess recording sessions, where we found all these photographs that I hadn't seen before. I knew there was a few on our album, Blues Jam at Chess, but to get a hold of the original photographer and have him spew out all these images ...

Those photos are particularly striking.
We paid quite a lot of attention to that section. Because at the very beginning we were a bunch of kids that just loved playing blues, and we were blessed with being able to go to Chess. And that strongly resonates in those pictures. You know, I don't think about it every day, but to realize, there we were, Peter [Green], Jeremy [Spencer], Danny [Kirwan], John [McVie] and myself, with Willie Dixon and Buddy Guy and Shakey Horton and a bunch of other great dudes, that's a powerful ... that's probably the most powerful part of what I think this book is. For someone who knows nothing about this band it tells you a lot. It's like, "Wow, I never knew that!" But we were a blues band. This is what started Fleetwood Mac.

"Love That Burns" is a Fleetwood Mac song from the Peter Green era. Why did you choose to use it as the title of the book?
We came with different ideas for titles and I suddenly went, "'Love That Burns.' ..." It seemed so relevant to the whole story of Fleetwood Mac. It's a beautiful song that Peter sang and played and has always been one of my favorites. And when I spoke to Peter, I will never forget what he said to me. I don't talk to him every day, and his life took a turn that in a way took him out of my life, sadly. He's not the Peter that I originally knew. He's OK ... but he's not OK, you know? A bit of both. But we got on the phone, and one part of our conversation, I said to him, "We knew each other, we played with John Mayall, we played in a band before that. But, Peter, why did you ask me to be at your side playing drums [in what became Fleetwood Mac]?" Because after John Mayall, Peter was almost forced to put a band together by a bunch of agent thugs. He was sort of told, "You're like the new Eric Clapton," or whatever all those corny phrases were. But he just wanted to go to Morocco and hang out like Brian Jones, you know? And of course that didn't happen. So he asked me to join him. 

And probably somewhere in there I was thinking to myself, "Well, you had the chops and you could play the blues ... you were the man!" And it was nothing of the sort. After I'd asked the question, Peter said, "Yeah, you were really unhappy, Mick." He said, "Think about it. You'd just broken up with Jenny" – my first love, who I later married and had two lovely children with – "and you were so sad, Mick. And lost. I just thought you needed to do something." And of course, it was true! That, to me, is "Love That Burns," you know? It wasn't about the music. It was about, he was my friend. I thought that was really powerful and extremely moving.

In addition to all the photos, there are some great first-person interviews and recollections in the book.
Absolutely. Think of me sitting with John Mayall. If it hadn't been for John Mayall, you go, "Wow, maybe none of this would have happened." You know, John [McVie], Peter and myself were all in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. And, by the way, people always assume that we all sort of left John Mayall to form Fleetwood Mac. It was nothing of the sort. I got fired from John Mayall's band for being too drunk and all that. John [McVie] stayed with John Mayall, and Peter formed with me the beginnings of Fleetwood Mac. Then John came with us, and Jeremy [Spencer] and later on Danny [Kirwan] came in. It's a fascinating story. And to sit there talking with John Mayall, and get his slant on what was happening ... it was like sitting with an old college mate or a childhood friend. When you get together you go, "Oh, my God! Of course! That's what happened!"

As the book touches on, Peter, Jeremy and Danny each exited Fleetwood Mac while dealing with mental and emotional issues. It must give you pause to have witnessed this happen with three vital band members. Do you ever wonder what might have caused this, or do you chalk it up to coincidence?
Well, I hope to God it is coincidence, or me and John [McVie] need to go to a church and get down on our knees and pray for forgiveness! But if you look at what happened later [with Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham], which is not part of this book, that's pretty bizarre too, you know? The latter-day stories of Fleetwood Mac, that in truth continue to this day, you look at that and you think, "How the hell can any of this survive?" So I don't know how to address that other than that it's heartbreaking and you have to get over it. You have to let go of it. And so this book is about paying kudos to who these people are and not getting into the drama of what we're talking about now. I did not want that to be in there. And it's not in there. Rather, it's all about the special part of what everyone had to offer. But you're right, it has been a reminder of what happened. Talking to Danny [Kirwan]'s ex-wife ... you know, it's not a happy story for Danny. And there's nothing one can do about it. But I think it's even more of a reminder to pick your trousers up, brush yourself off and say, "But look at the amazing music Danny put together. Look at what he put into Fleetwood Mac." This guy was extraordinarily talented. So the hope was to celebrate all these players that have come through Fleetwood Mac. These are the founding fathers of this band.

Peter and Jeremy were both interviewed for the book, but Danny's voice is absent. Was there an attempt to reach out to him?
There was. And he ... his wife did it. Claire did it.

There has been talk over the years of a reunion of the original Fleetwood Mac. Is that something you still hold out hope might happen one day?
It's actually not. Mainly because I went there many years ago. We got into it and we were going to put a whole thing together at the [Royal] Albert Hall. This is years and years and years ago. Probably about 15 years ago. And right at the last minute, Peter, in the world that he lives in, just suddenly pulled out. "I don't wanna do it. ..." Suddenly it was not a good idea. And we had put a whole bunch of things together, I had even booked the venue. So I would never do that again. Because I don't want it to be a pressure, you know? Having said that, my dream with this book coming out, and I'm working really hard, is that there will be a lovely show where a few people that mean a damn can come out and pay quiet kudos and tribute to Peter. Maybe we could pull off a short tour in England, or something like that. That would be my dream.

As much as Love That Burns is a tribute to Peter, one thing that also comes across in the pages is how much reverence you have for another of your bandmates, John McVie. Which is illuminating, as we don't hear much from him or about him. He tends to stay in the shadows.
That's how he likes it [laughs].

You're giving him the recognition he doesn't seem to be so concerned with garnering for himself.
Very much so. He's my dearest friend. He's ... he's Johnny Mac. And you're right. He's very understated. But my hope is that John would celebrate all the things this book represents. Because it's his story, too. We've been there the whole time, for 50 years. John is my partner. And we huff and puff and do our thing, but I hope when he opens this book that he's really pleased with it. If this ends up on his desk in his office, not relegated to the dustbin, I'll be happy [laughs].

It's been 50 years since Fleetwood Mac began. Is it amazing to you to look back and realize it's lasted this long?
It is. And this book has become like an old friend, really, where it's triggered all sorts of things. I just turned 70, and during this process, it gave me huge pause about from whence I have come. It must, unless you're completely insensitive. And in truth I'm probably, as John would say, too much of a drama queen. Indulging in too much sort of Irish bursting into tears and stuff [laughs]. But I'm happy to be that person. And certainly, this book, I don't like to live in the past, but it's been really useful for me, and I am proud of the fact that there has been and is a band called Fleetwood Mac. Because at the beginning we were this funny bunch of English kids, amongst many others, that ostensibly had a love for a genre of music that really no one gave a shit about. And we were part of this group of bands that really had such a huge effect – certainly, at that point in time, a way bigger effect than us bunch. Bands like Eric [Clapton] and Cream, Led Zeppelin, the Yardbirds, the Rolling Stones. 

But this is our story. And the band changed so much. If you look at the Rolling Stones – and it's just a "for instance," no comparison – they're always the Rolling Stones. But if you look at Fleetwood Mac, it's like, "Wow, they did that? And then they became this?" It's a pretty unique story. It's not like the band stayed the same. The style changed. The people changed. Me and John have hung in there since the beginning, but it's a lot different. And Bob Welch, Bob Weston, all the others that were there, they're all mentioned in this book. And rightly so. They're all part of this story right up to when Stevie and Lindsey joined. And that's where the book cuts off. Because it's about what came before.

And you know, the ups and downs of any band, the good and the bad of it, that is not unique property for really anyone, when it comes down to it. But the actual variety of what happened to Fleetwood Mac? That is quite unique. That is powerfully unique. And to know how that funny story started is what Love That Burns is all about.