SAN FRANCISCO – Christine McVie glanced up from her drink in the hotel bar, a look of surprise on her face. "You know, you're the second person today who's told me he thought Bob Welch was hogging the show," said Fleetwood Mac's attractive blond keyboard player. "It never struck me that much until the Don Kirshner TV show we did last fall. When I saw that, I said, 'Hang on a minute. Am I in the band?'"
Bob Welch has moved increasingly into a position of dominance within the band since replacing Jeremy Spencer – who disappeared mysteriously in Los Angeles in early 1971, only to turn up with the Children of God. By last year Welch was playing lead guitar, cowriting and singing most of the group's material and running the stage show. The rest of the band, especially McVie, their other singer/songwriter, was pushed into the background.
"I don't know how it really happened," McVie added. "I guess I let myself get pushed back. Bob Welch was such an energetic, speedy guy. I was happy to let him do all the work. It just boiled down to basic laziness on my part. Anyway, it's a lot more balanced now."
"It wasn't any conscious ego thing on his part," added drummer Mick Fleetwood, "but we definitely drifted into doing too many of Bob's songs onstage. We should have been using Chris a lot more."
When Welch suddenly and unexpectedly quit last New Year's Eve, he left a sizable hole. For many groups it might have signaled the end of a career. But throughout their turbulent eight-year history, Fleetwood Mac has exhibited an uncanny instinct for survival. After making their reputation as a hard English blues band, they managed to shrug off the loss of their remarkable guitar-playing duo of Spencer and Peter Green, and made the radical switch to ballads and soft rock to suit their personnel. When their manager, Clifford Davis, sent another group out on the road with the name Fleetwood Mac, they fired him, obtained a temporary injunction against his use of the name, and have managed themselves ever since. So Welch's departure was just one more in a long line of setbacks to overcome.
Within two months of his leaving they were in the studio with two new members, guitarist Lindsey Buckingham and vocalist Stephanie (Stevie) Nicks, recording a new album called Fleetwood Mac, which shows signs of being their most successful effort since the release of Bare Trees three years ago.
Mick Fleetwood actually heard a tape of their Polydor album, Buckingham-Nicks, the week before Welch quit; when there was an opening, he thought of them and played their record for John and Christine McVie and they all invited Lindsey and Stevie to join the band without ever having played with them onstage.
"It just felt right," explained Christine. "This is an impulsive band."
At the time Lindsey and Stevie were languishing in Los Angeles, having been dropped by Polydor after the poor sales of their album. They were in the midst of recording a demonstration tape when the offer from Fleetwood Mac came out of nowhere. Lindsey intimated that their acceptance of the offer was surprisingly less than automatic.
"We were really excited about our tapes, and I wasn't so thrilled about what Fleetwood Mac had done in the years with Bob Welch. But then we thought about the benefits and said, 'Of course.' I think it's working out well for all of us."
Lindsey brings to the band a lyrically powerful guitar style and a strong sense of melody. Stevie's vocals are twangy, with an edge that provides a pleasant contrast to Christine's smoothness. Onstage at a recent Oakland Stadium gig, Lindsey proved himself a more fluent live guitarist than Welch; the band alternately cooked and glided through a diversified set of old Peter Green favorites and middle-period Christine McVie songs, and introduced the songwriting talents of its new members.
Four classic Christine McVie compositions provide a sense of continuity for the new album and Lindsey and Stevie's bouncy songs fit in well, superimposed over the steady Fleetwood/McVie rhythm section.
The album's initial success has come as a bit of a surprise to the group.
"Why?" Mick Fleetwood asked. "I don't know why. I guess the time is just right for us. When we made that album we were barely conversant with each other musically. Under the circumstances we're very pleased, but by the next time we should be much more of a unit."
Meanwhile the group's lawsuit against Clifford Davis drags on in the English courts and will probably not come to trial for another year. They are suing on three counts: for the ultimate right to the use of the name, for the return of their publishing rights, and for their expenditure of time and money, the loss of revenues and the damage to their name – which they've spent the last 18 months trying to repair. Some promoters have agreed with the group's contention that audiences who came to see Davis' group were being deceived and that the whole episode has damaged the credibility of the Fleetwood Mac name.
Davis's contention has been that he owned the rights to the name and, in fact, that question remains to be resolved by the courts, since, according to Fleetwood, a trademark on the name was never taken out, either by the group or the manager.
In an interview taped last year Davis claimed, "I just decided to change the band, certainly onstage, and that's what I did. I've always been sort of the leader. I've always sort of picked out who was going to be in it and who wasn't."
Mick Fleetwood vociferously denied that Davis had ever been involved in choosing personnel or in any other artistic decision. His anger clearly shows through when he discusses the subject.
"Davis picked a time when I was having a nervous breakdown to pull this," he said, choking on his words. "He must have been planning it; he did it so quickly.
"At the time we had no knowledge of our legal rights and he thought we'd just let it slip, like so many other musicians who've let themselves be taken advantage of.
"We'd like to get it over with. It's a negative thing hanging around our necks but we're taking it to court. Part of it is just cold business but it does also involve moral pride. I hope this will set an example."
This story is from the September 25th, 1975 issue of Rolling Stone.