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Fleetwood Mac Flak: Manager Takes Name, Not Members, On Tour

And then there were none

Bob Weston, Christine McVie, Bob Welch, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood
Michael Putland/Getty Images
February 28, 1974

NEW YORK — When is a Fleetwood Mac not a Fleetwood Mac? Although there is a band called Fleetwood Mac currently in the midst of a two and a half month US tour, that question is puzzling some promoters, some fans and Warner Bros. – all of whom thought Fleetwood Mac was Mick Fleetwood (drums), Bob Welch (guitar, vocals), John McVie (bass), Christine McVie (vocals, keyboards) and Bob Weston (vocals, guitar).

About the only person who isn't pondering the question is Clifford Davis, manager of Fleetwood Mac. In the dressing room at Howard Stein's Academy of Music where the band was to play their seventh gig on the tour on January 26th – Davis introduced a band which did not have one member of the Fleetwood Mac last seen or heard on tour or album.

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"I want to get this out of the public's mind as far as the band being Mick Fleetwood's band," said Davis. "This band is my band. This band has always been my band."

The band Davis has on the road now is composed of musicians named Elmer Gantry (lead singer), Kirby (guitar), Paul Martinez (bass), David Wilkinson (piano) and Craig Collinge (drums). The drummer, according to Davis, substituted at the last moment for Mick Fleetwood on this tour. It was at the end of the last tour in August, said Davis, that "I just decided it was time 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 who was going to be in it and who wasn't. I decided to keep Mick."

But, Davis claimed, trouble at home forced Mick to fly right back to England the day after he arrived in America on January 13th, so Davis quickly flew over Craig, a friend of the other musicians, to fill in. Davis said that before each show he is informing the audience that Mick had personal problems and had to return home. However, informed sources say that Fleetwood was never booked to fly to America and that he did not come to the States at all. Bob Welch, the American guitarist who joined Fleetwood two and a half years ago when original member Jeremy Spencer found God in Los Angeles, denied the whole Davis story and at presstime was en route to England to meet with Fleetwood, the McVies, Weston and lawyers to straighten the whole matter out.

Said Welch on the phone before he left California: "It is a rip-off. The manager put together a group real fast using the name Fleetwood Mac before we had a chance to do anything about it."

According to Welch, the band stopped touring last October because Mick was in the process of getting a divorce and they all needed a rest. While the band was in various countries on vacation, Welch said, "We all got letters from Clifford Davis indicating his intentions to put a new band back on the road. He issued an ultimatum to all of us. In effect, what happened was that we got offered gigs, which is not really his place to do.

"We said, 'Well, hell, we're not going to do that. We want to go back on the road in such-and-such length of time.' Nobody accepted the offer, and so the guy proceeded to get together another band, and he worked with ATI, the agency, and they went out to grab the big bucks."

Fleetwood Mac's agent, Bruce Payne, denied the story, ascribing it to the original group's "bitterness." He backed up Davis' story about Mick Fleetwood's sudden departure.

At Warner Bros. in Burbank, Don Schmitzerle, executive director, label management, has been on the case. "I'm in the midst of trying to find out who has exclusivity on the name," he said. Until then, the record company can do nothing.

"To the band's thinking," said Welch, "that's kind of beside the point. If he [Davis] has the rights to the band's name, theoretically he can put anybody there. He can put four dogs barking on a leash and call it Fleetwood Mac. Basically what it boils down to is the manager flipped his lid. We're going to take legal action as soon as we know where we can take it from."

Davis, who has been Fleetwood's manager from the start in 1967, emphasizes time and again, "I've always been the leader of the band as such. A lot of people over the years have misconstrued the Fleetwood Mac as Fleetwood and McVie. 'Fleetwood Mac' was a song written by Peter Green when he was with John Mayall." In fact, Davis points out, McVie was not the group's first bass player but a guy named Bob Brunning was, and so, technically, Mick Fleetwood is the only original member left. However, it was McVie on bass when the band made its first album, Fleetwood Mac, released early in 1968.

Davis' troubles started at the first date in Pittsburgh when promoter Rich Engler discovered that the Fleetwood Mac who had arrived for the gig was not the group he knew. Engler and his partner complained to the manager, to no avail. No announcement was made of the changes, but as soon as the began to play, about a dozen Fleetwood fans demanded refunds. Engler and partner Pat DiCesare gave the money back when Davis refused.

By the time Howard Stein heard about the new Fleetwood, the Academy was already nearly sold out. When Stein had presented the Byrds at the Academy, he knew in advance they were all new musicians and in his ads he listed each musician's name to inform the public. But in the case of Fleetwood there wasn't enough time, so he arranged for Davis to make an announcement before the show that there would be all new musicians in the band and that Mick Fleetwood couldn't make it. Stein was going to offer refunds to anyone not satisfied.

But a half hour before they were scheduled to go on, it seemed that the vocalist Elmer had lost his voice.

"This has never happened to me before," Elmer said in a raspy voice. He claimed that he had been trying all day to hit notes but he just couldn't do it.

Frantic huddles took place between Davis, Payne, house manager Terry Holmes and Stein's assistant Jane Rose. Stein himself was in Miami promoting another show. It seems Elmer had performed without any difficulties the night before in Potsdam, New York, but on the day of the Academy gig – one, incidentally, where the press would be watching this Fleetwood Mac – he had come down with a bad throat. Elmer had no idea when it would get better. The doctor had told him it was inflamed and given him antibiotics. But, no one had told the Academy promoters about this until the band actually arrived at the house in the middle of the second band's set. Not only had this situation never arisen before at the Academy, but the usual practice in case of illness is for the band to inform the promoter before the show. Had the promoter known even an hour before showtime, the entire show could have been canceled and all tickets refunded.

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While discussions raged in the office, most of the 3400 people in the house listened to records and sat passively watching as all equipment was cleared from the stage. Finally, Davis and Payne decided to put the band on without a vocalist just to jam. Stein reportedly convinced them by phone that if they didn't go on at all there'd be a real crowd problem. The audience had already sat through Kiss and Silverhead.

And so Holmes made the announcement that Mick Fleetwood had personal problems and left for England and that the singer had lost his voice. The band would still jam but anyone who wasn't satisfied could leave within the next 15 minutes and get a refund. A few boos greeted the announcement, a few cries of "Fleetwood Mac" penetrated the air but most of the audience stayed and listened to a half hour of some basic boogie jamming. Only about 800 people asked for refunds. A few minutes after midnight, Davis took the microphone and told the audience, "We're going to try to work out something with the promoter to come back in March."

But by March Fleetwood Mac could be a whole other cast of characters. Before Bob Welch flew off to England to rejoin his colleagues and meet with lawyers, he left word: "The tide seems to be turning."

This story is from the February 28th, 1974 issue of Rolling Stone.


To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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