The Blues has always been popular in England. Performers like Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Howlin’ Wolf and even Freddie King and Bo Diddley were stars in England before making it big in their own country. When John Mayall formed the Bluesbreakers it was out of respect and admiration to those performers; and he’s stayed with the blues, cultivating a number of fine young blues musicians including guitarists Eric Clapton and Peter Green. After Clapton left Mayall, moving on to form Cream, Peter Green replaced him. Now Green has formed his own group, Fleetwood Mac (along with another former Bluesbreaker, bassist John McVie).
Whereas Clapton expanded onto new horizons with Cream, Green has chosen to remain dedicated to the blues, and on this, their first recorded effort, Fleetwood Mac have established themselves as another tight English blues band — joining Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Ten Years After and Savoy Brown as chief practitioners of blues in England.
Green, like Mayall, has studied the records and performances of Howlin’ Wolf, Memphis Slim, Junior Wells and Elmore James carefully. The piano riffs on “Hellbound on My Trail” are lifted directly from Slim’s classic “If You See Kay,” but it’s done well, if perhaps a little too self-consciously. Fleetwood Mac (the name is a combination of the names of members of the group), know what they’re doing, they dig the music they’re playing and that’s great — but the drawback here is that they don’t put enough of themselves into it instead of what they’ve heard from the original artists.
Green is a more than competent guitar player, and the Mac’s treatment of “Shake Your Moneymaker” is just as powerful as the first Butterfield version (on the Paul Butterfield Blues Band album). The harp work is proficient in most places but rather weak on “Got to Move,” the old Sonny Boy Williamson song. Green’s composition “Long Grey Mare” is one of the best cuts on the album, anchored by McVie’s strong bass line. The record has a strange, prematurely vintage (if there can be such a thing) sound to it, like an old classic recording made in the late Forties or early Fifties.
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Like most modern white bluesmen, Fleetwood Mac try very hard to live the kind of music they play — not picking cotton in the Delta, but maintaining the hard-life blues tradition, gigging at small clubs in Northern England and in scruffy halls in the East End. Their music retains an unaffected rough quality. They play well, and if it sounds a little scratchy at times it’s because that’s the way they happen to feel at that particular moment. The licks they’ve copied from other performers are natural enough — it’s more of a tribute than an imitation.
The English continue to prove how well into the blues they really are, and know how to lay it down and shove it back across the Atlantic. Fleetwood Mac are representative of how far the blues has penetrated — far enough for a group of London East-Enders to have cut a record potent enough to make the South Side of Chicago take notice.