Broken Chain: A History of Fleetwood Mac Firings and Departures
Over its 50-year history, Fleetwood Mac has seen just about as many people come and go as the Harlem Globetrotters. Drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie have been there from the start – the group’s moniker is a combination of their last names – but they’ve had a hell of a time holding onto guitarists and singers. The latest stunning development is the firing of Lindsey Buckingham and the addition of Mike Campbell and Neil Finn as touring members. Here’s a guide to the rotating crew of musicians have been come and gone from Fleetwood Mac over the decades (though we’re skipping some fringe members so this doesn’t become longer than Tusk).
Peter Green (1966 to 1971)
Fleetwood Mac suffered its first serious blow in May 1970 when founding guitarist/vocalist Peter Green walked out. He was their primary songwriter, churning out classics like “Black Magic Woman” and “Oh Well” in a short period of time. But success didn’t agree with him and after a few years he was wearing robes, growing his hair long and preaching against the dangers of money. (His steady diet of LSD played no small role in all of this.) In 1970, he quit the band and disappeared from the public eye, eventually ending up in a mental institution.
Jeremy Spencer (1967 to 1971)
Guitarist Jeremy Spencer joined Fleetwood Mac as a second guitarist soon after the band’s formation, but he never really got along with Green. Things came to a head on a 1971 U.S. tour where he got a little too into mescaline and became a devout reader of the Bible. By that point, he’d grown very disillusioned with life on the road and his role within the band. He was more than happy to leave when he came across the religious cult Children of God. The group begged him not to go, but Spencer was a child of God at that point. There was no going back.
Danny Kirwan (1968 to 1972)
As Green became less reliable, Fleetwood Mac brought on guitarist Danny Kirwan. By the late-1960s, he was writing many of their hits, including “The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown),” but he had a hard time getting along with Green and the rest of the group. He began drinking heavily and the group fired him after he got into a nasty backstage brawl with American guitarist Bob Welch in 1972.
Bob Welch (1971 to 1974)
The group had the unenviable task of finding replacements for Spencer and Green, but in 1971 they brought Welch into the group. It was the beginning of a whole new era for the band, taking them away from their blues-rock roots into a more mainstream arena-rock direction. Welch’s three years in the band were a blur of recording sessions and long tours. He penned many memorable songs, including “Sentimental Lady,” but he began drinking heavily and the long tours put an untenable strain on his marriage. After a couple of tense years, he quit in late 1974.
Dave Walker (1972 to 1973)
Guitarist Dave Walker had a very brief run in Fleetwood Mac. They brought him in to play on 1973’s Penguin after Kirwan left, but the band quickly surmised that he wasn’t the right fit and gave him his walking papers just a few months later. Today, he’s best known for very briefly fronting Black Sabbath in late 1977 when Ozzy Osbourne left the band. He left when Ozzy came back. Poor guy. He just couldn’t catch a break.
Bob Weston (1972 to 1973)
The Rumours-era ineup of Fleetwood Mac gets all the attention for being a soap opera, but things got pretty sordid in 1973 when new guitarist Bob Weston had an affair with Mick Fleetwood’s wife Jenny Boyd. The group somehow made it to the end of a tour after Fleetwood learned what happened, but the band sacked Weston when it concluded. If the band thought things would smooth out internally when Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined the next year, they were very, very wrong.
Billy Burnette (1987 to 1995)
Fleetwood Mac had a major problem on their hands when Lindsey Buckingham walked away from the group following the release of 1987’s Tango in the Night. The album was a big hit and a tour was in the works, but they hadn’t played a show without Buckingham since he joined in late 1974. Nobody else in the band was willing to see the group die, so they hired guitar virtuoso Billy Burnette and hit the arena circuit. He stuck around through the lean years that followed when Nicks exited and the group was left opening for REO Speedwagon, but they had no use for him once Nicks and Buckingham returned in 1996 for The Dance.
Stevie Nicks (1974 to 1990, 1996 to present)
Fleetwood Mac limped forward after Buckingham left in 1987, but their 1990 LP Mask stiffed in record stores. It was the first bomb of the Nicks era. They supported it with a long arena tour, but when it wrapped, Nicks decided it was time to devote herself fully to her solo career. She was also dealing with a severe drug problem and needed time to herself. Just six years later, however, 1970s reunion tours were all the rage. She came back for The Dance and never left again.
Bekka Bramlett (1993 to 1995)
Bekka Bramlett has the rare distinction of having two rock star parents: Delaney Bramlett and Bonnie Bramlett. (The duo fronted pop group Delaney & Bonnie and Friends, whose members included Eric Clapton, George Harrison and Duane and Gregg Allman.) If that didn’t put enough expectations on her, she accepted the impossible task of taking on Nicks’ role in Fleetwood Mac for the 1995 album Time and subsequent tour. Night after night, she walked onto the stage and sang the hell out of “Rhiannon” and “Gold Dust Woman,” but nobody does Stevie like Stevie. Mick Fleetwood said years later that he should have ended the band rather than continue with replacements. Bramlett went on to have a long career as a backup singer.
Christine McVie (1970 to 1998, 2014 to present)
John McVie brought his new wife Christine into Fleetwood Mac in 1970 following her successful stint in the blues band Chicken Shack. Her voice became a key part of the Fleetwood Mac sound and she more than held her own in the Rumours era, writing “Songbird,” “You Make Loving Fun” and many others. She stayed all through the rough times in the mid-1990s, but after The Dance tour, she wanted to get off the road and couldn’t be talked into doing otherwise. She came back in 2014 after her marriage fell apart and she recovered from her fear of flying.
Dave Mason (1993 to 1995)
In 1993, Fleetwood Mac needed a big-name star to join Fleetwood Mac after Buckingham and Nicks left. Traffic’s Dave Mason was eager for steady work and a paycheck, so he took the gig. It led to a summer playing Fleetwood Mac songs at state fairs, but the group never really gelled. People want to see members of Traffic play Traffic songs. They want to see members of Fleetwood Mac play Fleetwood Mac songs. You can’t mix and match them like cogs in a machine.
Lindsey Buckingham (1974 to 1987, 1996 to 2018)
We’re still waiting on details of Buckingham’s departure, but it’s no secret that it’s always been a struggle for him to co-exist in a band with his ex-girlfriend. The legend of Nicks grows every year and she did a huge arena tour last year with the Pretenders. It showed that people will show up in droves just for her. That same time, the Eagles were making enormous money with Vince Gill and Deacon Frey. It was likely enough to convince promoters that Fleetwood Mac minus Buckingham was still something that would generate a ton of money. Also, it paves the way for a big reunion tour in a few years. In the world of Fleetwood Mac, if you played on Rumours, they are always willing to let you back in.
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