Fleetwood Mac Lineup Changes: A Complete Guide
If you want to talk about a tree with many branches and deep roots, let’s talk Fleetwood Mac lineup changes. Since their inception back in 1967, this ever-evolving group has thrived, dived, and survived. Though they have gone through many changes over the past 48 years, the two constants for every twist and turn have been drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie. Initially, they led Fleetwood Mac along the blues rails then into pop stardom, with more than their share of drama along the way. If you’ve had trouble keeping up, we present Fleetwood Mac Lineup Changes: A Complete Guide.
In the summer of 1967, guitarist Peter Green and drummer Mick Fleetwood left John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers to form their own band. They wanted to bring along bassist John McVie, but he was reluctant to leave the steady gig. Bob Brunning came along instead, along with guitarist Jeremy Spencer, completing the first entry in our Fleetwood Mac Lineup Changes: A Complete Guide. Their name was taken from an instrumental jam that Green, McVie and Fleetwood recorded with Mayall. Though McVie didn’t jump ship right away, a confident Green told Fleetwood, “Don’t worry, McVie will come in time. The writing’s on the wall,” according to Fleetwood’s book, ‘My 25 Years In Fleetwood Mac.’ By the end of September, Green’s prediction had, in fact, come true.
With the lineup solidified, Fleetwood Mac set out to make their mark trading in down and dirty blues. Though Green apparently disliked the idea of being cast as a guitar god, there was no denying his skills. Fans, in fact, had already updated the famous “Clapton is God” graffiti, adding “Peter Green is better than God.” This lineup recorded a pair of albums in 1968, ‘Fleetwood Mac,’ and ‘Mr. Wonderful,’ featuring original songs from Green and Jeremy Spencer as well as blues standards from Elmore James and Robert Johnson.
Feeling awkward about being the center of attention, Green brought in Danny Kirwan toward the end of 1968. He changed the band’s dynamic, as both guitarist and songwriter. This five-man entry from our Fleetwood Mac Lineup Changes: A Complete Guide would not only expand on the ideas put forth on the first two albums, but would also make the pop charts with the hits ‘Albatross’ and ‘Man Of The World.’ Their album ‘Then Play On’ remains one of Fleetwood Mac’s finest efforts. The follow up singles ‘Oh Well’ and ‘The Green Manalishi (With The Two Pronged Crown)’ were unlike anything they’d attempted before. Sadly, it would also mark the end for Peter Green, who left due to various issues with drugs and religion.
Now down to a four piece, the group soldiered on. Abandoning the heavy blues path they had been on, the ‘Kiln House’ album drew heavily from early rock and roll influences. The album featured an uncredited Christine McVie on piano and backing vocals. In early 1971, prior to a gig at the Whisky A-Go-Go in Los Angeles, Jeremy Spencer went off to visit a book store. He never came back, and the show was cancelled. As it turned out, Spencer had joined a religious group called the Children Of God. Fleetwood managed to convince Peter Green to return in order to complete the tour, though that reunion proved short lived.
Bob Welch went a long way toward providing Fleetwood Mac with needed stability. The California-born guitarist had made the rounds in various bands before the group’s secretary suggested him for the gig. Two fine albums emerged from this period, 1971’s ‘Future Games’ and 1972’s ‘Bare Trees.’ Ultimately, Welch would help guide them toward the more melodic sound now widely associated with Fleetwood Mac.
Danny Kirwan was not Bob Welch’s biggest fan, and the two routinely butted heads. By the time Kirwan was booted in 1972, he’d alienated himself to the point where only Fleetwood would talk to him. Bob Weston took over on guitar, while Dave Walker was briefly added on vocals. The resulting album ‘Penguin’ only included two Walker vocals, and he departed not long afterward.
Back to a five-piece, Fleetwood Mac rebounded nicely with the ‘Mystery To Me’ album in 1973. ‘Hypnotized’ became a stalwart on FM radio, if not a charting hit, while tracks written by Welch and Christine McVie hinted at the successes to come. Unfortunately, in another precursor to future Fleetwood Mac storylines, Bob Weston was caught in an affair with Mick Fleetwood’s wife. The lineup fell apart, and their manager laid claim to the band’s name. He then rounded up a batch of replacement players and put them on the road as Fleetwood Mac. The original members ultimately won an injuction that halted this charade, and Fleetwood Mac moved their operations to America.
Relocated to California, Fleetwood Mac recorded ‘Heroes Are Hard To Find,’ their first U.S. Top 40 album. But another round of relentless touring, low-paying gigs, and internal frustrations sent the group into rebuilding mode again when Welch got frustrated and quit. He later scored a Top 10 solo hit with ‘Sentimental Lady,’ originally found on Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Bare Trees’ and now featuring both Christine McVie and Lindsey Buckingham on backup vocals.
When Welch split, Mick Fleetwood remembered hearing Buckingham Nicks’ song ‘Frozen Love’ while visiting Sound City Studios in Los Angeles in early 1974. He’d been particularly taken by Lindsey Buckingham’s guitar and vocals. Fleetwood tracked down Buckingham, only to find that he and girlfriend Stevie Nicks were a package item. “Right,” Fleetwood said. “We’ll take ’em both!” That simple twist of fate completed the most recognizable edition in this Fleetwood Mac Lineup Changes: A Complete Guide.
By the early ’80s, Fleetwood Mac had amassed huge sales, sellout tours and previously unimagined critical acclaim. ‘Fleetwood Mac’ and, in particular, ‘Rumours’ became touchstone recordings of the era. That allowed them to experiment with ‘Tusk,’ even as the various members released solo recordings. An increasingly restless Buckingham officially departed in 1987, on the eve of a tour in support of ‘Tango In The Night.’ Fleetwood Mac replaced him with two guitarists, Billy Burnette and Rick Vito. Together, they recorded 1990’s ‘Behind the Mask,’ which hit in the U.K. but barely made a dent in America.
Rick Vito left in 1991 but, more significantly, so did Stevie Nicks — and Fleetwood Mac went dark for a time. When the group reformed, it was with a new vocalist and guitarist. Bekka Bramlett is the daughter of the famous duo Delaney and Bonnie, who gained fame in the ’70s for work with Eric Clapton and Duane Allman, among others. Dave Mason had established a successful solo career after a stint in Traffic. Unfortunately, 1995’s ‘Time’ is probably best known as the worst-selling Fleetwood Mac album, after it failed to chart at all in the U.S. Bramlett, Burnette and Mason exited thereafter.
A one-off performance on January 19, 1993 featuring Buckingham, Nicks, McVie, Fleetwood and McVie at President Bill Clinton’s inaugural gala found the classic-era lineup together on stage for the first time since 1982. The seeds were sown for a full-fledged reunion, highlighted by a concert at Warner Bros. Studios on May 23, 1997 that was released as ‘The Dance.’ The concert recording topped the charts, selling more than five million copies. An accompanying tour was also a box-office smash, but it heralded yet another shift in our Fleetwood Mac Lineup Changes: A Complete Guide.
Christine McVie retired in 1998, not just from Fleetwood Mac but from performing all together. That left Lindsey Buckingham to dismantle a proposed solo album, tentatively titled ‘Gift Of Screws,’ in order to fashion a new project for the band. It made sense, since both Mick Fleetwood and John McVie had participated in the sessions. Songs by Stevie Nicks were added to complete 2003’s ‘Say You Will,’ Fleetwood Mac’s first release without Christine McVie since 1970. The album was a commercial success, and in its best moments recalled prime Fleetwood Mac. But the group was silent for another decade thereafter, finally releasing the ‘Extended Play’ EP in 2013.
In September 2013, the final update of our Fleetwood Mac Lineup Changes: A Complete Guide fell into place. Christine McVie rejoined her old band onstage during a show at the O2 Arena in London for the first time since ‘The Dance’ tour. By 2014, she had announced a full return to the band. Work began almost immediately on new music, though another tour interupted their progress. “I will be so bold as to say that there will be another lovely album from this band,” Mick Fleetwood told Mojo in 2014. “That’s my hope — that certainly by the end of 2015, that will be my dream.”