The Forgotten Pioneer: Bob Welch’s Role in Fleetwood Mac

The Forgotten Pioneer: Bob Welch's Role in Fleetwood Mac

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From 1971 until 1974, Bob Welch stood front and center in Fleetwood Mac after replacing Jeremy Spencer. Fans who’ve followed Fleetwood Mac’s career since their original formation in 1967 will recall Bob Welch’s contribution as a lead singer that brought forth a string of hits during the first half of the 1970s. What are the top ten Bob Welch songs as a Fleetwood Mac contributor that come to mind from that list? Do they match our list? Let’s find out.

What About Bob

Bob Welch was born and raised in Hollywood, California, on August 21, 1945. As a child growing up in Tinseltown, one would assume he grew up in a household that knew a thing or two about show business. This assumption would be correct as his father, Robert L. Welch Sr., was a producer and screenwriter employed with Paramount Pictures. His mother, Templeton Fox, was an actress and singer who worked in movies, television, and theatre. When he was a child, the first musical instrument Bob Welch learned was the clarinet. However, the influence of jazz, R&B, and rock and roll gave him cause to pick up the guitar as a teenager. When he reached the age to attend college, he went to Paris, France, instead of staying in the United States. He later returned home intending to study French at the University of California. However, he didn’t finish what he started as the calling to further venture in his music career, which won out as the preferred path of choice.

In 1964, Welch joined The Seven Souls as their guitarist. Based in Los Angeles, California, they competed in a Battle of the Bands competition. It was the same one that witnessed Sly and the Family Stone earn the win and a contract with Epic Records. However, The Seven Souls still released “I’m No Stranger” as a single and “I Still Love You” on its B-side. The single failed to make an impression, while “I Still Love You” became the unexpected favorite. Unfortunately for The Seven Souls, their inability to make the impression they hoped for resulted in the band breaking up in 1969. After this, Welch returned to Paris and began his own group, Head West. As a trio, they didn’t last long as this new venture proved unsuccessful.

Hey, Mac

The lack of success Welch experienced sent him to England when Fleetwood Mac returned to their home nation after losing guitarist Jeremy Spencer from the lineup. Luckily for Welch, this popular band was on the hunt for Spencer’s replacement, and he proved to be the right man for the job. This opportunity came about courtesy of his former schoolmate, Judy Wong. The two maintained a friendship over time and she just happened to be on Fleetwood Mac’s payroll. Trusting Wong’s judgment, Mick Fleetwood and his bandmates brought Bob Welch on board as their new guitarist after listening to enough of his taped material to like what they heard. Originally, Welch was hired to play rhythm guitar while Danny Kirwan served as the band’s lead guitarist. With Fleetwood Mac’s band roster complete again, the group borrowed some mobile equipment and recorded three albums.

At this point, because Kirwan influenced guitars that leaned closer to rock music, Fleetwood Mac’s musical direction wasn’t as bluesy as it had started out in 1967. Until April 1970, Peter Green served as the band’s lead singer before he and his bandmates parted company. At the time, Christine Perfect was also part of the lineup and had an unsuccessful attempt at a solo career before using her married name, Christine McVie. At this time, she was the wife of fellow bandmate John McVie. Along with Mick Fleetwood, Danny Kirwan, and Bob Welch, Fleetwood Mac released Future Games in September 1971. Because of this particular lineup, the production resulted in an entirely sound. While this new direction was favorable in the United States, Fleetwood Mac’s fifth studio album experienced its first unsuccessful appearance on the UK Albums Chart. As a result, the popularity of Fleetwood Mac in North America was growing.

In 1972, Bare Trees became the sixth studio album recorded and released by Fleetwood Mac. This featured Welch’s written single, “Sentimental Lady.” He and Christine McVie shared lead vocalist duties on the album that included one of McVie’s signature songs, “Spare Me a Little of Your Love.” At this time, the recipe of success Fleetwood Mac experienced as a recording artist continued to flourish. However, trouble was brewing when it came to live concerts. Unfortunately for Danny Kirwan and his bandmates, his alcohol addiction was taking its toll. It was enough to cause a rift between himself and the rest of Fleetwood Mac’s lineup. The breaking point was the erratic behavior that came from Kirwan just before a live performance scheduled in August 1972. Fleetwood Mac had no choice but to fire the man and let him handle his demons alone.

With Kirwan out of the lineup, Fleetwood Mac underwent a series of replacements that briefly included guitarist Bob Weston and vocalist Dave Walker. In the process, Fleetwood Mac also hired road manager John Courage. Courage and Walker once upon a time was part of Savoy Brown’s lineup. It was this particular Fleetwood Mac formation that produced the 1973 album Penguin. After this, Walker’s lack of chemistry with the Fleetwood Mac lineup resulted in his removal. Without him, Fleetwood Mac recorded and released its eighth studio album, Mystery to Me. This album gave Bob Welch further recognition as a vocalist as “Hypnotized” became one of the most popular singles Fleetwood Mac released as a recording artist. As successful as the album became certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America, trouble among the ranks of Fleetwood Mac once again began to surface.

Between John and Christine McVie, their marriage was on the rocks. As ideal as it may seem to work and live with your spouse all the time, sometimes it can be a bit much, especially if each person likes to have their own space. When alcoholism joins in to complicate matters even further, this can be an absolute nightmare. For the McVies, that nightmare became impossible to contain. While their drama ensued, an affair erupted between Mick Fleetwood’s wife at the time, Jenny Boyd, and his bandmate, Bob Weston. Weston served as the band’s lead guitarist for the albums Penguin and Mystery to Me. As soon as Mick Fleetwood learned of the affair, he became distraught. Although this wasn’t enough to completely disband Fleetwood Mac, it was enough to discourage the group from touring to promote Mystery to Me. Because of this, the album’s popularity waned, and it looked like Fleetwood Mac’s days as a band were numbered.

Mac Confusion

Adding to Fleetwood Mac’s woes as a group was the collapse of the 1973 US Tour, which should have further catapulted the band’s popularity. Instead, the troubles brewing at the time resulted in each band member going their own way, including Bob Welch. For the time being, Fleetwood Mac was on hiatus as a group. It was also during this time they had a manager named Clifford Davis. Because of what happened, Davis became worried about his own reputation, resulting in a business decision that would lead to a lawsuit.

The first mistake Davis made was claiming Fleetwood Mac as a trademarked name that belonged to him. He believed he could replace the entire lineup with whomever he saw fit. In 1974, Davis promoted The New Fleetwood Mac and gave them a tour schedule to follow. As good as this lineup was, this was not an authentic Fleetwood Mac. In defense of the musicians involved, they were told by Davis the original Fleetwood Mac lineup would join them. When the first concert of this tour took place on January 16, 1974, the fans who attended didn’t know any better, either. As soon as word got out, the fans became hostile as they wanted the honest Fleetwood Mac, not imposters. After a disastrous concert in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, the Clifford Davis version of Fleetwood Mac became no more.

In a lawsuit that took four years to fight, a settlement was finally reached that had both sides of the argument reach an agreement. Fleetwood Mac remained a name belonging to its founders, Mick Fleetwood, and John McVie, while Clifford Davis could no longer claim he owned the name. Oddly enough, instead of being angry with Davis, Fleetwood, and McVie were thankful as the lawsuit proceedings had the band call California their home. This move wound up putting Fleetwood Mac in the right place at the right time to come together again as a band and rise from the ashes better than ever before.

So, where did Bob Welch fit in all this? While the authentic Fleetwood Mac wasn’t receiving the attention, Welch felt it deserved from Warner Bros; this played a factor in Clifford Davis and his own band carrying out their actions until it met with fan hostility. When all this drama became a legal issue, Welch remained in Los Angeles, California, and kept in touch with entertainment attorneys. Along with promoter Bill Graham, he played an instrumental role in forcing Warner Bros to recognize Fleetwood Mac belonged to Mick Fleetwood, the McVies, and Bob Welch. In the meantime, he convinced Fleetwood Mac members to move to California, a move that he knew would work in their favor.

In September 1974, this Fleetwood Mac lineup signed a new contract with Warner Bros but strictly on the Reprise Records label. That year witnessed the release of the group’s ninth studio album, Heroes Are Hard to Find. This recording was the first time a band as popular as Fleetwood Mac took over the reins of management themselves. Unfortunately for the group, the drama of Mystery to Me was still too fresh. This impacted the success of Heroes Are Hard to Find as the momentum Fleetwood Mac had up until 1973 was gone. Because of this, each band member within the ranks of Fleetwood Mac felt a range of emotions that Bob Welch personally felt was exhausting. He decided to move on, opening the door for Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks to enter.

After Fleetwood Mac

Life for Bob Welch after Fleetwood Mac did succeed as a solo artist, including his “Sentimental Lady” as a hit that would once again appear on the music charts. It did even better, fueling Welch’s success as a recording artist. This lasted until 1981, before his career began to see a decline. At this time, he adopted a fast-lane lifestyle that included partying with band members from Guns N’ Roses. When his addiction to drugs resulted in hospitalization in 1985, Welch knew he needed to clean his act up. It would be after detoxifying his body from drugs he’d meet his future wife, Wendy Armistead. Before 1985 was over, he and his new bride moved to Phoenix, Arizona. Until the day of his death on July 7, 2012, he made a point to stay clean from taking any further controlled substances.

Although no longer officially with Fleetwood Mac, Bob Welch’s relations, at least with Mick Fleetwood, remained amicable. This changed in 1994 after Welch sued Fleetwood, the McVies, and other involved parties in a royalties-related breach of contract. Welch’s argument pointed out that what he signed with his fellow bandmates in 1978 should have been honored instead of the new agreement the defendants arranged with Warner Bros that he felt cheated him out of what was owed. In 1998, Fleetwood Mac was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Bob Welch was excluded among the core band members whose names were mentioned.

It was believed the court battle he recently had with them was the main reason why his name was kept out. Without Welch’s involvement when Fleetwood Mac’s name and reputation were on the line in 1973, the outcome of what Clifford Davis did would have changed the course of history where the band was concerned. Welch introduced Mick Fleetwood to Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, two key members who played instrumental roles in spiking Fleetwood Mac’s popularity to new heights. As far as Bob Welch was concerned, refusing to recognize him as a Fleetwood Mac honoree was hurtful. It wouldn’t be until 2003 that he and Mick Fleetwood could set aside their differences and reconnect. Together, they released His Fleetwood Mac Years and Beyond that same year. In 2006, His Fleetwood Mac years and Beyond 2 was released. The second of these two albums featured a collection of new material Bob Welch came up with.

As mentioned, July 7, 2012, marked the day of Bob Welch’s death. This came about after the man claimed his own life three months after undergoing spinal surgery. The surgeons who operated on him explained the odds of recovery were unlikely and that he would be facing the rest of his life as an invalid. For Welch, the combination of physical and spiritual pain was too much for him to handle. Before his death, he wrote out a lengthy letter to his wife, Wendy. In it, he explained he didn’t want to be a burden on a woman he loved so much. Aside from this tragedy, the legacy of Bob Welch continues to live on in his music. When he was featured in The Musicians Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tennessee, Mick Fleetwood wrote a tribute honoring Bob Welch. At the moment, several fans have been advocating the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame consider putting Bob Welch’s name in as an inductee as the argument continues that without him, the Fleetwood Mac we know and love today wouldn’t have existed.

The Forgotten Pioneer: Bob Welch’s Role in Fleetwood Mac article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2024

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