Drummer-percussionist Mick Fleetwood’s incumbency as the pulse of Fleetwood Mac has survived a dozen personnel permutations since the band’s 1967 inception in London. The band has a messy legacy of artistic brilliance, voracious drug appetites, phenomenal commercial success, madness, religious fervor, obscene stage antics, burnout, romantic convulsions and operatic betrayal. And through it all, to borrow from his favorite Shakespeare couplet (“If music be the food of love …”), Fleetwood plays on.
Fleetwood, familiar to fans for his height (6-foot-6), full beard, long hair and a pair of wooden toilet-chain balls slung from the front of his belt that he nicked from a pub, was affable, eloquent and candid during a recent phone interview. And he is bringing the Mick Fleetwood Blues Band to the Veteran’s Memorial Auditorium in Grass Valley on Friday, Sept. 23.
“I live in Maui,” said Fleetwood. “That’s my home. I run a restaurant (Fleetwood’s on Front Street in Lahaina). I’m in a band called Fleetwood Mac that’s still one way or another quite active. Whether we’re on the road or not, we’re always up to some long-term planning of what we’re doing. And behind it all, being me, you know I’m 69 years old, which is not ancient, but I’m quite frankly more active now and multifaceted than I was in my mid-20s, so I think it comes under the heading Not Dead Yet.”
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“I’m continually on a busman’s holiday,” said Fleetwood. “I’ve reconnected with the fact that I am a musician and drummer and percussion player, and I don’t do well with the aesthetics of my particular private, emotional well-being. It’s really important, I’ve discovered, for me to play. When I came off the road after pretty much a two-year tour with Fleetwood Mac with the return of Christine McVie, within not much more than 2 1/2 months I was back down in Australia and New Zealand with the same band that I’m touring with now with Rick Vito (who replaced guitarist-vocalist Lindsey Buckingham in Fleetwood Mac from 1987 to 1991) playing blues festivals.”
The Fleetwood Mac that resonates with most people today is the congregation of Fleetwood, bassist John McVie, vocalist-keyboardist Christine McVie, vocalist Stevie Nicks, and Buckingham. Their 1977 album “Rumors” became one of the best-selling albums of all time. Fleetwood’s blues band, featuring Vito, bassist Lenny Castellanos and keyboardist Mark Johnstone, pays tribute to the late ’60s all-male Mac ensemble, taking Fleetwood back to his blues and blues-rock roots.
The founder of that first Fleetwood Mac was guitarist-vocalist Peter Green, who replaced Eric Clapton in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. He targeted fellow Bluesbreakers Fleetwood and bassist McVie for a rhythm section of his own. He drafted Elmore James-channeling Jeremy Spencer as slide guitarist. He also added guitarist Danny Kirwan as band members stretched their writing to include the explosive “Oh Well Pt. 1” and the dreamy, tropical instrumental “Albatross.”
That roster was legendary for both its incendiary performances and demise, with Green, then Spencer, and then Kirwan departing in the early 1970s due to mental, spiritual and emotional meltdowns. And they played here at the Sound Factory on Alhambra Boulevard in February 1969, closing their set with a lyrically modified “Blue Suede Shoes” that included references to oral sex.
“It was worse than the Sex Pistols,” said Fleetwood. “We used to do crazy stuff like that all the time (Spencer often hung a dildo out his trousers during their encores). It was filthy. We slipped into this behavior at this Southern Baptist college and (there) was nearly a Jim Morrison episode. We never did it again. If we had been arrested, I wouldn’t be talking to you now. We’d have been thrown out of the country, and you would have never heard of Fleetwood Mac.”
“We were musically astute, I hope,” said Fleetwood, “and known as a really good blues band. Sadly, that incarnation didn’t last but its reputation and music (did), which is partially what this little tour I’m doing is about. We play from the old Fleetwood Mac catalog (including Peter Green’s often-covered ‘Black Magic Woman’ and ‘Rattlesnake Shake’) and stuff we love to play, ostensibly straight ahead rock-’n’-roll and blues.”
Fleetwood fully embraces the irony, as he put it, of “a bunch of … mainly white dudes in England and Europe bringing back music that they worshipped to America where the art form of blues music was all but buried.”
“I like to think the magic formula of blues is pervasive in any form of music that in my mind is emotionally responsible for projecting people’s feelings. And that to me is what blues has done for the whole music scene, period. And that was Fleetwood Mac. And that’s what we identified with.”
The Mick Fleetwood Blues Band
When: 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 23
Where: Veteran’s Memorial Auditorium, 255 S. Auburn St., Grass Valley
Information: thecenterforthearts.org; (530) 274-8384