Fleetwood Mac is the rare project that features both a fine discography and a successful series of solo LPs from its many members. Here are ten examples of the latter.
Some bands are the sum of their parts and nothing more: the individual musicians need to feed off each other to achieve good music. They need that chemistry of the players. Other bands are the opposite, featuring great solo musicians that don’t play well with others. Those bands don’t usually last long, as the music doesn’t gel or interpersonal conflicts cause the band to splinter.
It’s a rare band that achieves both ends of this spectrum, and Fleetwood Mac is one group who has somehow found a way to thrive artistically as a band while also spawning a plethora of creative solo works. (Granted, of course, that many of those solo works came from artists who left the band due to conflict.)
In Fleetwood Mac’s tangled 40-plus year existence, there have been 16 band members. Drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie have been the only constants, while others, such as Dave Walker, only make fleeting appearances on one album and are fairly unknown now. For Dave Mason, on the other hand, his brief time in the band is merely a footnote in a successful solo career and as a member of Traffic. Stevie Nicks has been the only band member to have consistent major album success both inside and outside the band, though many of the others have released artistic and critically acclaimed works over the years.
However, the band, in its massiveness, has tended to overshadow much of the solo output of its members. Let’s take a look at a sampling of the lost and forgotten entries, and a few maybe not so forgotten, in this list (in no particular order) of some of the solo best of the Fleetwood Mac alumni and current members.
Danny Kirwan: Second Chapter (1975)
This album is the second chapter in Kirwan’s professional life, following his firing from Fleetwood Mac in 1972. He is a gifted guitarist and songwriter who seemed to have a dual persona: reportedly volatile and argumentative, Kirwan created a peaceful, summery song cycle in this first solo outing. Though most of the fiery guitar dynamics of his days with Fleetwood Mac are gone, taken on its own merits the material here could easily have dominated the '70s airwaves if Kirwan had been signed to a bigger label and performed live more (or at all, actually). There’s a lot of joy and contentedness on Second Chapter, with the second half of the album being particularly strong. It’s hard to believe when listening that mental issues would curtail his music career by the end of the decade. After a third album in 1979, he dropped out of the public eye completely. A later release titled Ram Jam City is a nice collection of demos recorded for Second Chapter, presenting the songs in an alternate light.
Paris was formed soon after Welch left Fleetwood Mac; Welch was joined by ex-Jethro Tull bassist Glen Cornick and Thom Mooney, who had been in Nazz with Todd Rundgren in the late '60s. Though not issued under his name, for all intents and purposes, this is a Bob Welch solo album; he wrote all the songs, sang them, and plays the guitar parts. Modeled after Led Zeppelin, this was a harder rocking side of Welch than had been seen before or was seen after. Though it’s louder, his gift for melodicism shines through. The drama and dynamics in “Narrow Gate (La Porte Etroite)”, the hectic and claustrophobic “Starcage”, and the wide open spaces of “Solitaire” are highlights. With this, Paris’ first album (a second, Big Town 2061, doesn’t quite measure up, though it has its moments), Welch sounds like he had something to prove -- and he delivered, in spades. A few years later, he struck radio gold with a remake of his Fleetwood Mac song “Sentimental Lady” from the solid French Kiss album.
The late '70s were a particularly fertile period for Fleetwood Mac alumni. Even Peter Green, who most had written off as a washed out drug casualty by this time, issued a strong comeback album with In the Skies. The music is miles removed from his previous outing, The End of the Game. While that album tended to be unfocused and meandering, albeit powerful at times, In the Skies is very song-oriented, each track constructed well but never sacrificing feel. A combination of instrumentals and tracks with vocals by Green, the songs are laid back and groove-oriented. Thin Lizzy and occasional Pink Floyd sideman Snowy White shares some guitar duties; his playing is especially noteworthy on “Slabo Day”. Spiritual themes anchor the title track and the catchy “Seven Stars”, while “Just For You” is a moody love song. As a whole statement, Green explores many shades of the blues -- from dark to light -- on this re-entry to recording, which jump-started his career.
Peter Green’s influence casts a long shadow, and Rick Vito is no exception, having covered “Rattlesnake Shake”, “Black Magic Woman”, and “Albatross” in various settings over the years. You might not have seen that influence as readily when Vito was in Fleetwood Mac for 1990's more pop-oriented Behind the Mask; however, through a string of solo albums, the blues has been Vito’s main calling card. Mojo On My Side finds him digging deep, displaying a surefooted grasp of the feel and textures of various styles of the genre. With chops honed from years as a session musician and touring with everyone from John Mayall to Bonnie Raitt, Vito's versatility can be dazzling. Good musicians should always be challenging themselves and not resting on their laurels. With this in mind, Vito performs most of the guitar parts on this album on a fretless guitar. While there’s not a particularly noticeable difference in sound for the listener, it’s an approach that unavoidably has a creative effect on his playing. “Femme Fatale” and “River of Blues” are showcases for Vito’s slide skills, while a sweet saxophone embellishes numerous other cuts. Vito is still involved in the Fleetwood Mac world as the guitarist with Mick Fleetwood’s occasional side project blues band.
Spencer’s first solo album, recorded while he was still in the band, gets the award for most eclectic album by a Fleetwood Mac member. The self-titled work is both an homage to and parody of multiple genres: blues, surf rock, doo-wop, and '50s rock and roll. At times it’s brilliant, and even when its reach exceeds its grasp, it’s still funny. On “Mean Blues”, an overly enthusiastic emcee at the “Hoochie Coochie Blues Club” introduces the fictional Snoggily Blues Band and “the leadest guitarist: the best in the country” before the band plays the ultimate in generic blues. “Take a Look Around Mrs. Brown” manages to skewer the middle class, the dippier side of hippiedom, and the Beatles all at the same time. “If I Could Swim the Mountain” is like Elvis Presley slowed down to half speed. The playful, lighthearted mind behind this album belongs to the same person who would soon after its release go AWOL from Fleetwood Mac and join what many felt was a cult, "The Family International", an organization he’s still a member of today). Spencer has issued sporadic recordings over the years since, but nothing remotely resembling this album. (I’d be remiss in not mentioning his 1979 album Flee, home to the sparkling title song -- although the rest of that album is mostly straight-laced, overproduced disco-pop dross).