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Mick Fleetwood: On Honoring Peter Green & the Magic of Fleetwood Mac’s Early Days (The Interview)
In February 2020, just before the world went into lockdown, Mick Fleetwood, the namesake drummer of Fleetwood Mac since its mid-1960s beginnings, corralled an A-List group of his rock star friends to pay tribute to the early years of his band, when it was fronted by guitarist and songwriter Peter Green.
The show, coming as a concert film and digital and physical release in April, is chock full of big names. Steven Tyler, Pete Townshend, David Gilmour, Noel Gallagher, Johnny Lang and others honor Green, who passed away in July at 73, giving life to his too often overlooked songbook.
Green had replaced Eric Clapton in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers before connecting with Fleetwood and bassist John McVie and taking the English blues-rock circuit by storm. But drug use and mental health issues, not to mention a strong aversion to the sort of stardom so many around him craved so badly, led Green to leave the band and retreat from the spotlight in 1970. As a result, the band’s music during his tenure, though beloved by musicians and diehard fans, became largely forgotten in the years to come.
Here, in his first interview of the new decade, Mick Fleetwood tells Rock Cellar about Green, the ups and downs of putting together a show paying homage to his late-friend, and what the future might hold for one of the world’s greatest drummers, as well as his ever-changing list of bandmates.
Rock Cellar: The album and especially the concert film are amazing. What a great cast of characters. It’s wonderful how some of the folks you wouldn’t expect to steal the show do just that. Tell me a bit about how it all came together.
Mick Fleetwood: Well, half the people that played on that lovely concert, they’re simply friends of mine. A few years ago, I put together a book, Love that Burns, and I was explaining to friends around that time about Peter Green, and then that led to the idea for a concert, which took some time to get out into the world because of the pandemic, though I’ve literally never stopped talking about it!
But you’re right on mark, it was an amazing night.
Rock Cellar: It was a beautiful idea to pay tribute to the Peter Green era of the band, and prescient, too, as we lost him just recently. There was a great film a couple of years ago about him, but tell me a little about how and why it came together, because it was six months or so before he passed.
Mick Fleetwood: Correct. Well, I already had a sort of yen to do something of this nature, and that was an on and off thing over a long period of time. It was what we call in England a pipe dream of ‘wouldn’t it be nice,’ like the Beach Boys song. And it never happened. But then I really became focused on it, and I mentioned it when I was on a visit to London promoting that book we were talking about. I went out to dinner with an old publishing friend of mine, and he knew all the people at BMG. So it was just a conversation.
And he said, “You know what? This is such a cool idea, and Hartwig (Masuch, Chief Executive Officer of BMG Rights Management) is a massive Peter Green and early Fleetwood Mac fan, I think he should hear about your dream.” And bless their hearts, two days later, we were at the Ivy in London breaking a bottle of wine and having the conversation.
I was just overjoyed. Because Hartwig said, “This is a story about the ambience of London. It’s not just about the music.” And I’d always had a dream to recreate Then Play On, which was Peter’s last album. But that’s how it started. It led to the pipe dream actually being dreamt in real time.
I didn’t know who was really going to be the people playing on various songs, and there’s a couple completely out of left field, but one of the first people was Steven Tyler, who’s a dear friend. And since the history of Aerosmith is hugely locked into those songs, it really kick-started things. Because Steven had told me, “I wouldn’t have joined Aerosmith if I hadn’t heard Joe (Perry) playing “Rattlesnake Shake” in the garage and thought, “I want to do that.”
And then I thought, I’m going to phone David Gilmour, who I did not know very well, but he still has a home where I started my whole little career, in London, in Notting Hill Gate, in a place called Harbury Mews, which is a Mews cottage cul-de-sac. And David still has a small home there in London. I wrote him a letter saying, “Would you consider …” Because I knew that he liked Peter’s playing. And you can tell from the deference in his playing, which was sort of out of left field.
And I got a lovely letter back, and he said, “Well, I don’t know if I’m going to be good enough to step into Peter’s boots.” Amazing, right?
I wrote back saying, “Well, nothing of the sort. Are you kidding me?” And he replied, “I’ll tell you what. If this thing ever comes together, by then, I’ll have hopefully plucked up courage.” So, all this lovely stuff started way, way back, and then Fleetwood Mac did their usual thing, where out of the blue we all decided to hit the road for several years. And when I got back, more power to the people I’ve mentioned, because I thought, “Well, everyone’s just going to say well, that was a good idea, but not anymore.” But it was nothing of the sort. So when I knew that the last tour was coming to an end, I cranked all this up again. And all of these pieces, which are quite unbelievable, came together, because everyone involved seems to have a story to tell, and were astoundingly connected to Peter and the early band, like John Mayall and Jonny Lang, and, obviously, Rick Vito.
Rock Cellar: Who I have to say, steals the show. What an amazing player and singer. And (Green-era Fleetwood Mac guitarist) Jeremy Spencer really surprised me. They’re both still stunning players.
Mick Fleetwood: I agree! And Jeremy was lovely. He said, “Oh, I don’t have the courage to do it,” and all that. So, I phoned him up right at the end and said, “What if no one knows you’re coming?” And then he said, “Well, I’m going to take the night and really think about it.” And then I made a move I don’t often do, and I said, “I’m really asking you to turn up.” And the next morning, he said, “I’m doing it.” He came and he fucking killed it.
Rock Cellar: I want to ask you about a couple of people in the show specifically: Zak Starkey and you play incredibly well together. How did that happen? Have you known Zak a long time?
Mick Fleetwood: No. Obviously, I knew of him. But I went to see that big open-air thing where Bob Dylan, the Stones, the Who, Roger Waters, Paul McCartney — this unbelievable three-day festival thing happened in the desert (Desert Trip) — and I loved it and went backstage, and I popped my head in to say hello to Charlie Watts, who’s a classic. He calls me ‘young Michael.’
We really haven’t spent more than probably 10 hours in total together over the years, but it’s always been like he’s looking after me. And he’s in the dressing room and I said, “Oh, fantastic.” And he’s just so understated. I said, “Well, when I go out and play, just doing my thing, I’m sweating like a nutcase!” He said, “Oh, I don’t sweat at all.” And then jokingly, he said, “As far as I’m concerned, I could hand you the drumsticks now and I’d be quite happy.”
Very dry sense of humor. So, then I went from there into Zak’s dressing room — I was sort of summoned to Zak’s trailer — and then spent over an hour with him before The Who went on, and we got into this conversation about Peter Green. It was so deep and it was so passionate. He so loves Peter’s music. And that led to eventually to Pete Townshend doing the show, though I don’t know him terribly well, but at one point, Roger Daltrey was going to come sing and play harmonica and have fun, and then he couldn’t do it, but I met Zak in LA, and he said, “Have you ever thought about asking Pete?”
And then Peter found out that Zak was doing the show and wrote me this hilarious letter. “What the fuck? Why haven’t you asked me to play?”
Rock Cellar: Yeah. That’s him.
Mick Fleetwood: And then his was a strange connect, with a song that was not actually Peter’s. He did “Station Man,” because it was closely connected, he said, to “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” So I couldn’t have been more blessed with who turned up, which puts it in perspective as to who Peter was, and for sure how that strange band was formed around Peter in those early days that had this amount of long lasting, really deep appreciation. And that’s exactly why I wanted to try and do it.
Rock Cellar: It seems that you have been trying, over the last few years, to put Peter’s legacy forward a little bit more. There’s the Then Play On box and the Early Years box, and the documentary was just a few years ago, and now there’s this concert. When you were onstage, and you had all these great people doing amazing takes on these songs, that had to be a good feeling.
But in retrospect, Peter was just gone when you were editing the concert film and mixing the record, and now you’re promoting it, so it has to be a bittersweet experience, but it also has to feel pretty good that you’ve delivered this thing for your friend. Whether he’s here or not, it’s going out into the universe and it will remind people, the more casual fans, that this is where it all began. This guy was up there with Clapton and Beck and all the great players of that time. He was just as good, if not better, and let’s not forget him. So that has to be a pretty good feeling for you, especially since you were there at the beginning, even briefly during his John Mayall days.
Mick Fleetwood: It’s all of that, but, you know, even by just thinking about it, it becomes almost a self-serving wish that I’ve been able to do it. But once you get over that, the emotive part of it is always great. I mean, that’s how I feel.
He was super generous. He gave us the name Fleetwood Mac, after all, probably knowing right at the start that he would be moving on soon enough! And he could have become all of the things you said, though us bunch never knew what an aversion he had deep down to becoming the latest gunslinger. But no matter what he did, he was on that level, because he was so amazing and inspiring.
It’s so evident in the power of what he did, and how it’s lasted, so yes, I couldn’t be more thrilled. For a while there, when the world stopped, I though, “Oh, you’re kidding me.” And during that time period, of course, Peter passed away, which was certainly unexpected by all accounts — he just went in his sleep. Like a king. So that was devastating. But it’s okay.
When this comes out, it will eclipse all of the bits and pieces that went wrong, because everything has its place. And I have that to look forward to.
So, “How does that feel, mate?” It feels that I’ve been able to do it, but you’re right, because I’m aware of that creeping thing where people say, “Well, why now?” And I said, “Well, I’m pretty sure there wouldn’t be a band known as Fleetwood Mac — which any way you look at it, is nearing some form of end — without Peter Green. So that’s what pushed this forward. Because ultimately it’s about a band that broke all the rules.
Rock Cellar: Many times over!
Mick Fleetwood: Yeah, and the incarnation which we all know — Stevie (Nicks) and Lindsey (Buckingham) and John (McVie) and Christine (McVie) and myself — absolutely, understandably more than takes precedence, now with the support of Mike Campbell and Neil Finn, but they’re part of something.
But the dilution of the beginning became more and more and more. It really could have been forgotten about, because of the enormity of what happened after. And I think time itself pushed me into a creative corner of saying, if ever there was a time, this is so relevant to do now. It was really about that the longer Fleetwood Mac existed, the idea started screaming, “If you don’t do it now, then it was a nice idea, and you have to move on.”
Rock Cellar: I’ve got to ask, do you have any idea what your 2021, or even ’22, will look like?
Mick Fleetwood: Truthfully, I have no idea. None. And then you could go, “Well, what’s your pipe dream?” My pipe dream is at some point, I think we sort of have to say goodbye. And I have huge deference to the band that we now are, but I have total deference to Lindsey, and I think, “Wouldn’t it be great if some mutant fantastic stadium shows or something actually does that?”
Rock Cellar: A Fleetwood Mac super group, with Mike and Lindsey? Holy shit!
Mick Fleetwood: Well, we’re back in the pipe dream now. But in my own world, I know that I want to play. I will play. That’s who I am.
Rock Cellar: Well, that’s some kind of goal. [Laughter.]
Mick Fleetwood: Well, I’m really hoping that the thing built around Peter’s legacy can go out on the road. I can go on record that that’s my full intention. And from history, never say never is all there is to say about Fleetwood Mac. I’ll be there doing that, being the weasel in the background attempting to do something versus nothing. And the rest is really just how everyone would feel and whether it would even be possible. I don’t know.
One thing’s for sure, all the components are active. Lindsey’s active; Stevie by now would have done one of her lovely tours, though that never happened; Mike is always doing stuff, for sure. And Neil Finn is just beyond one of my dearest, dearest friends. And I’m hugely respectful of who he is and his talent, and how both Mike and he stepped in, because it was either stop or find something really spectacular that honored our funny trip.
Rock Cellar: And an unenviable task, to step into that the way they did.
Mick Fleetwood: Unbelievable.