My Playlist: Fleetwood Mac

Fleetwood Mac has been making headlines lately. Yesterday, they announced a big North American tour, which will kick off in October, include more than 50 cities, and stretch all the way into the beginning of April 2019. This comes in the wake of news that longtime vocalist, guitarist and songwriter Lindsey Buckingham is out and has been replaced by Mike Campbell and Neil Finn. The band also announced The Fleetwood Mac Channel on SiriusXM, which will launch on May 1st and run throughout the month. All these latest developments have triggered this post and playlist.

I’m most familiar with the classic line-up of Fleetwood Mac, which spans the periods from 1975 to 1987, 1995 to 1997 and 2014 to April 2018. I find it very hard to imagine the band without Buckingham. His vocals and guitar-playing were a major part of the Mac’s distinct sound. At the same time, I’m intrigued about the addition of Campbell, the former guitarist of Tom Petty’s band The Heartbreakers, and Finn, the previous lead vocalist and frontman for Crowded House, who also co-fronted Split Enz.

Of course, Fleetwood Mac’s 50-year-plus story started long before Buckingham came into the picture. It also continued following his first departure in August 1987 after the release of the band’s 14th studio album Tango In The Night. In fact, the band’s history is characterized stylistic shifts and numerous lineup changes. Before exploring some music, I’d like to highlight some of Fleetwood Mac’s stages. This is not meant to be a comprehensive history, which would go beyond the scope of the post.

Fleetwood Mac Initial Line-up

Fleetwood Mac were formed in July 1967, when guitarist Peter Green left John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers and asked fellow Bluesbreakers Mick Fleetwood (drums) and John McVie (bass) to form a new band. Fleetwood who had been fired from the Bluesbreakers agreed right away while McVie was hesitant.  Jeremy Spencer (vocals, slide guitar, piano) and Bob Brunning (bass) completed the initial lineup. But Greene continued to pursue McVie as a bassist and named the new band after his preferred rhythm section of Fleetwood on drums and McVie on bass, i.e., Fleetwood Mac. After a few weeks, McVie agreed to join the fold.

The band released its eponymous studio debut in February 1968, a hard-charging blues rock album featuring a mix of blues covers and original tunes written by Greene and Spencer. And even though the record didn’t include a hit, it became a remarkable success in the U.K., peaking at no. 4 and remaining in the charts for a whooping 37 weeks. The sophomore album Mr. Wonderful, which already appeared in August 1968, was similar in style.

Fleetwood Mac_Then Play On

First changes started to emerge on Then Play On, the Mac’s third studio release. Danny Kirwan had joined the band as a guitarist and vocalist. Stylistically, the music started to move away from an exclusive focus on blues rock. The band’s transition continued between 1970 and 1975. In May 1970, Greene who had started taking LSD and was not in good mental health, left. Christine Perfect, who had married John McVie, did her first gig with the band as Christine McVie in August that year. In February 1971, Spencer left to join religious group Children of God. Bob Welch and later Bob Weston entered as guitarists.

Fleetwood Mac’s next big transition happened when Buckingham and then-girlfriend Stevie Nicks, who had performed together as a duo, joined the band at the end of 1974 after the departure of Welch. The classic line-up was in place and recorded the band’s second eponymous album. Also known as “The White Album,” it appeared in July that year and became the Mac’s first no. 1 on the Billboard 200. The follow-on Rumours not only was another chart-topper but also catapulted the band to international mega-stardom. The classic line-up released three additional successful studio albums.

Fleetwood Mac 1975

The period between 1987 to 1995 brought additional changes. Buckingham left in August 1987, and guitarists and vocalists Billy Burnette and Rick Vito joined the line-up -apparently, it takes two artists to replace Buckingham! Nicks and Vito departed in 1991. In 1995, following the release of the unsuccessful album Time, the Mac’s classic line-up regrouped. A performance in Burbank, Calif. in May 1997 resulted in the excellent live album The Dance, which was released in August that year. In 1998, Christine McVie left and returned to her family in England, where she lived in semi-retirement.

The remaining members recorded one more studio album, Say You Will, and continued to tour occasionally. In January 2014, Christine McVie officially rejoined the band. Subsequent efforts to make another Fleetwood Mac album were derailed when Nicks decided to focus on her solo career. While Mick Fleetwood and John McVie were involved in the recording, the record appeared last June as a collaboration between Buckingham and Christine McVie, titled Buckingham/McVie. You can read more the album here. Let’s get to some music.

I’d like to start off this playlist with My Heart Beat Like A Hammer, a nice blues rocker from the Mac’s first album, which is also known as Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac. The tune was written by Jeremy Spencer.

About a month after the release of the debut album, Green’s Black Magic Woman was released in March 1968 as the band’s third single. Long before the original, I had heard the excellent Santana cover sung by Gregg Rollie, which became that band’s first big hit peaking at no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. Green’s version climbed to no. 37 on the UK Singles Chart, not a bad showing either.

Fleetwood Mac’s first and only no. 1 song on the U.K. Singles Chart was the beautiful instrumental Albatross, another Green composition that appeared in November 1968.

Kiln House was the band’s fourth studio album and the first record without Green. Released in September 1970, it featured new guitarist and vocalist Danny Kirwan. By that time, the Mac had moved away from blues and sounded more like a straight rock band. While not being credited, Christine McVie provided backing vocals and keyboards. Here is Jewel-Eyed Judy, which was co-written Kirwan, Fleetwood and John McVie. It also became one of the record’s singles – great tune!

In October 1973, Fleetwood Mac released their eighth studio album Mystery To Me. At that time, the line-up included Bob Welch and Bob Weston, in addition to Mick Fleetwood, John McVie and Christine McVie. Welch and Christine wrote most of the songs. Here is Hypnotized, a nice tune penned by Welch with a relaxed feel.

Fleetwood Mac from July 1975 was the first album of the classic line-up. One of the songs on the record is the Stevie Nicks composition Rhiannon, which is among my favorite Mac songs.

When it comes to Rumours, which is packed with many great tunes, it’s tough to decide which one to select. Here is Go Your Own Way, which was written by Buckingham and became the album’s lead single in December 1976.

The follow-on Tusk, the band’s 12th studio album, sounded quite different from Rumours. This was exactly the intention. “For me, being sort of the culprit behind that particular album, it was done in a way to undermine just sort of following the formula of doing Rumours 2 and Rumours 3, which is kind of the business model Warner Bros. would have liked us to follow,” Buckingham told Billboard in November 2015. ” While opinions about the album were divided at the time is was released, it still peaked at no. 1 on the Billboard 200, though it “only” sold four million copies compared to 10 million for Rumours. Here is the title track.

Tango In The Night from April 1987 was Fleetwood Mac’s 14th studio album and the last with Buckingham prior to his first departure. It became the band’s second-best selling record after Rumours. The opening track is Big Love, a tune written by Buckingham. Here is an incredible live version captured during a show in Boston in October 2014. It illustrates Buckingham’s impressive guitar skills.

I’m fully aware that capturing the Mac’s long recording career in a post and playlist of no more than 10 songs without skipping stuff is impossible. For the last tune I’d like to highlight, I’m jumping to band’s most recent studio album Say You Will, which was released in April 2003. It was recorded by the band’s classic line-up minus Christine McVie. Here is Throw Down, a tune written by Nicks.

Fleetwood Mac’s next chapter just started, and it remains to be seen how the story continues after the 2018/2019 tour. The current schedule is here. In the band’s first interview since Buckingham’s departure with Rolling Stone, it appears they are ready to soldier on and are excited about Campbell and Finn. “Why would we stop?” asked Nicks. “We don’t want to stop playing music. We don’t have anything else to do. This is what we do.” Referring to the band’s new members, Christine McVie said, “I immediately felt like I’d known them for years,” even though we’d only just met.”

“There’s no doubt that my instincts, for better or worse, have always been to gravitate towards going forward,” Fleetwood stated. About Buckingham he added, “Words like ‘fired’ are ugly references as far as I’m concerned. Not to hedge around, but we arrived at the impasse of hitting a brick wall. This was not a happy situation for us in terms of the logistics of a functioning band. To that purpose, we made a decision that we could not go on with him. Majority rules in terms of what we need to do as a band and go forward.”

According to Nicks, Buckingham’s departure occurred over timing differences about a world tour. The band wanted to start rehearsals this June while Buckingham wanted to put that off until November 2019. Apparently, Rolling Stone tried to reach him for comment without success.

Sources: Wikipedia; Billboard; Rolling Stone; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Santana/Abraxas

1970 album is a highlight by the classic Santana band

Abraxas was the sophomore album by Santana. By the time it appeared in September 1970, the Latin jam rock band had gained significant popularity, fueled by a high-energy performance at the Woodstock Festival in August 1969 followed by the release of their eponymous debut record. While Santana established the sound and groove of the band’s classic lineup and was a successful album that peaked at no. 4 on the Billboard 200 in mid-November, I think Abraxas kicked things up a notch musically.

The album opens with Singing Winds, Crying Beasts, one of three all-instrumental tunes. Written by percussion and conga player Mike Carabello, the improvisational track with its mystic sounds almost feels like it wants to put listeners into a trance.

Next up: Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen, which undoubtedly is one of the record’s gems. It combines portions of the 1966 instrumental Gypsy Queen by Hungarian jazz guitarist Gábor Szabó and Black Magic Woman, a tune written by Fleetwood Mac founder and guitarist Peter Green. Fleetwood Mac, which at the time was a blues rock-oriented band, first released the track as a single in 1968. It was also included on the 1969 U.S. and UK compilation albums English Rose and The Pious Bird of Good Omen, respectively.

While doing some research for the post, I read that Green apparently encouraged Carlos Santana to record the tune. It turned out to be a good decision. Santana’s version of Black Magic Woman became a major hit, climbing to no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in January 1971. The royalties Green received from the cover became a significant source of income after he had left Fleetwood Mac.

Pretty much the same thing happened with Oye Como Va, another album highlight that has become a signature Latin rock tune. The song was written by Latin jazz and mambo artist Tito Puente in 1963. And just like with Black Magic Woman, it was Santana’s rendition that turned the song into a hit, reaching no. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100. Keyboarder and lead vocalist Gregg Rolie’s Hammond B3, along with Santana’s guitar and the band’s rhythm section create a powerful sound and compelling groove that invites people to dance.

According to an NPR story, Puente autobiographer Steven Loza said Santana’s version “exposed the world to Tito Puente and to Latin music in general. And “Oye Como Va” helped catapult the salsa movement to the ’70s because it gave the music recognition all over the world. And that inspired a lot of people to go into salsa.” It also brought Puente an unexpected stream of royalties.

Samba Pa Ti is among Santana’s most popular tunes and one of the best known guitar-oriented instrumentals. An Ultimate Classic Rock story explains how the piece came about, quoting Santana: “‘Samba Pa Ti’ was conceived in New York City on a Sunday afternoon. I opened the window I saw this man in the street, he was drunk and he had a saxophone and a bottle of booze in his back pocket. And I kept looking at him because he kept struggling with himself. He couldn’t make up his mind which one to put in his mouth first, the saxophone or the bottle and I immediately heard a song […] I wrote the whole thing right there.”

I also found an interesting nugget about Santana’s guitar sound on the album and Samba Pa Ti in a background article on Gibson’s website titled, “Flashback 1970: How Carlos Santana Refined and Defined his Sound with Abraxas”: “Although the cornerstones of Santana’s sound on Abraxas are his Gibson SGs, volume and the pureness and control of his touch, there are spots where he audibly used a wah-wah pedal to attenuate his tone. On “Samba Pa Ti” he left the pedal cocked to an open position throughout the song, achieving a sweet, warm distortion that produced the album’s most subtle guitar tone.”

The last tune I’d like to highlight is Hope You’re Feeling Better, which was written by Rolie. His roaring Hammond B3 and Santana’s wah-wah-accentuated guitar make for an awesome sound. The song also became the album’s third single, though unlike Black Magic Woman and Oye Como Va, it didn’t chart.

Produced by Fred Catero and Carlos Santana in San Francisco, Abraxas became another major success for the band. It hit no. 1 on the Billboard 200 in October 1970 and remained in the chart for 88 weeks. The album also topped the charts in Australia and reached no. 2 in Canada, while in the UK it climbed to no. 7. It was certified 5X Multi-Platinum in April 2000 by the Recording Industry Association of America.

Abraxas was ranked number 207 on Rolling Stone magazine’s The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list from 2003. And last year, the record was selected for preservation in the National Recording Registry due to its “cultural, historic, or artistic significance.”

In addition to Santana, Rolie and Carabello, the band’s members included David Brown (bass), Michael Shrieve (drums) and José “Chepito” Areas (percussion, conga, timbales). The same lineup plus guitarist Neal Schon would record Santana III, the next and last studio album of the classic Santana band, which appeared in September 1971. In 2013, most of the band – Santana, Rolie, Carabello, Schon and Shrieve – reunited for another album, Santana IV, which was recorded together with Benny Rietveld (bass) and Karl Perazzo (timbales, percussion, vocals).

Sources: Wikipedia, NPR, Ultimate Classic Rock, Gibson website, YouTube

The Hardware: The Hammond B-3

The introduction of the Hammond B-3 in 1954 revolutionized music

I’ve decided to introduce a new category on the blog I’m calling The Hardware, where I’m going to take a look at instruments and technology that have had an important impact on rock music. Admittedly, my general understanding of technology is limited, so these posts will definitely be a bit of a lift for me. While I anticipate things may become a bit technical at times, I’m certainly not planning to go overboard.

With that being said, I’d like to get started by taking a look at an instrument I’ve admired from the very first time I heard it, which is probably longer than I want to remember: The legendary Hammond B-3 organ.

The Hammond organ was designed and built by American engineers and inventors Laurens Hammond and John M. Hanert and first manufactured in 1935 by the Hammond Organ Company in Chicago. Following the original, the Hammond A, numerous other models were introduced, including the legendary B-3 in 1954.

Tonewheel Generator

The Hammond B-3 is a tone wheel organ. These types of organs generate sound by mechanical toothed wheels, that rotate in front of electromagnetic pickups. The B-3 has 91 tone wheels located inside the console. Together with the so-called drawbars, they give the instrument its incredible sound versatility. According to Glen E. Nelson, a “Hammond B-3 can all at once sound like a carnival, a big band, a horn section, a small jazz combo, a funk group, a percussion section, a flute, and/or countless other things.”

Hammond Drawbars

The organ has nine drawbars that represent the nine most important harmonics. “Each drawbar has eight degrees to which it can be literally “drawn” or pulled, out of the console of the organ, the eighth being the loudest, and all the way in being silence,” explains Nelson. The drawbars and the way each can be adjusted individually allow to create an enormous amount of different sounds, such as flute, trumpet or violin-like sounds.

Leslie Speaker

In spite of its impressive size, the B-3 does not have a built in speaker. As such, it needs to be run through a separate speaker, which typically is a Leslie, named after its inventor Donald Leslie. The speaker combines an amplifier and a two-way loudspeaker that does not only project the signal from an electronic instrument but also modifies the sound by rotating the loudspeakers. While the Leslie is most closely associated with the Hammond, it was later also used for electric guitars and other instruments.

Due to its versatility and sound, the B-3 became very popular and has been used in all types of music, whether it’s gospel, jazz, blues, funk or rock. One of the artists who helped popularize the instrument was jazz musician Jimmy Smith. Some of the famous rock and blues musicians who have played this amazing organ include Booker T. Jones, Billy Preston, Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman, Gregg Allman, Steve Winwood and Gregg Rolie.

Jimmy Smith with Hammond B3

The last original Hammond B-3 organs were manufactured in 1973. The Hammond Organ Company started to struggle financially in the 1970s and went out of business in 1975. The Hammond brand and rights were acquired by Hammond Organ Australia. Eventually, Suzuki Musical Instrument Corporation signed a distribution agreement with the Australian company before purchasing the name outright in 1991 and rebranding it as Hammond-Suzuki.

In 2002, Hammond-Suzuki introduced the New B-3, a re-creation of the original instrument using contemporary electronics and a digital tone wheel simulator. The New B-3 is constructed to appear like the original B-3, and the designers attempted to retain the subtle nuances of the familiar B-3 sound. A review by Hugh Robjohns in the July 2003 issue of Sound on Sound concludes, “the New B3 really does emulate every aspect of the original in sounds, looks and feel.”

Following are a few examples of rock songs that prominently feature a Hammond B-3.

Gimme Some Lovin’/Spencer Davis Group (Steve Winwood)

Jingo/Santana (Gregg Rolie)

Just Another Rider/Gregg Allman

There is perhaps no better way to finish the post than with this amazing presentation of the Hammond B-3 from Booker T. Jones. Watching his joy while playing the instrument and listening to the anecdotes in-between the songs is priceless.

Sources: Wikipedia; History of the Hammond B-3 Organ (Glen E. Nelson); Hammond USA website; Sound on Sound; YouTube; NPR

What I’ve Been Listening to: Santana/ Santana

Santana’s debut still rocks and grooves to this day and remains one of his greatest albums

I can still remember when I listened to Santana for the first time. It must have been in the late ’70s after my sister had gotten Santana’s Greatest Hits (on vinyl, of course!), the fantastic 1974 compilation album featuring highlights from the first three Santana albums.

To this day, it is the early phase of Santana I like the most. The band’s classic line-up with Gregg Rolie (lead vocals, keyboards), Carlos Santana (guitar, backing vocals), David Brown (bass), Michael Shrieve (drums), Michael Carabello (congas, percussion) and José “Chepito” Areas (timbales, congas, percussion) remains one of the best jam bands to this day.

Santana was the band’s 1969 debut. Its initial relatively modest reception was a bit surprising, given the album was released right after the band’s acclaimed performance at Woodstock. I think part of their challenge was that much of their music was instrumental, in fact, more than half on this album – something most listeners weren’t used to.

The record kicks off with the instrumental Waiting. Right from the get-go, the congas and the bass create a seductive groove that draws you in. And once Rolie starts coming in with his Hammond B3, it’s sheer magic! Here’s an audio clip of the piece from the band’s Woodstock performance.

Next up is Evil Ways. Written by Clarence “Sonny” Henry and originally recorded by jazz percussionist Willie Bobo in 1967, the tune was also released as the album’s second single in December 1969. It became Santana’s first top 10 hit in the U.S., climbing to no. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart. The fact that unlike Waiting this tune includes vocals undoubtedly made it more radio-friendly. Rolie does an outstanding job on lead vocals and plays a killer solo on the Hammond. Here’s a cool live clip of the tune, played a little faster than on the album.

Another highlight on the album is Jingo, a song written by Babatunde Olatunji, a Nigerian percussionist, and first released in 1959. The blend of African-derived rhythms and chants with Rolie’s Hammond and Santana’s guitar is simply amazing. Jingo also appeared as the album’s lead single in October 1969. While it is just as outstanding if not better than Evil Ways, Jingo didn’t have as much impact.

And then there is of course Soul Sacrifice, the instrumental composed by bassist Brown, Rolie, Santana and percussionist Marcus “The Magnificent” Malone, the band’s initial percussionist, when it was still known as the Carlos Santana Blues Band. And magnificent it is! Here’s a clip of the epic performance of the piece at Woodstock.

Initially, the music critics were less than impressed with Santana. Rolling Stone’s Langdon Winner at the time called it “a masterpiece of hollow techniques” and “fast, pounding, frantic music with no real content,” comparing the music’s effect to methedrine. The Village Voice’s Robert Christgau happily agreed with Winner’s sentiment, saying, “Just want to register my unreconstructed opposition to the methedrine school of American music. A lot of noise.” Wow, you wonder whether these guys were on the very drug they referenced when they made their clever assessments!

In fairness, Rolling Stone later revised its opinion of the album, characterizing it as “thrilling … with ambition, soul and absolute conviction – every moment played straight from the heart”. In 2012, the magazine also ranked Santana number 149 on their list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Not sure whether Christgau ever revised his opinion or whether he is still on methedrine – but who cares anyway!

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube, Rolling Stone