Sunday, February 9, 2014

Jeremy Spencer Still Has The Blues And Can't Hold Out : An Exclusive Conversation with Founding Fleetwood Mac Guitarist Jeremy Spencer

The British blues boom of the mid to late 1960's was a musical explosion which reverberated throughout the planet. Spearheaded initially on a global scale by The Rolling Stones and subsequent UK beat groups such as The Yardbirds and The Animals, blues rock as a genre was defined when John Mayall released the seminal album 'Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton' in 1966.

Clapton's playing on the release was revelatory, inspiring literally millions of young players to wear out their vinyl copies of the recordings, learning his at the time groundbreaking guitar licks. The then 21 year old guitarist was held in such awe at the time that graffiti started sprouting up around London with the slogan "Clapton is God" spray painted on walls.

When Clapton left John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers shortly after the release of the album to form Cream with drummer Ginger Baker and bassist Jack Bruce, he was replaced in Mayall's band by a young Londoner, 20 year old Peter Green.

While initially having to endure cries of "Where's Eric?" from punters at live shows, Green soon silenced them with his fiery playing, incredible tone and vibrato, going on to on to win the respect and admiration of fans and peers alike. Dubbed the "Green God", his incendiary fretwork went on to be an inspiration to Carlos Santana, Eric Clapton, Gary Moore, all the way to modern day disciples such as Joe Bonamassa.

In 1967, Green decided to form his own blues band and left the Bluesbreakers. That band was Fleetwood Mac.

One man who was there in the midst of it all was guitarist Jeremy Spencer.

Discovered while part of Lichfield, Staffordshire band The Levi Set Blues Band by  Mike Vernon,  the legendary producer soon brought Spencer to the attention of guitarist Peter Green. Upon hearing Jeremy for the first time, he immediately asked him to join the band he was forming, reportedly remarking to the guitarist that he was "the first guitarist to make him smile since Hendrix".

The new band, consisting of Green's ex bandmate from Mayall's Bluesbreakers, Mick Fleetwood on drums, and original bassist Bob Brunning, was initially called "Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac featuring Jeremy Spencer".

Later condensed to the much shorter Fleetwood Mac the band's repertoire at the time was mainly straight ahead Chicago styled blues, with Spencer's Elmore James influenced slide guitar being as much of a contribution as Green's heavily B.B. King styled blues playing in the early years of the band. Soon bassist Brunning, who was only a temporary member from the beginning, was replaced by John McVie, who Green had wanted from the beginning, but whom was hesitant at first to leave Mayall's Bluesbreakers.

It was this incarnation of the band who scored  with their 1968 debut recording, simply entitled "Fleetwood Mac', also referred to as 'Dog & Dustbin' due to the album art, crashing into the top 5 of the Official U.K. Albums chart. The  record plateaued at # 4 during a four month chart residency. So authentic were the performances it led to Melody Maker to rave, calling it "The best English blues LP ever released here". 
After the release of the first album, hailed as the new crusaders of the English blues movement, the band were on the fast track to success.

A few months after the release of the second LP, 'Mr. Wonderful', having added a third guitarist Danny Kirwan, they had huge commercial success with the Green penned instrumental 'Albatross' which hit #1 on the British singles charts, also having the distinction of being the inspiration for The Beatles' composition "The Sun King" on their classic 'Abbey Road' album'. According to some accounts a tribute to Peter Green, it serves as illustration the high regard they were accorded by rock royalty at the time.

Several more high charting singles in the form of "Man Of The World", "Oh Well" and "The Green Manalishi(With The Two-Prong Crown)" followed, all reaching the Top 10 of the UK charts, resulting in Fleetwood Mac, according to Melody Maker, outselling both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones during this time period. 

However, at this time, which should have seen the band rise to international stardom, things began to irretrievably crumble. Green was becoming disillusioned and estranged from the music business. Like many of the time, the guitarist experimented with psychedelic drugs, which combined with the pressures of adulation and increasing fame, made him turn increasingly away from materialism and towards spirituality.

This new found mindset led him to resign from Fleetwood Mac in 1970 following a disagreement over his wish to donate the band's royalties to the fight against Third World starvation. A noble gesture, perhaps, but not one which was shared by the other members of the band.

The sudden departure of their most prominent songwriter certainly threw the band into despondency. However, with the addition of Chicken Shack's Christine Perfect (Later McVie) on keyboards and vocals, they soldiered on  for the sessions which were to become 1970's 'Kiln House'. Suddenly without Green, the band relied on the contributions of guitarists Spencer and Kirwan heavily, giving the recordings  a much different, more laid back feel than 'Then Play On' released only a year prior.

Fame, success and drugs,  the pressure of being thrust into the spotlight, and an increasing alienation in musical direction took their toll once again, this time on Jeremy Spencer.

During a US tour in 1971, Spencer left his hotel to visit a book shop and did not return. He was eventually tracked down and found to have joined the religious group Children of God, and declared that he no long wanted to be part of the band.

After leaving the band, Spencer spent the next two and half decades pursuing spiritual concerns. Travelling across the world, much of this time period is shrouded in mystery and myth. Little was heard from the guitarist in this period, although two albums were released in the 70's which had little commercial success.

In 1998, Spencer was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame as a founding member of Fleetwood Mac.

In 2006 he released a new album, 'Precious Little' , which showed the guitarist returning to the slide guitar dominated blues he was renowned for while a member of Fleetwood Mac.  Recorded over five days in 2005 in a Norway studio during the Notodden Blues Festival, it was given universal critical acclaim as a return to form, with AllMusic calling it "Worth the wait".

2012's 'Bend In The Road', a similarly styled blues offering, recorded with Detroit based musicians  was given the same reception by fans and critics alike.

Now it's 2014, and Spencer not only has a new album, 'Coventry Blue' culled from the same Detroit sessions that produced 2012’s critically acclaimed “Bend in the Road”, due to be released early March via Propelz Records, but also is embarking on his first tour of the United States in 43 years.

Recently we had the wonderful opportunity to catch up with Jeremy to discuss the new album, the tour, his days in Fleetwood Mac, and much more. Join us as we have an exclusive conversation with one of the world's premier slide guitarists, Jeremy Spencer.   Click here

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