THE ORIGINAL FLEETWOOD MAC BLUESMAN IS BACK WITH A NEW ALBUM AND TOUR
by Sam Epstein~
The last time Jeremy Spencer was scheduled to play with Fleetwood Mac at the Whiskey in 1971 is the stuff of legend. He stepped out for a smoke before the show and disappeared, leaving his bandmates in the lurch. A few days later they found him living with a religious commune, seemingly destined to be little more than a rock history footnote.
As Spencer told Bill Wasserzieher in a wide-ranging, 2006 interview (rocksbackpages.com), “I was merely filling the role of being a showman, but with unoriginal material and parodying, which pretty much became just mimicking Elvis in a gold lamé suit. This was very unsatisfying, to say the least. I can’t say it enough, that the lack of creative inspiration for me was devastating. It was practically killing me, along with my questions about life and what was I living for. Nothing seemed to have any purpose. I really did feel like Solomon, that ‘all is vanity,’ although I’d gotten to that point at only 22 years old. And bottom line, I just didn’t enjoy playing anymore.”
He resurfaced with a pair of sporadic releases, Columbia’s 1972 Jeremy Spencer and The Children and Atlantic Record’s 1978 Flee; both offhandedly dismissed, as they didn’t resemble Jeremy Spencer — the blues hero of yore. Then nothing.
In 1998, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame welcomed two versions of Fleetwood Mac into its ranks: One the famous Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, Christine McVie, John McVie lineup, and their celebrity romantic interplay played out in song. Their 1977 album Rumours stayed on the pop charts for 134 weeks. The other, earlier version of Fleetwood Mac began life in 1967and barely lasted into the 1970s before guitarists Peter Green, Jeremy Spencer, and Danny Kirwan left, one by one, each suffering from some combination of mental, spiritual, and emotional breakdowns. One group epitomized mega-selling ‘70s and ‘80s rock; the other were Britain’s most authentic blues band with a succession of wondrous records: “Black Magic Woman,” “Oh Well,” “Albatross,” “The Green Manalishi,” “Man of The World,” “Somebody’s Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonight” and the album Then Play On. Both shared the name Fleetwood Mac, but only the rhythm section of Mick Fleetwood and John McVie linked the two. At the Hall of Fame that night both Fleetwood Macs were represented. Jeremy Spencer could have been onstage too, but he wasn’t. He was half a world away in India, playing charity benefits for the blind.
The message that Jeremy is alive and extremely well came in 2006 with the release of Precious Little on Blind Pig. Like a bolt from the blue his resurrection upended the “What ever happened to?” theorizers and astonished critics, pundits and bloggers:
“All of Spencer’s trademark elements are intact on Precious Little: the earnest, boyish tenor, the silky slide work, the spirited Chicago blues and Memphis rockabilly…” – Uncut.
“Spencer sounds both confident and relaxed throughout this set of parlor blues, and his slide guitar is nothing less than virtuosic” – No Depression.
“In recent years,” he told Wasserzieher, “I felt I just wanted something to be out there for those that are interested, an album that I was musically happy with and that was representative of me now, with no pressure of opinions, preconceived ideas of how I should be ‘marketed,’ and trends…
“It did take some courage just to do it, regardless of what I imagined people would expect of me in terms of a “comeback” style — you know, big, flashy, and screaming. “Come on, Jer, give us the ol’ piss-takes and ‘Shake Your Moneymaker’.” I wanted it small, simple, and uncluttered. Collectively, including the engineers, it seemed we were always unconsciously thinking small, tasteful. If there was anything I wanted to prove, it was that I could do just that and have a listenable product that the public and even I would enjoy.”
In 2010, Spencer followed up with a limited edition, double vinyl album for International Record Store Day emblematically entitled: Bend In the Road. It was a result of a suggestion to team up with a young band of Fleetwood enthusiasts. The musical chemistry was instant and inspiring. So much so that 32 diverse tracks were laid down creating an album that moves confidently from blues to Americana to rootsy pop. The Elmore James and Buddy Holly influences and impeccable blues and rock renderings remain intact and vibrant.
Making a full-blown return now, and with visa in hand, Jeremy has just announced an ambitious D.I.Y February and March U.S. tour in support of both the critically acclaimed Bend in the Road and forthcoming Coventry Blue release. Coventry Blue boldly extends his musical sweep, furthering his creative exploration with his blues roots undercurrent. Considering his career output, this marks an especially prolific and courageous period for Spencer with two albums released in just two years and mounting of support tour.
For the latter, he has Spencer taken a bold step by embracing crowd funding by launching a Kickstarter campaign to generate tour seed money, fund the new CD and connect directly with fans.
Kickstarter supporters will be eligible to receive previously un-released tracks, autographed CDs, vinyl, posters, original artwork, attend slide guitar workshops, meet and greets, even private concerts. A members-only Tour Club has been created that will provide exclusive live video and audio performances from the tour.
Except for a few brief U.S. appearances in 2006 and 2010, 43 years have passed since Jeremy last toured here with Fleetwood Mac in 1971. He is still arguably the foremost Elmore James stylist alive. Bar none.
His tour band will include Brett Lucas (Bettye Lavette), as well as Brill Building alum, Northern Soul legend and left-handed upside-down guitarist, singer-songwriter Evie Sands. Welcome back!