There are some who’d say the “real” Fleetwood Mac ended when Peter Green left the band for good in 1972, but what happened two years later was something else entirely. It was one of the strangest situations in pop music history–not a single member of the original band, or even one of their replacements, was involved in a group called Fleetwood Mac that toured the U.S….until the ruse was sniffed out. Fiona McQuarrie has the full story.
by Fiona McQuarrie
The question of what constitutes a “real” band is a complicated one. Purists might insist that the “real” band is the very first lineup, or whichever subsequent lineup produced their favourite song or album. But the musicians who played on that beloved record might not even be the same musicians that played those songs live. Then there are the tribute bands, and bands that are now one or two founding members backed by musicians who could be their grandkids, and multiple live versions of the same band, with each one led by a member of the original group. It’s a messy world out there.
But even in that confusing environment, it’s highly unusual for a band to go on tour without the involvement of any past or current members. That’s why the “fake Fleetwood Mac” debacle of 1974 still stands out as one of the strangest episodes in pop music history, and, in retrospect, as a pivotal point in the 50-year history of the real Fleetwood Mac.
Arguably, the “realest” of the real Fleetwood Macs (circa 1969). Peter Green, Danny Kirwan, Jeremy Spencer on guitars; John McVie on bass; Mick Fleetwood on drums:
Under the guidance of manager Clifford Davis, Fleetwood Mac initially established itself in 1967 as one of the bright lights of the late 1960s UK blues scene. Then founder Peter Green departed in 1970, followed by guitarist Jeremy Spencer abruptly quitting during a 1971 US tour to join a religious cult. Guitarist Danny Kirwan and guitarist/vocalist Bob Welch, along with keyboard player Christine McVie, then joined drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie in the group. While Mick Fleetwood has said these turbulent years were a time of “survival” for Fleetwood Mac, he also describes the band’s evolving jazz-influenced sound from that period as “tremendously interesting, and essentially the entire backdrop to all of the variant pieces that followed”.
But the chaos returned in late 1972 during the tour to support the Bare Trees album, when Kirwan was fired by the rest of the band for his unstable behavior. At the same time, Fleetwood said in his autobiography, “our fan base had moved across the Atlantic…our die-hard blues fans [in the UK] felt that we’d abandoned them”. Thus, touring in the U.S. became even more critical to Fleetwood Mac’s fortunes.
After Kirwan’s departure, guitarist Bob Weston and vocalist Dave Walker were added for the Penguin album; Walker soon departed, but Weston stayed on for Mystery to Me and the U.S. tour prior to that album’s release. However, John and Christine McVie’s marriage was falling apart, and then during the tour Weston had an affair with Fleetwood’s wife, Jenny. The band attempted to “soldier on”, but the conflicts became unbearable. Despite Davis allegedly threatening “if you blow this tour, you’ll never get another chance,” Fleetwood took the initiative to fire Weston and cancel the rest of the tour.
When the remaining members of Fleetwood Mac returned home to the UK in the fall of 1973, they told Davis that they needed a break. Welch said, “[We told him] we don’t want to work until we say we want to work, and we don’t want to make a record until we say we want to. The band’s not breaking up, but we don’t know what we want to do, and everybody just needs a long rest, so just wait until you hear from us.”
Davis’ side of the story has not been extensively chronicled, but it’s possible that he was concerned about losing Fleetwood Mac’s hard-won commercial momentum in the U.S., especially with Mystery to Me about to hit the record stores. In Welch’s words, “I guess he just couldn’t wait.”
So in October 1973, Davis took the audacious step of assembling a group of musicians to become Fleetwood Mac. He recruited vocalist Elmer Gantry (a.k.a. Dave Todd), formerly of Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Opera; guitarist Kirby Gregory, from another of Davis’ acts, Curved Air; bassist Paul Martinez, from the Downliners Sect; keyboardist John Wilkinson (listed as “Dave” or “David” Wilkinson in some sources); and drummer Craig Collinge from Manfred Mann Chapter III. Davis then booked U.S. dates for the “all new Fleetwood Mac” from mid-January through late February 1974.
Both Fleetwood and Welch have said that around this time Davis sent a letter to the members of the real Fleetwood Mac, saying that he wanted to put the band back on the road as part of a “star-studded new project” and “offering” them those U.S. tour dates. But all of them turned him down, because they were not ready to go back on the road again. Some sources indicate that the new recruits were led to believe they were joining a new version of the ever-changing Fleetwood Mac lineup, possibly because Davis allegedly told them that Fleetwood and Christine McVie would be coming on board once the tour began.
In a 2017 BBC Radio interview, Gantry and Gregory confirmed that they were indeed told by Davis that they were forming the new Fleetwood Mac. But they alleged that Fleetwood’s involvement in the project went much further than what Fleetwood described in his autobiography. Gantry said, “Mick Fleetwood came to our house and we talked through the new band, and it all seemed fine. Mick said, well, I can’t actually come and rehearse with you, it was fairly imminent going to America to tour, but if you get [a temporary] drummer, I’ll join you for the tour.” He added that he had recently seen “court papers from the 1970s” in which Fleetwood testified that this meeting had taken place. Gregory said that he and Gantry had played Little Feat’s ‘Dixie Chicken’ to Fleetwood as an example of the type of music they liked, and that Fleetwood gave his approval to the set list of Fleetwood Mac numbers they had chosen.
The Fleetwood Mac tour opened on January 16 at a venue in suburban Pittsburgh. The promoter of that show, Rich Engler, recounts in his autobiography that he had just formed a new concert promotion business, and wanted to start things off right with a show that he knew would be successful. He booked Fleetwood Mac because he knew the musicians from their previous U.S. tours – but when five unfamiliar people arrived at the venue with Davis, Engler asked, “Where is Fleetwood Mac?” Davis said this was the band; Engler declared that they were not and, furthermore, that he wasn’t going to let them onto the stage.
At this point, Davis “took a swing at him” and, after security separated them, told Engler that his new agency would have trouble “with the people in New York” if the alleged Fleetwood Mac did not perform. Engler decided to let the show go ahead, and the audience was surprisingly receptive.
“[The band] were really good. I don’t know if the crowd was just really stoned or didn’t know what Fleetwood Mac looked like,” said Engler.
The fake Fleetwood Mac episode was a traumatic and damaging experience for the real Fleetwood Mac- but it had some unexpected benefits in the long run.
Several audience members recognized the deception and demanded refunds, which Davis refused to give but which Engler decided to hand out anyway. The next morning, Engler phoned the band’s booking agency in New York to let them know that the Fleetwood Mac on tour was not the real Fleetwood Mac, The agency refused to believe him.
The next documented show by the band was January 26, at the Academy of Music in New York. By this time, the story of “the fake Fleetwood Mac” was circulating within the music industry, and Rolling Stone sent a reporter to cover the New York show. Davis was interviewed at the venue, and boldly proclaimed, “This band is my band…I’ve always been the leader of the band as such.” He claimed that Mick Fleetwood had flown to the U.S. on January 13 with the intention of being on the tour, but had to return home the next day because of “family troubles”.
The show turned out to be a disaster. Gantry claimed that he had lost his voice, despite apparently being in fine form the previous night. Rolling Stone noted that the venue and the promoters were not made aware of Gantry’s vocal problems until after Kiss’ opening set, when it was too late to cancel the show and give refunds to the audience. While the show’s promoters argued with Davis and the band backstage, the second opening act, Silverhead, filled the time by playing a 90-minute set. The New York Times reviewer dryly noted that this was “not to the advantage of the British group, which found its basic rock style stretched a little thin.”
Finally, it was agreed that the band billed as Fleetwood Mac would fulfill its contractual obligations by playing a set of instrumentals, and the evening concluded with a series of extended blues-based jams. The New York Times review noted that “Fleetwood Mac has completely changed personnel since its last New York visit”.
Before long, the real Fleetwood Mac became aware that a not-real Fleetwood Mac was on the road using their name, and, even worse, was doing so with the support of their manager. Fleetwood described the situation as “the last thing we needed. It was also the most preposterous thing we’d ever heard and the greatest betrayal from one of our own that we could have imagined.” The band collectively filed lawsuits to stop the tour, and Davis counter-sued, claiming that he owned the band’s name, and that because he also held the copyright to all the band’s previous recordings, he had the right to choose who would play those songs live.
It’s unclear when the “all new Fleetwood Mac” tour of the U.S. actually shut down. A San Jose reviewer who saw Fleetwood Mac in 2009 mentioned that he last attended a Fleetwood Mac show in the area in “January 1974”. The 1974 tour schedule had that show listed for February 27, so the tour may have been shortened or rebooked. The San Jose reviewer recalled that the 1974 show by “five guys named Moe” played to a half-empty auditorium, and the angry audience members who “stormed” the box office were told “Sign this list, kid, and you’ll be mailed a full refund”. At the time of writing, the reviewer was “still waiting for that check”.
The legal battles between Davis and the real Fleetwood Mac had serious implications for the band’s future. According to Christine McVie, “We couldn’t work, not until we’d proved he didn’t own the name,” and she recalled that as “the only time I really got panicky”. The band members had numerous meetings at the UK house they collectively owned, trying to decide how to proceed.
Welch eventually convinced the band that they could manage themselves, because of their own extensive experience in touring and recording. But he also persuaded them that because the majority of the lawsuits against Davis were in the U.S. courts, the band should move to the U.S. rather than continually travelling back and forth from the UK. The band members decided that they would relocate to the U.S. for six months – a deadline that kept being extended as the legal struggles continued.
In July 1974, the UK High Court granted an injunction preventing Davis’ version of Fleetwood Mac from using the band’s name until the ownership of the name was settled. It also became apparent that the contracts between Davis and the real Fleetwood Mac restricted them from performing, but the band could still write and record. So the band got together in Los Angeles and recorded the Heroes Are Hard to Find album.
Fleetwood Mac signed a new record deal in the U.S. and got legal clearance to release Heroes there. But Davis was not done with them yet. He filed a lawsuit in the UK, claiming that the publishing contract Welch and Christine McVie had signed with him in 1971 gave him ownership of their work but did not require him to distribute any of the work that either of them might produce. One writer noted that the contract terms were “so open to ridicule and annulment in any courtroom that Davis must have had a strange mixture of guts and stupidity even to try them”. But since Welch and McVie had signed the contract, and had written all of the tracks on Heroes, the lawsuit effectively blocked the UK release of the album.
Amazingly, Davis’ claim was initially upheld by the courts. Fleetwood Mac’s UK record company then joined Welch and McVie in filing an appeal, and in October 1974, the UK courts ruled that the terms of the contract with Davis were “manifestly unfair” to Welch and McVie and were “unjustifiably restrictive of trade”. The courts nullified the agreement, allowing Heroes to be released in the UK.
That fall, the rejuvenated Fleetwood Mac was able to embark on a 44-date U.S. tour that lasted through December. During that tour, the band did a concert that was videotaped for television broadcast and did an in-studio performance for a radio show. Both of these performances were also released on several bootleg LPs, one of which was cleverly named Will The Real Fleetwood Mac Please Stand Up?. The musical track containing the introductions of the band members was titled “Cliff Davis Blooz”.
Several clips from the official recordings from this tour are on YouTube, and they make Fleetwood Mac’s personal and legal troubles seem even more poignant. This lineup had the potential to achieve so much, but its problems meant that it never really got its full chance to shine. Sadly, Welch left Fleetwood Mac at the end of 1974; he told the rest of the band that “creatively he felt he had nothing left to give”, and they all remained on good terms. Welch continued his solo career as a client of Seedy Management, the company that John McVie and Fleetwood set up to manage Fleetwood Mac’s activities.
It took two and a half years to resolve the legal battles between Davis and the band. Fleetwood Mac’s temporary move to the U.S. evolved into a permanent relocation, and in early 1975 Mick Fleetwood visited the Sound City studio in Los Angeles to see if it would be suitable for recording the band’s next album. Sound City’s engineer demonstrated the studio’s capabilities to Fleetwood by playing a track from an album that had been recorded there – the debut LP by Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. You know what happened after that.
But what of the suddenly unemployed members of the fake Fleetwood Mac? They quickly reformed as the band Stretch; Davis was quoted in a record company press release as saying, “I set up Stretch to thank them for helping Mick Fleetwood and me out of a very delicate situation.” Stretch’s first single, the funky ‘Why Did You Do It?’, became a surprise top 20 hit in the UK in late 1975; Fleetwood characterized the lyrics as “a direct attack on me for not showing up for the bogus tour, which I’d never promised to do in the first place.”
In the 2017 BBC interview, Gregory claimed the song’s lyrics were “non-specific”.
But disputes soon arose within Stretch, with some of the band’s members quitting before the release of its first album, Elastique. The album received decent reviews, but the success of ‘Why Did You Do It?’ ultimately doomed the band.
Davis said in 2006, “After the first album Elmer and Kirby wanted to change direction to become Status Quo Version II, and I didn’t go along with that. I had envisaged them playing more Average White Band material like ‘Why Did You Do It.’ Eventually I said I wasn’t putting up any more money.”
The fake Fleetwood Mac episode was a traumatic and damaging experience for the real Fleetwood Mac- but it had some unexpected benefits in the long run. The legal decision around Bob Welch and Christine McVie’s songwriting contract, along with two decisions in similar cases around the same time, established important standards for fairness in music business contracts. The fake band and their manager’s perfidy also motivated the members of Fleetwood Mac to recognize their own strengths and capabilities, and to take control of their own future.
And while the band’s move to the U.S. was precipitated by its legal troubles, that move indirectly led to the creation of two massively successful albums: 1975’s Fleetwood Mac and 1976’s Rumours, the foundation of the popularity that Fleetwood Mac enjoys to this day. The fiasco of the fake Fleetwood Mac eventually turned out to be an unexpected catalyst for much greater things.