I’ve said here many times that I’m a fan of Fleetwood Mac and especially their era just before the Buckingham/Nicks led version of the band that made them a household name. The impetus of that era was singer-songwriter-guitarist Bob Welch, the first American to join the previously all-Brit Mac, and the catalyst that pushed them into the more pop oriented direction that eventually made their name.
Unfortunately, Welch took his own life today in Nashville, apparently suffering from medical issues, but still officially undisclosed. Regardless, this hits me at a level that is difficult to express because, along with the band Broadcast, I listen to at least one of the five Welch-era F’Mac albums at least once a week, and that’s certainly saying something.
Bob Welch, 1945-2012
I remember when I first bought an album featuring Welch. It was the late 90s and I was in Tullahoma, TN with Karla. We went to the mall and they had a bunch of cassettes that were dirt cheap. Bare Trees was one of them and checking out the year and knowing of a time between Peter Green and Buckingham/Nicks, I purchased it on a whim and never looked back.
Bare Trees was Welch’s second album with the band, and while his presence was established, he still had not taken official “control” as Danny Kirwan is especially present on this taut collection of lilting pop-scapes, which essentially draws together the languid offerings found on the previous effort, Future Games. Bare Trees contains one of the most beautiful love songs ever written, the Welch-penned Sentimental Lady, which is easily his best song, one of F’Mac’s most highly underrated and scandalously overlooked tracks and a tune that always brings me chills and a faint smile, and yet tonight nearly brought me to tears when I put Bare Trees in and gave it a spin.
Cover for the solo (hit) version of Sentimental Lady
Honestly, Welch’s entire tenure with the Mac is highly underrated and scandalously overlooked, for, as I’ve said previously, he steered the ship in the direction they needed to go and kept it afloat through several line up changes and frequent times of friction. Throughout it all, he stayed in focus with the music, and while he never quite touched the heights of Sentimental Lady (and few could), he was ever reliable in producing solid, sometimes quirky rockers and some memorable ballads that kept the Fleetwood Mac name compelling and enjoyable, even if they weren’t topping the charts. Honestly, I think his guitar playing complimented Christine McVie’s songs more than Buckingham did in later years, especially on the only other album pre-Buckingham/Nicks when the band had a single guitarist, the fantastic Heroes are Hard to Find, Welch’s last with the band, and a fitting swan song for his era.
And I’m just glossing over all of this, because for some time now I’ve meant to write up a proper post about this era, the best of which I would put toe to toe with all of 1975’s Fleetwood Mac, half of Rumors and a good chunk of Tusk too.
Seriously, it kills me to be talking about this amazing musician in the past tense and him not even 12 hours gone, because he’ll likely never get the recognition and credit he deserves – ever an afterthought in the juggernaut of those big albums we all know and love, or a footnote to the Peter Green days and the bluesy brilliance that was found there.
With the 1974 four-piece era of F'Mac
But I think it’s safe to say that without Bob Welch, who by the way went on to some considerable success with the band Paris and as a solo artist, Fleetwood Mac as we know them today would never have existed, if Fleetwood Mac would still be remembered at all. And while most folks would thank him for creating the bridge that led to Rhiannon and Go Your Own Way, I just want to say thanks Bob, for some truly great music, five of the best albums of the early 70s and an honest, unabashed way of presenting yourself that still strikes chords within my heart after a decade of steady listening, and will continue to do so for the rest of my life.
Miles Away live with Bob Weston, who passed earlier this year.
Performing solo hit Ebony Eyes with Stevie.
Pleased to see so many tributes already up on YouTube.