Future Games: In Praise of Bob Welch

Several years ago, I went on the record on one of my blogs stating that: “I will not go to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame until they admit Bob Welch as a member of Fleetwood Mac. It’s a travesty that they excluded him, since he’s the one who kept things going after Danny Kirwan flamed out and before Buckingham-Nicks arrived. Stupid, unjust and arbitrary.”

So it looks like I’ll be permanently removing Cleveland’s Great Pyramid from my to-do list now, since Welch sadly died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound this week, never having been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I never really have understood the Hall’s need to identify which members of a qualifying band make the cut and which members don’t . . . I would prefer that they just admit the whole band, and tell their story, and let the fans decide how important the so-called “minor players” were. But even if I accepted their idiotic approach to putting the life cycles of  bands into little boxes where some members are in and some members are out, the slight to Bob Welch is an odious one, especially when the Hall saw fit to include Jeremy Spencer as an “official” member of Fleetwood Mac.

Bob Welch (1945-2012)

Spencer was a Fleetwood Mac founding member, yes, but his creative contributions to the band’s body of distinctive music paled in comparison to Welch’s. Spencer  was mostly a one-trick musical pony (he mimicked Elmore James) who contributed only a few blues rip-off and rock and roll parody songwriting credits to Fleetwood Mac’s first four studio albums, didn’t play on half of those albums, nor on most of their seminal early singles (including “Oh Well,” “Albatross,” “Man Of the World” and “The Green Manalishi”), and abruptly left the band in a lurch on tour to join a cult. Bob Welch was Spencer’s replacement, the first American member of the band, and the one who encouraged Fleetwood Mac to relocate to Los Angeles to better cultivate an American audience. He recorded five albums with the group and wrote or co-wrote nearly half of their songs during that time, including “Hypnotized” and “Sentimental Lady,” both of which earned the group some well-deserved radio play in the States.

Welch’s tenure in the band spanned some of Fleetwood Mac’s most tumultuous days, with guitarist Danny Kirwan leaving after an alcohol-fueled on-stage blow-up, replacement guitarist Bob Weston leaving after having an affair with Mick Fleetwood’s wife (leaving Welch to front the first single-guitar version of the band), John and Christine McVie’s marriage falling apart, and the group’s manager putting a fake Fleetwood Mac on the road to tour the States when the real deal was unable to do so. By 1975, Welch had had enough, and left Fleetwood Mac to form Paris with former Jethro Tull bassist Glenn Cornick. (For what it’s worth, while Paris have been largely reviled over the years, I actually like their two records a lot).

Welch’s departure allowed Lindsey Buckingham to assume the Mac guitar slot, bringing Stevie Nicks with him, and the rest is history. The huge success of the first two Fleetwood Mac albums with Buckingham-Nicks in the band somehow turned Welch into some sort of pitiable Pete Best-like figure, who left a massive group just before it broke big. But that’s really an unfair assessment, since Welch oversaw the transition of the Mac from a British blues band to a smooth American rock band, making it possible for someone like Buckingham to step in and work his own magic. I believe that Buckingham himself knew this, as he and other members of Fleetwood Mac worked on Welch’s first post-Paris solo album, French Kiss, which became a huge platinum hit, largely on the strength of its solo remake of Welch’s Fleetwood Mac track, “Sentimental Lady.” Welch’s career faltered after his sophomore solo disc, but that’s no reason to devalue the great work he did once upon a time, is it?

So if Fleetwood Mac belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (and I think they do), then Bob Welch certainly deserves to be a part of that story. It’s a shame that he spent the last decade of his life feeling like he’d been written out of his own history. I recommend you go listen to his work on Future Games (1971), Bare Trees (1972) or Mystery to Me (1973), the best of the albums that he recorded with Fleetwood Mac. I like them a lot, and listen to them a lot. More than I listen to Rumors, actually.

As a P.S. on a happier note, thanks to the Ames Tribune‘s Ezgi Ustundag and Iowaves Music Blog‘s Dave Murphy for including Indie Moines in their list of “10 Things: Best Local Music Blogs.” Those are kind words there, and we appreciate them!

7 thoughts on “Future Games: In Praise of Bob Welch

  1. Exactly, the man was slighted and overlooked in the most ignorant and rude way by Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Really shocking and sad for him and a sad ending to his life.

    • I think it also speaks volumes that his bandmates didn’t speak up on his behalf . . . when the Ramones were inducted, and they did not include C.J., Johnny refused to participate and publicly slagged the Hall for excluding someone who viewed as an important part of the band’s history. Mick Fleetwood is on the record as having said that Welch saved the band . . . but that might have been before Welch sued him and the McVies for failure to pay his royalties, so there’s probably some malice/malfeasance at play there, I would suspect . . .

  2. He would’ve been much better off had he stuck with the core LA session/side pros – the Sklars, the Kortchmars, etc. Perhaps the key phrase in your most excellent observation is that of the transition from Brit blues band to smooth American rock band…a point prior to which I had de-trained because at that point Mac didn’t sound like it knew enough of or about itself, whichever incarnation it was supposed to be, to spend much time listening to (unless one was in a given young lady’s dorm room attempting to woo said young lady).

    But I would also like to say that very idea of a rock ‘n’ roll hall of fame is completely antithetical and I would much rather, like a minor league baseball fan who can say he saw an MLB hall of famer in A ball, say I saw some future megastar woodshedding instead of worshipping exhibits.

    • I do agree that the Hall is a clueless abomination, just like the Grammies, but I keep paying attention to them, since I just can’t stop rubbernecking at trainwrecks like this one (and others) . . .

      The first Fleetwood Mac album I ever heard was “Future Games,” and I just loved it to pieces from the git-go, and still do so . . . it’s the only one of their records on the last Top 100 list I did (http://indiemoines.com/2011/01/11/my-100-favorite-albums-ever/), and the comment I used to open this article was from a piece I wrote about finding it on CD for the first time in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where I noted . . . . I picked up a copy of Fleetwood Mac’s Future Games, probably my favorite of their albums, and one which I’d never seen in digital format before. Danny Kirwan was a genius guitar player and songwriter who got lost in the historical mix between the Peter Green/Jeremy Spencer and Lindsey Buckingham/Stevie Nicks eras. Future Games has what I consider to be his two finest songs: “Sands of Time” and “Woman of 1000 Years.” The album also marks Bob Welch’s debut with the band, and he purports himself well on the lovely and uplifting title track and the ripsnorting “Lay It All Down.” Christine McVie adds all the class that she normally does, especially on “Show Me A Smile,” which really should have been a bigger hit than (yuck) “Rhiannon.”

      So for me, the whole Buckingham-Nicks thing was something of a side-step from what I liked . . . and while everyone gets all googly-eyed about Buckingham’s production and songwriting skills, I think it’s important to note that Christine McVie penned and sang more of their biggest ’70s hits than Buckingham and Nicks did together . . . so I think she deserves more credit than she gets, sometimes, just like Bob Welch . . .

  3. Always liked Bob Welch — the other single off of “French Kiss” (“Ebony Eyes”) was a favorite of mine as a wee lad. Liked it enough that when I got more seriously into music a few years later, I did what any budding music nerd back then did — went to the library, dug through the old copies of Billboard and “discovered” his early tenure with the Mac.

    Sorry to hear about his sad end — it is a shame.

    • I would go to the library, dig through the old copies of Billboard, discover people’s back catalogs, then check them out of the library . . . and forget to return them. I still have a copy of “Focus Live at the Rainbow” on vinyl that has a “Nassau Community College” sticker on the front of it . . .

  4. I could not agree more. Absolutely ridiculous to omit him from their Hall of Fame induction. Great songwriter, guitarist, singer and his work represents a HUGE part of their history, not to mention said work also represents some of their most unique and truly musical moments, live and on vinyl.

    Go to the Bob Welch Facebook page to sign the petition.

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