Future Games: In Praise of Bob Welch (1945-2012)

Several years ago, I went on the record in one of my blog posts 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.

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.