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I was whisked back to the 1960s last night, swaying away to great live British blues in a small, intimate club. At least the drummer was British, that suave giant (in more way than one – he’s 6ft 6in) of English blues, Mick Fleetwood.
Mick, of course, co-founded that great English blues band, Fleetwood Mac, in 1967 with bassist John McVie and Peter Green, often described as the best slow (electric) blues guitar player around (before his brain became scrambled with German LSD).
That was long before the ‘ladies’ joined the band and the Mac became a middle-of-the-road, internationally-acclaimed mega-group. But, as Mick announced to the packed faithful before kick-off, “There’ll be no Rhianna tonight. Not that there’s anything wrong with Rhianna”, or words to that effect.
While the Mick Fleetwood Blues Band were sensational last night, I wouldn’t put them on a higher level than the original British blues bands I watched in the 1960s – the well known and even the not so well known. Believe me, blues bands in England back then were sensationally good. That said, Fleetwood’s guitarist, Pennsylvania’s Rick Vito, managed to sing and play remarkably like Peter Green. As Fleetwood has said, “Many players have got the licks. Rick’s got the tone.” Indeed, Vito finished the show with a sublime version of the Mac’s worldwide hit, the instrumental “Albatross”, the band’s tribute to Green.
Halfway through the show, Mick Fleetwood told the audience (again I paraphrase): “For some reason, in England, back in the 60s, many gents – some ladies, but mainly gents – were playing the blues. There was us, Led Zeppelin and many others. Then we took it back to America where it had almost died out. It must have been something in the water in England.”
Actually, Mick, that’s what I’m saying in my book, America’s Gift – explaining the reasons why so many English gents started playing the blues. Please read it to find out that it wasn’t just something in the water.
And play the blues Mick and his band did last night: almost two hours’ worth of nostalgic magic. We got Mac classics like ‘Oh, Well’ and “Black Magic Woman”, as well as some ferocious rockabilly, searing blues rock and boogie woogie, Mac mashups and some originals.
On keyboard was Mark Johnstone, who also played a mean harmonica and a second drum kit, call and responding to Mick Fleetwood’s solo number. That was a classic, with Mick’s eyes popping and face gurning like days of old. Not bad for an old fella nudging 69.
On On bass was Lenny Castellanos. “I’ve been playing bass with John McVie for 40 years, so Lenny has big shoes to fill,” Mick once said.
From what I gather, Mark Johnstone and Lenny Castellanos were unknown musicans whom Mick discovered in Maui, Hawaii, where he lives. John McVie also lives (or used to live – I suppose he has many homes) in Hawaii but I think it’s on a different island to Mick.
Mick Fleetwood could easily relax and enjoy the good life in the sun on his island home. Sure, he gets his kicks drumming with today’s Fleetwood Mac.But it’s odds on he gets many more kicks playing the blues of the old Fleetwood Mac.
Would you believe Mick’s been playing with the Mac – in one line up or other – for nearly 50 years.