Tuesday 23 December @ 18:37:51
by Tom Hallett
Hey, ho, Dial-heads! Happy Holidaze to ya all, hope you’re enjoyin’ the best of the season, wherever you are. If you’re like me, you’ve had just about enough of the commercialized onslaught that Xmas has become, and you’re hoping like hell that I’m not going to write some long-winded, sappy, over-wrought Noel column. Well, guess what? I’m not!! As a matter of fact, this week’s column is so far removed from -er- THAT, that by the end of it, ya just might forget what time of year it is at all. Let’s give ‘er a shot, anyway, eh?
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "There's something about my lyrics that just have a gallantry to them. And that might be all they have going for them. But that's no small thing."
SONG OF THE WEEK: “Don't It Make You Want To Go Home”
Yeah, while the rest of the world is reading (those who can read, anyway) about candy canes and Grinches and boxes and bows, we here at RTD will happily dig away into the dirty side of rock n’ roll: drugs, egos, religious cults, endless lineup changes, sex, money, and, oh yeah—music! Now, don’t that sound like a hoot, kiddies? And just to keep ya on yer toes, we’ll look into the distant past of a band whose current career is based on a past that happened after the past we’re gonna tell ya about. Confused? Great! Don’t worry, once you hear this seamy little tale, you’ll understand more about this band than you probably ever wanted to.
So who we talkin’ about here? With a list of transgressions as long as the one I’ve listed above, you’d think we’re talkin’ Judas Priest, or Black Sabbath, or Motley Crue, or even Leo Sayer, but nope. You probably know ‘em best as purveyors of fine-tuned California power-pop, or worse, a lame, overproduced ’80s Lite FM act. You may have even paid exhorbitant prices for tickets to their latest tour, or the long-winded album they cut to accompany said tour.
Either way (or whether you know anything at all about ‘em besides the fact that the Clintons used one of their tunes during an election campaign), you’ll probably be surprised to know that Stevie, Lindsey, Christine, Mick, and John—better known collectively as Fleetwood Mac—are a part of such a radical and (can ya believe this) INTERESTING past. I know everytime I hear somethin’ new about the formative years of the band, I’m surprised.
I know, I know, you’re scratchin’ yer heads an’ sayin’, “What in the hell is Hallett rambling on about this time?” And I can’t say I blame ya. But the other day, as I was diggin’ through a stack of albums a friend loaned me, I came across a Fleetwood Mac album I’d never seen or heard before. Kiln House, it’s called. The record came out in September of 1970, and Mick Fleetwood and John McVie were the only two members (officially) on the album who are still in the band. Of course, they’ve always been in the band—the outfit’s name comes from Mick’s last name and “Mac,” John’s nickname.
The artwork (courtesy of future band member—and future Mrs. McVie— Christine Perfect) is absolutely inspiring, a broad, sweeping painting of two little girls with a dog, standing on a hippety-hop trail an’ pointing up at a high-rising rainbow. They’re facing a little house (Umm- Kiln House, one would assume) and standing next to a tree that sports a sign featuring the album title and band name. All around this idyllic scene, happy little birds and tiny little leprechauns or elves frolick and carouse. Considering the era and the band’s (at that time) predeliction for psychedelic drug use, my worst fear was that the music inside would match the cover art—thankfully, that’s not the case.
But before we dig too deeply into the record and what kind of sounds it holds, let’s flash back briefly to the beginnings of Fleetwood Mac. English session men Mick Fleetwood and John McVie, along with guitarist Peter Green, were members of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers outfit in the mid-’60s when, inspired by the burgeoning power trio groove in the music world, they jumped ship and formed the early version of F.M.
The band took their cues from dirty American blues, going so far as to record a live album in the U.S. with heavy hitters like Willie Dixon and Otis Spann in 1969. Once again pushing the boundaries, the band recruited two more guitarists, Jeremy Spencer and Danny Kirwan, and had several international hits, including “Oh, Well” and “The Green Manalishi.”
As the band made an international splash and began receiving critical accolades from every corner, lead singer/guitarist Peter Green began to come apart at the seams. Heavy LSD use, combined with a brutal touring schedule, led to a mental breakdown on the order of Pink Floyd’s Sid Barrett or the 13th Floor Elevators’ Roky Erickson. Green began threatening to give away all the band’s proceeds to charity (why does it take acid to bring out those warm, fuzzy feelings?), and finally left in the spring of 1970.
And although he’s released a few solo albums in the intervening years, he’s never recaptured the magic and spirit of those first five years with the Mac.
It was at this point that Christine Perfect was brought on board as a keyboardist/backing vocalist, but because of a previous contract, she couldn’t receive proper dues on the band’s next album, Then Play On. By ’71, though, she’d not only become a full-fledged member, she’d married John McVie, virtually guaranteeing her a place with the group for the forseeable future. But back to 1970 for a minnit, if ya please—Christine’s only official contribution to the album we’re discussing today was that mind-blowing artwork.
The lineup on Kiln House consisted of Mick, John, Jeremy Spencer and Danny Kirwan, and that brings us back to the sound the band forged for their fifth album proper. Was it the dirty, nasty American blues sound that Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer had nailed with such enthusiastic precision during the ’60s? Nope. Was it the harsh yet melodic proto-metal of Green-penned rockers like “Oh Well” or “Green Manalishi?” Again, no. The sounds on Kiln House were never heard from the Mac before, and it’s a sure bet they never will be again.
Odd, uneven, based more in ’50s rock-a-billy, country twang, and the uptown blues that Green had shunned so vehemently, Kiln House is the bizarre mish-mash that it is precisely because of the upheaval the group was undergoing. The band’s loss of its musical navigator, Green; Spencer’s own rapid departure from the land of the sane via LSD; and frankly, the fact that Mick and John are really weird English geezers all led to the creation of this album.
No offense to our Limey compatriots, but the latter pair’s escapades during the seventies with Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, and a host of fill-ins have proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that they’re total freaks and not a bit shy about it. Yeah, there’s a big reason why the Mac’s the only fucking band in the history of the world that’s not only named after, but been helmed by, its rhythm section for nearly forty years. Jesus.
So anyway, back to Kiln House. The first track, “This Is The Rock,” is immediately off-putting, mainly because, well, it’s not. The rock, that is. It’s hokey, fifties-esque shooby-doo-wa bullshit, with Spencer inviting us to lose all our troubles and cares, to LOSE OUR BLUES!! No shit, that’s probably the biggest lyrical insult he coulda sent Green’s way.
I mean, not only do we not do the blues anymore, but we’re telling all of your fans, Petey-wheatie, to say FUCK THE BLUES, it’s time to ROCK!! “And it turns you on...Whooo!!” shouts Spencer, as rivulets of acid-tinged sweat no doubt wend their way down his happily unfurrowed brow.
“Station Man,” the album’s second cut, is where things start to take an interesting turn. Easing in like an old steam engine to a comfy little whistle-stop, the tune features Spencer’s trademark slide guitar mining the American West while Mick and John pound out a weird voodoo rhythm and Kirwan lets fly slithering, psychedelic axe solos. The song doesn’t really say anything (like so many songs in 1970 didn’t), but is a study in change—this is the sound the band was probably trying to get in the studio for some time.
The sound that caused Peter Green to take that final slide into utter madness. And it didn’t take long for Spencer to follow. Kirwan, too, would leave the band under a cloud a few years later. Only Mick and the two McVies would survive the power and fury of Kiln House.
“Blood On The Floor” could be an outtake from Ween’s Country album, Kirwan drawling out in a goofy Texas twang: “Well, goodbye world/It’s sad but true/Got a date with the hangman/I have to leave you/I shot my darlin’/Three times or more/The reason I’m goin’/Is blood on the floor...” And THIS is where I realized, upon my first listen, that Kiln House was the album The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and Commander Cody were always afraid you’d hear. Because stoned-out Americans weren’t the only cats makin’ Nashville-style country rock in 1970, chillun, good ole Fleetwood Mac was right there alongside ‘em, slingin’ their axes low and beltin’ out the honky-tonk. And what a delight it is. Kiln House would be worth the price if only for this song alone. Thankfully, there’s more fun to be had.
“Hi Ho Silver” (A Fats Waller tune) is as close to a blues stomp as this version of F.M. gets, and although Big Walter blows a mean harp, the grungy guitars on top make no bones about letting you know that this is THE ROCK, buddy, not the blues. Spencer had had enough of that shit by then, apparently. And man, when he busts loose on his six-string, you realize he musta been kinda bummed living in Green’s massive shadow for all those years, too. Sure, it’s a cover, and sure, it’s been done better, but for my money, just hearing the urgency in this band’s attack makes it one I’m glad I heard.
“Jewel Eyed Judy” rolls out deceptively, easy pickin’ and a soft, funky beat. Psychedelic lyrics/vocals, silly hippie shit, who cares, yer thinkin’, when you realize this could be a lost Badfinger track—it’s growing, Jimmy! Run! Run for your life! No—now it’s the Faces! No—now it’s T. Rex! Holey records, Batman, this can’t be FLEETWOOD MAC! Can it? You betcher biffy, Boy Wonder!
“Buddy’s Song” (with writing credits going to Ella Holly, who was Buddy Holly’s mom—couldn’t pin that one down, except to figure that maybe Spencer thought that by giving her the credit she’d get some kind of royalties outta the deal. Damn, them hippies could be NICE, couldn’t they?) is a straight-up tribute to the dead rocker who inspired Don McClean’s “American Pie,” right down to the Crickets-ish beat and the coppin’ of Holly lyrics. But ya know what? If you dig Buddy Holly, you’ll dig this tribute. It’s dorky, but it’s heartfelt—kinda like most of Buddy’s songs, and Kirwan’s leads on this one are absolutely smokin’.
“Earl Grey” breaks the album’s head-rushing pace a bit, of course—any song named after a brand of tea threatens to come out as stuffy as an old retired British Parliament member, but this one turns out to be a tasty, well-crafted instrumental that features what surely must be an undercover Christine McVie on keyboards and has just a hint of the spare, stark material she later contributed to the band (“Oh, Daddy,” etc.). One thing’s for sure—Peter Green wouldn’t have been caught dead within a thousand miles of a song this melodic and pop-savvy. Another reason, I’m sure, that Spencer and Kirwan made sure it was on this record.
“One Together” chimes out on lazy acoustic riffs and a belly-pleasin’ beat, gorgeous harmonies behind melancholy vocals that are so Byrd-like I was actually surprised that it’s a Spencer original. Well, you know what I mean. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I mean, I’d rather hear an album full of homages to Buddy Holly and The Byrds than say, Buddy Hackett and The Eagles, ya know? It’s a pretty song, and sometimes that’s all it takes to make ya feel good. I diggit.
“Tell Me All The Things You Do” brings the fire right back up again with a biting axe intro and driving rhythms—conjuring the spirits of CCR, Mountain, and a slightly off-kilter Steve Marriott. More burbling keyboards in the background—then Brrrooowww!! on the piano—oh yeah, buddy, there’s no doubt that Christine’s presence is here, even if Spencer does take credit for it in the album’s liner notes. Shit, who can blame her for tearin’ it up on one song when she did such a kickass job on the artwork and wasn’t given musical credit for two goddamn albums? I’d PLINK too, man.
The final cut on Kiln House, “Mission Bell,” is another cover (written by William Michael and Jesse Hodges)—this one a ringing, sepia-toned blast from the past. “My love is higher than a mission bell/Deeper than a wishing well...” A song Buddy Holly woulda covered? You betcha! Damn, man, all those years of playin’ killer gut-bucket blues, and ole Jer Spencer just wanted to rock an’ roll!
An’ Kirwan just wanted to join Gram Parsons and Keith Richards at the Drop Dead Saloon for shots of rotgut whiskey an’ rousing choruses of old cowhand tunes.
Makes ya wonder how many bands there are out there right now, bands that you and I totally dig, with members who really, really, really HATE what they’re playing and wish to Christ they could do whatever it is that actually turns ‘em on. You might even be one of those cats yourself. If you are, take a cue from Jeremy Spencer—get out now!
After completing Kiln House, the band headed back to America for another full-blown tour. Several shows into the excursion, Spencer disappeared, effectively ruining the effort. Not long after, he was found living in a religious commune in Southern California (looking for Stevie??), where he’d joined a bizarre cult and renounced all his evil worldy ways. Now that’s takin’ it to the limit, pal. Me, I woulda stayed in that middle ground with THE ROCK an’ the country an’ the weird rhythm section. But hey, there’s no accounting for taste, right? But then, I’m bettin’ Kiln House didn’t exactly pull in the rave reviews, especially after Green had made such a mark with the band’s first incarnation. So who ya gonna run to when the chips are down? Why, it’s California Jesus, kids!! Whoo-hoo! Now THAT’S the ROCK, Jer.
As for the rest of the gang, Kirwan split not long after, Bob Welch joined up and left not long after, and once Mick an’ John spent a few weeks in L.A. and discovered that much sought-after Buckingham-Nicks album, well, that was all she wrote, kids. The overplayed, over-exposed, over-produced Fleetwood Mac that you all know and hate so well was born. But for a time in the sixties, and for a brief, experimental moment in the early seventies, the band was an unstoppable, awesome force. Whether it was the blues, country, or THE ROCK, they rocked! And you should hear it.
Kiln House is still in print, and available on CD from Reprise Records. Ya just might fill in a few blanks while yer at it. Me, I’m gonna lock all my doors, stuff a cherry bomb up the chimney, and dare that fat-ass in the red suit to show his pink, puffy, bearded face around here. I got me some drinkin’ to do an’ a kickass soundtrack in Kiln House. Ya’ll have a good one, and come back again, y’hear? Until next time—make yer own damn news.
If you have local music news/gigs/events that you’d like to see listed in this column, or you’re a famous rock star who wants to give away all of your earnings so you can go join a cult, send replies/checks to: TMygunn777@aol.com.