Five Blues Classics from Fleetwood Mac

Another in my ongoing “Take Five” series…

Drummer Mick Fleetwood turned 75 on June 24. Throughout Fleetwood Mac’s long and varied history, only he and bassist/co-founder bassist John McVie have played on every one of the band’s 17 studio albums. Fleetwood Mac broke through to superstardom with their 11th album, 1977’s Rumours. But long before the band’s soft-rock heyday, they were a powerful blues band. Here are five classics, delivered Fleetwood Mac style.

“Hellhound on My Trail” (Robert Johnson) – A 1937 song written by king of the Delta bluesmen Robert Johnson, “Hellhound” would be as highlight of Fleetwood Mac’s 1968 debut album. In contrast to the guitar-based original, Fleetwood Mac’s reading features only Jeremy Spencer on vocal and piano.

“Dust My Broom” (Robert Johnson / Elmore James) – Included on Fleetwood Mac’s second album, 1968’s Mr. Wodnerful, this song is most closely associated with slide guitarist Elmore James. Again, it’s Jeremy Spencer who takes the lead, this time on guitar and vocals. Session pianist Christine Perfect can be heard in the mix as well; a few years later she’d marry bassist John McVie and join the group.

“Ooh Baby” (Howlin’ Wolf) – In 1969 Fleetwood Mac traveled to Chicago, recording with a number of revered blues musicians including Otis Spann, Willie Dixon and Buddy Guy. Leader Peter Green takes the lead vocal on this spare, lean and mean reading of the Howlin’ Wolf classic.

“Hi Ho Silver” (“Honey Hush”) (Big Joe Turner) – Featuring lead vocals by Jeremy Spencer (one of three guitarists in the group) this track demonstrates Fleetwood Mac’s appreciation of jump blues, the missing link between blues and rock. The Beatles played the song during the Let it Be sessions in January ‘69, with an arrangement closely modeled on this recording.

“Jumping at Shadows” (Duster Bennett) – Peter Green wrings all of the haunted passion and subtlety out of this tune, recorded live in Boston in 1970. Originally planned for release shortly after the performance, the recordings wouldn’t see official released until 1985.