Take 5: Christine McVie

Two-time Grammy Award winner Christine McVie passed away in November after a brief illness. The singer, songwriter and musician enjoyed widespread critical acclaim and commercial success for her work with Fleetwood Mac. Her original compositions – including but not limited to “Don’t Stop,” “You Make Loving Fun” and “Songbird,” all from the 1977 mega-hit album Rumours – rank among the best-loved of that band’s many hits.

Born Christine Perfect, McVie would marry Fleetwood Mac bassist John McVie in 1968. But she honed her musical skills and creative abilities long before joining that band in 1970. As a keyboardist, composer and vocalist, she turned in powerful and memorable performances with her first band (Chicken Shack), on a superb solo debut and as a session player. Here are five standout tracks from her bluesy pre-Fleetwood Mac years.

When the Train Comes Back” (from 40 Blue Fingers Freshly Packed & Ready to Serve by Chicken Shack, 1968)

Along with a clutch of classic blues covers (B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, Freddie King), the debut album from British blues outfit Chicken Shack featured four original songs. Two of those were written by the group’s 25-year-old classically-trained pianist Christine Perfect.

Rollin’ Man” (from Mr. Wonderful by Fleetwood Mac, 1968)

In 1968, Chicken Shack often shared concert bills with fellow British blues act Fleetwood Mac (then known as Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac). Though her name is absent from the record’s credits, session musician Christine Perfect played piano on a number of cuts on the group’s second LP, including this Peter Green original.

A Woman is the Blues” (from O.K. Ken? by Chicken Shack, 1968)

Chicken Shack’s second LP featured a good bit of extemporaneous between-song chatter, designed to give the record a character similar to BBC radio shows of the day. This song was co-written by Perfect and guitarist Stan Webb, who leads the band to this day. Perfect left the group after this album’s release.

A Fool for You” (from Fiends & Angels by Martha Velez, 1969)

Puerto Rican American blues singer Martha Velez had been a member of The Gaslight Singers in the early 1960s; Fiends & Angels was her solo debut. The album featured an impressive roster of musicians, including Eric Clapton, Paul Kossoff, Jack Bruce, Mitch Mitchell, Brian Auger … and Christine Perfect (McVie) on piano.

Crazy ‘Bout You Baby” (from Christine Perfect, 1970)

In the brief span of time between leaving Chicken Shack and joining Fleetwood Mac as an official member, McVie recorded a solo album. Members of her future band and the Yardbirds backed her up on a collection of twelve songs, five of which were original compositions. The album is consistently enjoyable and showcases the artist’s many qualities, but it’s this cover of a Little Walter blues classic that earned the most attention. The record would subsequently be reissued as The Legendary Christine Perfect Album.