So, here they are: all the Fleetwood Macs from 1967 to today and how they have blended and morphed over the decades to create one of rock’s most unusual, shape-shifting groups.
Note: For the purposes of this list, arrows (→) represent whether a member entered or exited during each period of the band. If a member joined and rejoined during the same period, a double arrow (↔) will be used.
1967-1968: John Mayall Throws a Bluesbreaker the Studio Keys
Bob Brunning → John McVie
Though rarely discussed today, there was a time when listeners thought Peter Green could smoke Eric Clapton on guitar. Aside from the rockist rivalry, the guitarist was done a solid by his friend John Mayall around this time, who offered Green free studio time. Naming the outfit for the names of his pickup rhythm, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood, this band recorded two albums of electrified originals and covers of Elmore James and Robert Johnson -- one pretty interesting, the other best forgotten.
1968-1969: New Blood, New Atmospheres
→ Danny Kirwan
Peter Green →
Fleetwood Mac would record their first great music once they brought a new guitarist into the fold, Danny Kirwan. A psychedelic player more influenced by '20s jazz than the boilerplate white man’s yowling and howling, he facilitated two wonderful songs for the group: the string-popping rave-up “Oh Well,” and even better, “Albatross,” a minimalist, droning instrumental piece that became the band’s first hit. At this point, Fleetwood Mac was Green’s baby, but even he seemed stupefied by this act of one-upping. In the liner notes for the band’s obscure compilation The Vaudeville Years, he admitted "I would never have done ‘Albatross’ if it wasn't for Danny. I would never have had a number one hit record." Through a glass, darkly, “Albatross” was also the first glimpse of their dream-pop future.
1970-1971: What Blues?
→ Christine McVie
While Fleetwood Mac promoted their album Then Play On in Germany, Peter Green fell into a mental decline, eventually falling into a bad crowd: a hippie cult known by the band as the German Jet Set that allegedly fed him acid and drew him into their ranks. Sans Green, the band finished the tour, went home and recorded Kiln House, a weird, low-key album that shed Green’s blues influence in favor of quaint ‘50s-style tracks, one of which was mysteriously credited to Buddy Holly’s mother. Eventually, Jeremy Spencer met a similar fate when he left the band’s Los Angeles hotel room to "go get a magazine" and never came back, having been recruited into the Children of God cult on the way. (Remember that next time you get sidetracked while on an errand run.)
This period may be most notable, though, for their then-uncredited (and then-married to John McVie) keyboardist Christine McVie fully entering the frame.
1971-1974: The Ballad of Bob Welch
Danny Kirwan → Bob Weston → Dave Walker →
Jeremy Spencer → Bob Welch →
Here we go. Did you know Fleetwood Mac made an album featuring a cartoon gorilla messily eating sponge cake on the beach on the record sleeve? Or one inspired by John McVie’s fascination with penguins, with a penguin on the cover, called Penguin? Welcome to the Bob Welch years, and if you’re a Mac fan trying to accurately comb through the band’s history, this period’s a real slog. Welch, who gamely stepped in on the merit of being the high-school friend of the band’s secretary -- the band didn’t actually try him out or listen to recordings of his playing -- was not fully embraced by the other members. In fact, Danny Kirwan got in such a heated backstage argument about guitar tunings with him that he “smashed his head bloody” on a wall, then fled to the rafters as Welch desperately attempted to cover his guitar parts. (Fleetwood went on to fire Kirwan.)
As the McVies' marriage failed, Fleetwood’s wife, Jenny Boyd, revealed she’d been sleeping with Weston, who Fleetwood sacked too. All this drama was now jeopardizing the band’s tours and promotional appearances, and their panicking manager, Clifford Davis, created -- get this -- a fake version of Fleetwood Mac, with all-star musicians who had never met the actual Mac heading around the globe. The resulting legal battle put the band out of commission for an entire year.
The band eventually rebounded as a four-piece for the forgotten 1974 album Heroes Are Hard to Find. But the lifestyle of this most disputatious group took its toll on Welch, who felt estranged from the McVies. Welch turned out to be a tragic figure, forming Paris, an ill-conceived power trio with Jethro Tull bassist Glenn Cornick that nearly drained his finances. Assists from Fleetwood Mac members led to a fitful solo career over the ensuing decades, but Welch eventually succumbed to his personal and health problems and tragically took his own life in 2012.
1974-1987: The Mac's Final Form (Sort Of)
→ Lindsey Buckingham
→ Stevie Nicks
An ocean of ink has been spilled about Fleetwood Mac reaching its final form, the one that recorded stone classics like Fleetwood Mac, Rumours, Tusk and Tango in the Night. What bears repeating, however, is how this core group not only stayed together but thrived for so long in the midst of free-flowing narcotics, business chaos and sexual psychodrama. As the sacked Walker and Weston left Fleetwood Mac rudderless, Mick Fleetwood heard the duo Buckingham Nicks’ song “Frozen Love” while visiting Sound City Studios in Los Angeles and was enraptured by Lindsey Buckingham’s guitar sound. He tracked him down, but realized Buckingham and his romantic and songwriting partner, Stevie Nicks, were a package item -- and went with them both.
Buckingham essentially reverse-engineered the band, fully pushing them into the radio-ready present -- and what transpired from there was a checklist of the band’s greatest personal achievements. Their breakout album Rumours produced mega-hits like “Dreams” and “Go Your Own Way” in the midst of mountainous personal problems, interband infidelity and bad behavior. And in the midst of it all, Christine McVie essentially became the group’s George Harrison, writing songs that went toe-to-toe with the bickering couple in the front.
What made Fleetwood Mac truly special throughout their commercial peak was that these trials fed the songs rather than undermining them like so many other groups. The gritted-teeth duets on Rumours, the frustrated, eccentric Tusk, Tango in the Night’s sweet devotion -- they’re all inseparable from the real-life relationships of their creators. Since that run of albums, Nicks, Buckingham and Christine McVie have all fluctuated in their club membership, sometimes leaving the band for years at a time only to unexpectedly get back on board, but this is the group's best-known and most commercially successful lineup.
1987-present: Ever-Changing Ranks
↔ Lindsey Buckingham
↔ Stevie Nicks
↔ Christine McVie
→ Dave Mason →
→ Billy Burnette →
→ Rick Vito →
→ Bekka Bramlett →
→ Mike Campbell (tour)
→ Neil Finn (tour)
Lindsey Buckingham split from the band for the first time in 1987 after a rancorous group meeting, being replaced by guitarists Rick Vito and Billy Burnette. Like Bob Welch before, they were brought in without rehearsals. The remaining three got a lucky break by being invited to play Bill Clinton's inaugural ball, but oh, more upheaval: Nicks, Vito and Burnette left in short order, being replaced by Dave Mason from Traffic and session singer Bekka Bramlett.
Fleetwood then chose to cut the entire band's losses and formally disband in 1995, a split that lasted for all of two years, when Fleetwood, Nicks and Buckingham got back together for "Twisted," a tune written for the soundtrack of the film Twister. Christine McVie would proceed to leave the group for the next 16 years, but the rest of the core still (mostly) stuck together -- with prolific side projects thriving with Nicks' solo tours and a very good collaborative album between Buckingham and Christine McVie -- until the bombshell news of Buckingham's departure this week.
Neil Finn of Crowded House and Split Enz and Mike Campbell of the Heartbreakers will step into Buckingham's shadow for Fleetwood Mac's upcoming tour. Though the whole enterprise still hangs in the balance with Buckingham’s recent departure, the group has always continued to play through organic changes, falling-outs and rough patches. And if all that offers any consolation, it's clear the recent news won’t break the chain.