I’ll never understand why someone could tell you they don’t like Fleetwood Mac – and, anyway, which Fleetwood Mac are they talking about? The kick-ass blues band? The AOR supergroup? Those interesting years in the middle – the lesser-known, under-explored moments across the early 1970s where English R’n’B and American soft-rock was being combined to create some wonderful songs and albums? I can see – I guess – why someone might not be so interested in the reunions, the cash-grabs, the “selling out” to the stadiums – but I’ve seen the reunited Fleetwood Mac and they still kick it big time. Helps when you’ve got Lindsey Buckingham in your band – that guy was the secret weapon always. He’s only just getting his dues as one of the absolute greatest guitarists around.
Anyway, all of that is actually a separate discussion for as separate post or piece. But you don’t like Fleetwood Mac, eh? Come back and tell me that when you’ve heard every different version of the group…
Mick Fleetwood is one of my all-time favourite drummers. He is in fact my drumming hero. If I thought I could sound like anyone behind the drums, if I thought – in any sort of moment that I could get close to a style, or feel – it would be Mick Fleetwood. You can take your Mike Portnoy and Neil Peart and shove ‘em – Mick Fleetwood is a very real drummer. He’s a guy who – with a very simple, distinctive style – has been one half of one of the all-time greatest rhythm sections. He’s been the constant in a band that’s played its life out as a musical soap-opera. He’s been the personality behind the group even though he’s never been the frontman.
He’s supplied sinewy grooves and empathic feels to pop songs, rock songs, and deep, dark squalls drawn from the blues. He’s added tribal thunder, been called up for pop-song sessions. And as he said himself, the key to the Fleetwood Mac sound, whatever permutation, is that John McVie pulls in one direction, Mick pushes in another, somehow they meet up right in the middle. That’s (very) loosely paraphrasing – but you can hear this at work across the band’s very best songs. Everything from The Chain back to Albatross.
Fleetwood was one of my first favourite drummers, because I was raised on the Tusk album. An underrated gem – and two of Mick’s great signature performances are there. The title track, obviously. That simple tattoo with a weird mélange of drum-loops and samples for a 10-second “solo” that spills over as if the culmination of the tom groove – and then, showing a completely different feel there’s his lovely brush work on Sara; he always seems to know just want to do for each and any song. The mood of the song so often conveyed, at least in part, through his playing. Listen again to Fleetwood Mac only for the drumming. It should make you smile. In recognition of a guy that cares only about the song. And is doing his best – mistakes and all – to help to sell it.
Buckingham played some of the drums on the Tusk album too – and assembled the record as if a solo project, damn-near. But as a kid I was fixated with Mick Fleetwood. And his playing. This towering presence. Mischievous-looking. And then the sound. His drum fills always felt like a (nice) surprise.
Go back to Rumours for Dreams. A great song. But a big part of what makes it is waiting for Mick Fleetwood to strike the cymbal. That half-rest, the slight pause. You could almost wonder if the cocaine and bourbon had nearly made him forget to hit it. It’s little shuffles, little signature feels, little stutters, those sorts of moments that make his playing so wonderful.
Want to hear how good this push/pull of the McVie/Fleetwood rhythm section is outside of Fleetwood Mac? You need only listen to Warren Zevon’s Werewolves of London. Warren called them up, said he had to have “The Section”. It sells his song. You realise too – there, and across the Mac canon, that McVie and Fleetwood have no desire in doing anything other than serving the song. Most musicians talk about that as if it’s so important to them. Then they get up on stage and piss all over that very ideal. They can’t help but add a stick trick or some flourish. A silly little run that maybe only they notice – something to keep themselves awake even. But you never get that with Fleetwood Mac. You get these great grooves and feels that propel the song – you can spot their playing, so in that sense they’ve shown their personalities within the tune, but it’s still totally and always about the song.
Lindsey Buckingham’s solo song Trouble is another example of Mick getting the groove just right. He’s a simple player – like Charlie Watts, Phil Rudd, Ringo. But these “simple” players all have their own feel, their own sound. Their own way of doing it.
Go back to the blues-era when Fleetwood was playing in the band that had his name but was all about Peter Green – and from there Danny Kirwan too. He was a playful percussionist – the cowbell tinkering on Oh Well, the swirl of the cymbals across Albatross. He knew how to give each song a little sense of humour, a little idiosyncrasy. And his “sloppy” blues playing has just the right feel (Stop Messin’ Round). It would go on to inform his version of the “greasy” feel you hear on Dreams, across so much of Rumours, Tusk, Mirage and the self-titled album from 1975 when the band starts its journey as the pop supergroup you know and love – or (stupidly) hate – now.
Mick Fleetwood also gave guys like me – back-room plodders with no facility for studying the drum workout DVDs and no interest in copping the licks and tricks of those boring show-offs and blow-hards – a sense of hope.
I played my first gig in nearly four years recently. It was with a band assembled for a one-off. One quick rehearsal. I only knew half of the material and it had been years since I’d played any of that. I’m not saying I nailed it – but we made it. And the whole time when it was head down, through the rehearsal and the gig, all I cared about was trying to help the others to sound good. All I thought about was Mick Fleetwood. In that sense he’s still my drumming hero.
And any time I hear his playing it gives me a moment where I stop and smile.
Drummers You Just Can’t Beat started life as a series of posts on the Phantom Billstickers Facebook page