Bob Weston: Early '70s guitarist with Fleetwood Mac
Tuesday 10 January 2012
Originally a British blues boom band led by Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer, Fleetwood Mac were at something of a crossroads by September 1972. The founder-member and drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie – the rhythm section the group was named after – had added McVie's wife, the keyboard-player and singer Christine McVie, formerly of Chicken Shack, and Bob Welch, an American vocalist and guitarist, but felt they needed a pedigree soloist able to recreate the contrasting guitar styles of his predecessors, particularly the slide playing of Spencer, for concert engagements.
Fleetwood and the McVies recalled witnessing Bob Weston's versatility as an accompanist with both Graham Bond and Long John Baldry and recruited him, along with the singer and harmonica-player Dave Walker, an alumnus of Savoy Brown, another British blues outfit.
"Dave and I joined on the same day, we were the new boys," Weston remembered. "It looked very promising from the start. Initial rehearsals were full of energy. This was further endorsed with the initial Norwegian tour. Then the Penguin sessions began, and so did the doubts."
However, while Walker's tenure only lasted until June 1973, including the making of the Penguin album, the band's first Top 50 entry in the US, Weston was a sterling contributor to both Penguin and Mystery To Me, the next Fleetwood Mac album, released in October 1973, and seemed to be fitting in well with the smoother radio-friendly direction of the group's then primary composers, Welch and Christine McVie. "I deferred to their talents, I was the baby writer, just starting out," said Weston, who created "Caught In The Rain", Penguin's ethereal closer, and co-wrote "Forever" with Welch and John McVie on Mystery To Me.
"Both of those albums were a blast to be involved in," he said. "It seemed I'd been building up for years to hit this zenith. Bullseye! In addition, it was a wonderful opportunity to tour America on a very professional level. I learned a lot." Unfortunately, during a run of US dates in the autumn of 1973, Weston embarked on an affair with Fleetwood's wife Jenny Boyd, who confessed everything to her husband and left the tour with their children. The band tried to put this setback behind them and continue with their itinerary but eventually Fleetwood snapped and Weston was dismissed in Lincoln, Nebraska.
"I had an early morning call from the tour manager, John Courage, insisting I come up to his room," said Weston. "I was greeted with an air of hostility by the crew chiefs of lighting, sound, etc. The tour manager told me very simply that the tour was cancelled. Mick had already left for Africa, John and Christine for London. Obviously, it was a fait accompli. I was handed a plane ticket and driven to the nearest airport. I didn't see any of the band between waking up and getting on the plane." It was, he admitted, "the most expensive affair I've ever had in my life. Cost me a career, that did."
In fact, the incident nearly did for Fleetwood Mac as well, as their unscrupulous manager Clifford Davis argued that he owned the band's trademark and hastily assembled a bogus line-up to pick up the dates. This was foiled by Courage and led to a lengthy legal battle which put the real group out of commission for nearly a year.
When Welch also exited, Fleetwood reorganised the band with the addition of the singing and songwriting duo Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks in 1975, and Fleetwood Mac entered the multi-million selling, superstar era of Rumours and Tango In The Night that Weston had been the unwitting catalyst for. Nevertheless, Welch and Weston's contribution during the so-called "bridge era" of the group's storied career is held in high regard by their fans.
Weston, who was left-handed but played right-handed, attributed his distinctive style to the fact that he played the violin first, switching to the guitar when he was 12. "The fingers were already mobile," he said. "My influences were the great blues masters, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy and sidemen such as Hubert Sumlin."
After moving to London in the mid-1960s, Weston joined The Kinetic, one of several British groups working in France, where they released an album in 1967 and supported Jimi Hendrix and Chuck Berry in Paris. Following his return to the UK, Weston had stints with the singers Aliki Ashman, Graham Bond and Long John Baldry, with whom he recorded the album Everything Stops For Tea produced by the Baldry acolytes Elton John and Rod Stewart in 1972.
He later worked with Dana Gillespie, Sandy Denny and Murray Head, who he backed on the Say It Ain't So and Between Us albums, and on French tours. In the early '80s Weston issued two solo albums in France and composed music for films and television. He died of a gastrointestinal haemorrhage and cirrhosis of the liver.
Robert Joseph Weston, guitarist and songwriter: born 1 November 1947; died London c. 3 January 2012.
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