Friday, June 8, 2012

Bob Welch, 1945-2012

Bob Welch, singer-guitarist for the pre-Buckingham-Nicks Fleetwood Mac and solo artist in his own right, dead at the age of 65. Welch grew up in Beverly Hills, the son of the producer of several Hope-Crosby movies. After graduating from high school, he moved to Paris supposedly to attend the Sorbonne, but in reality he "mostly smoked hash with bearded guys five years older," he said later. He went back to California to attend UCLA for a while, joining an unsuccessful band called the Seven Souls, then settled in Paris. After spending two years "living on rice and beans and sleeping on the floor" and befriending Ed Bradley, Welch was asked to join Fleetwood Mac upon the departure of guitarists Jeremy Spencer, who found Jesus, and Peter Green, who went nuts. Supposedly, the Mac asked  Welch to join without ever hearing him play, which I don't quite believe.

Fleetwood Mac had churned through a lot of personnel in its early years, and the band was already three years old when Welch joined in 1971. In fact, two months after the first album in which he appeared, Future Games, CBS released the first Fleetwood Mac greatest hits compilation. He was instrumental from the get-go, writing the title track to that album, and his "Sentimental Lady" appeared on the next Mac LP, Bare Trees. His FM-radio staple "Hypnotized" appeared on 1973's Mystery to Me, and Welch wrote most of the 1974 Heroes Are Hard to Find. But even though he engineered a move of the band's base to his hometown of Los Angeles, Welch claimed that he felt alienated from the other, British members of the group, and quit the band in December 1974.

He couldn't have been too alienated, since Mick Fleetwood was reportedly still his manager as Welch embarked on a solo career. After leaving the Mac, Welch formed a power trio called Paris, which released a couple of quickly forgotten LPs. His first proper solo album, 1977's French Kiss, contained a re-recording of "Sentimental Lady" produced by Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks (who had never even been in a band with Welch), with Christine McVie on backing vocals and Mick Fleetwood on drums. It sounded Fleetwood Mackier than the version he had cut with Fleetwood Mac, and went to Number Eight on the pop charts very early in 1978. (The single's cover art, a detail of the French Kiss cover complete with that Mary Tyler Moore Show font, was kinda gross, if you ask me.) French Kiss had two follow-ups that also made the Top Forty, "Ebony Eyes" and "Hot Love, Cold World."

Welch's next album, 1979's Three Hearts, contained another hit in "Precious Love," which creased the Top 20 in the spring of that year. He continued to release solo albums throughout the 1980s, to diminishing returns. Eventually, he also released two albums worth of re-recorded Fleetwood Mac material.

In 1998, Fleetwood Mac was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The five Rumours-era members were all included, as were Peter Green, Jeremy Spencer and Danny Kirwan.  Bob Welch, who was a key songwriter, guitarist and vocalist through five Mac albums, was not. I have no idea who makes this kind of decision, but it kinda sucks.

Bob Welch died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest. I wish I could say I find this surprising, but I don't; we live in a time when meaning falls in splinters from our lives. Bob Welch's fame and success (and possibly his money) all happened a long time ago, and there were stories that his health was poor. After years of being a full-on rock star, I'm sure it's hard to go back to living on rice and beans and sleeping on the floor.  

1 comment:

  1. very good post.

    I'd forgotten he was involved with "Hypnotized."

    One late night I was very tired, wandering through a supermarket, forgetting what I was looking for. "Hypnotized" was on their Muzak system and I've never had a better musical match for what I was experiencing at the time.