If you’ve seen Fleetwood Mac in any of its incarnations over the last five decades, the chatty, very tall and occasionally bug-eyed fellow permanently behind the drum kit has been Mick Fleetwood. These days, he is immersed in his first and abiding musical love, the blues.
The Mick Fleetwood Blues Band plays this Sunday at Napa’s Uptown Theatre.
On the phone from his upcountry home in Maui last week, Fleetwood talked about his commitment to the blues as a teenage drummer in London in the 1960s. “There was a huge, powerful renaissance of creativity, fashion, music,” he said. “Blues was the most boutique element probably, that was buried in amongst all of that.
“Early Fleetwood Mac was entirely a blues band. If you listen to the first album, three of us came out of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers — Peter Green, John McVie and myself. The three of us were in that band together. We came out of that whole, we had done our boot camp. We were blues players. That was the world we lived in.”
Fleetwood spoke at length about the influence of black American blues pioneers on young white musicians in Europe. “It was John Lee Hooker, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Jimmy Reed, Howlin’ Wolf, all of the men from that generation,” he said. “Later on it would be the B.B. Kings and Freddie Kings and that whole bunch.
“All of those guys happily came over to Europe. They weren’t really taken care of in the United States, which was ironic to us in England. Happily, all of these guys, including earlier on, way back in the ‘20s with ragtime and jazz, the black musician community gravitated especially to Paris and Spain. There was a reason. They were treated like heroes. A lot of the musicians stayed because they were treated right, quite frankly, on a sociological level.
“We benefited. A strong musical underground current was flowing freely. Even the Rolling Stones, let’s face it, was a blues band. This is the stuff we loved. I was part of that wave that ended up with bands like the Animals, the Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones way at the top of the list, and then early Fleetwood Mac. Looking back on it, it really had a lot to do with saving an American art form. I don’t think that’s an overblown statement.
“B.B., who we got to know really well through the years, was very open to repeating a mantra, which was, ‘if it wasn’t for Eric Clapton and all of them, us guys would never have gotten the amount of notoriety that we ended up having.’ It was a glorious accident that one way or another, a bunch of English guys grabbed onto an art form that they were able to identify with.”
Fleetwood said he believes that his passion and his presence, rather than his skill as a drummer, have been responsible for his success and longevity. “I’m not a huge technician as a player,” he said. “I play entirely from my gut. It’s almost a little frightening because I don’t really know what I’m doing. But in terms of emotional content and vulnerability, that was a very good place for me to be. Blues music requests that. It requests that you live in the moment.
“I felt that I could really contribute because I felt so passionate and fulfilled when I played blues. That’s the world that I walked into when I was fifteen and a half going on sixteen in London, and I never stopped.”
The Mick Fleetwood Blues Band is Rick Vito on guitar and lead vocals, Lenny Castellanos on bass, Mark Johnstone on keyboards and background vocals and Fleetwood on drums. Bay Area singer/songwriter Jeffrey Halford will open the show.
Sunday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. $65-$105. Uptown Theatre Napa. 1350 Third St., Napa. 707-259-0123. UptownTheatreNapa.com.