It started as an offshoot blues band with roots in skiffle, but drummer Mick Fleetwood had his eyes on more. With an open mind and a rocksteady rhythm section, Mick and long-time comrade John McVie soldiered through multiple iterations over the course of a decade. With the addition of pop duo Buckingham Nicks (Lindsey and Stevie, respectively) in 1975, the resulting chemistry catapulted Fleetwood Mac to the heights of success and their sophomore effort in 1976, Rumours, spent an unprecedented 31 weeks at the top of the charts. We caught up with Mick to discuss drums and inspiration…
Musician's Friend: So I watched the featurette on the DW kit that John Good and company built for you. Why did DW drums become your instrument of choice?
Mick Fleetwood: Yes, I'd heard about the company when they first started through — a fellow drummer said there was a young company that, in truth were actually paying attention to making drums in the traditional sense of the word and everyone else was moving into mass production and getting into alloy problems with hardware and stuff. It was sort of disappointing.
I went to meet with them and actually met John Good. Many years ago, seemingly not long after they'd started up. He was profoundly into what he was doing, the turning of shells so they don't crosstalk, choosing shells, choosing woods, and all of that — just got more and more involved through the years. They are still incredible, even though they are probably the most successful drum company that I know of. They haven't fallen into that pit where the temptation of having the stuff not be really, really well thought out takes over the corporate level.
It was really a choice of going to, as it were, an artisan approach, a Renaissance approach, which the company actually has retained because their enthusiasm for the art of drum making is very much alive and well. That's why I — they took care of people. They loved what they did and we just hit it off as friends, which helped and I've stayed there ever since.
Musician's Friend: So the custom cherry wood kit they built for you — can you walk us through that process a little bit?
Fleetwood: Every time I go out on the road or get ready to go out on the road, I always get more involved with what they're doing. Sometimes it's totally different stuff and sometimes they're just riding a brand new wave of approach to a certain type of wood, for instance.
This happened to tie in with the whole premise of John [Good] getting excited about having made a move to work with cherry wood, which is what this kit is. We sat for a couple of days talking about the merits of what it does, which is sort of upper-mid projection, which he felt suited what I do, which it does. Then we got into making the transition from the last kit. I'm always a little nervous about exchanging drums and the proof of the pudding is always sitting behind the kit and knowing that it's going to work for live performance.
Musician's Friend: I'm glad you mentioned exploring because you’ve used a cocktail kit the last couple of tours. On that topic, can you tell us how your setup has evolved over the years playing with Fleetwood Mac?
Fleetwood: I remember the whole premise of a cocktail kit from skiffle days- traditional jazz and skiffle and Lonnie Donnegan. They were such animals, those kits. That's where they came from, skiffle and all the early bebop stuff. So it comes from a definite family. It's nothing new, but it was dormant for many years. Not many people really had them or thought about them.
I loved the premise in the old days, nothing so grand as the one I have now, but it was really useful in playing pubs and stuff because you didn't have any room and you could function reasonably well and put it in the back of your car. So that was the attraction.
For years I didn't really think about it, then went back to the thought. We must've been putting one of our shows together and I went, "That would be good. Get me out front and we could do sort-of an unplugged thing. Bingo [snaps] , let's go back!"
So DW—I'm not sure when—started making them. I'm not too sure whether I asked them to make it and they made one for me, years ago. I wouldn't like to think I take the credit for it, but maybe they had it in their catalog of drums. I'm thinking maybe not.
Musician's Friend: So digging into the topic of simplification and matching styles to music, when Lindsey and Stevie came on board in '75, just huge a shift in the band's sound, the dynamic. How did you adjust your style to incorporate them?
Fleetwood: We didn't [laughter]. But I understand Fleetwood Mac's history is actually, in my opinion, an interesting one. It's so diverse. We started it very much as a blues band with Peter Green and John and myself, Jeremy Spencer back in 1967, then evolved when Peter left and Bob Welch and so forth. So the rhythm section has always been there. So they lumbered with John and me.
Obviously as a rhythm section you are compliant with making appropriate changes, because you don't just sit there, and that's what music is all about, is an exchange of style and making yourself malleable, thus gracious to a fellow player. But truly, Fleetwood Mac always came with the rhythm section and it was “our band” type of thing.
So we got spoiled in a way where we didn't have to make too many things. I think someone such as Lindsey realized it and enjoyed that, but it was such an established institution and it worked. The chemistry worked. Otherwise we wouldn't have all stayed together.
So we were already set and they go like, okay, I can work. This is what I work with. The exchange of what you do and don't do takes place. But the actual basic style of John McVie and myself is what it always was, really. Only you improve and you learn to listen better and stuff, which we were pretty good at because blues players, in my quiet opinion, as simple as people deem it to be — everyone thinks, “well, I can play the blues.” Well, the fact is, actually, you can't. There's nothing worse than a bad blues player.
I was blessed with being with really high-caliber players — Peter Green, John McVie. They came from the schools. I learned to do the right thing very quickly and the right thing is to listen and use dynamics. Which has really become more about my style than anything else. It's certainly not because I'm a super high-powered technician Svengali drummer. I'm more a person that plays drums that finds a lot of satisfaction with expressing really fundamentally in a very simple way, which was learned by playing blues.
You've got to swing. You've got to keep time. And you've got to listen to the feeling of what's going on. I still do and I'm very happy in that mode. I hope and believe eventually I am man enough to say I became a better drummer. For years I was very insecure.
Musician's Friend: I'd say it's worked out pretty well.
Fleetwood: Yeah. I play everything backwards because I still don't really know what I'm doing. So I'm actually quite childlike. If you want to really know a secret, every time I walk on that stage I think I'm about to (expletive) up. But it keeps you like a child, which I think has, although it's a torture sometimes, the reality is I think that's part of the attraction with Fleetwood Mac.
But all of us aren't super, super slick. You often hear stories like The Beatles. To me they're great players. People say, “Oh, you're all great players,” but the real truth is we're more than adequate players. None of us are interested in being super showoffs and we're all better cradled in the safety net known as a band called Fleetwood Mac. When people talk about the magic of a Charlie Watts and Keith Richards, that's the stuff. When you get it, you're deemed to be lucky and blessed, and I feel that way.
Musician's Friend: When it comes to tone, who would you say your top influences were or are?
Fleetwood: In the old days, my top influences were all tom-tom merchants and a lot of the Big Band players, of course. They were so proficient, but they played so much melody on tom-toms with huge abilities. I always go to that to express myself through funny little things I do on tom-toms. Louis Bellson was, is a great favorite of mine because he just was Jungle Jim. I loved Sandy Nelson because he was a tom-tom freak. Actually became almost like Duane Eddy on drums for a while.
Then later on I really, really, really listened and became a huge fan of Sonny Freeman, who played with B.B. King's band at that time (on the album), Live at The Regal. He was the king of the shuffle. That's probably sort of my epitaph [sic] through all the blues stuff that I've done. It's shuffle after shuffle, shuffle after shuffle, and I am very comfortable doing that. John and me are good at it. We're good at it. Onetrick ponies.
Musician's Friend: [Laughs] Like I said earlier, I think it's worked out well for you guys thus far. So what are some modern innovations that you've incorporated into your setup of late?
Fleetwood: I mean, modern for me, quite honestly, into the setup was being able to start using in-ear stuff, which I went into screaming. I was such a traditionalist with monitors and stuff. Then we wanted to do things that, quite frankly, you need — we do some stuff to click and I can't play very well to a click. I don't really want to, so Steve [Rinkoff], who works with me, worked out a partial click so that we can run things to augment our sound, which is number one. Plus I've gotten used to it now and I actually truly like it.
The rest is really just some pads with sounds on. Not that I do it anymore. My whole drum [vest] thing for a while became lunatic, where I beat myself up. Go out the front with all these triggers on, working with loops. Actually many, many years ago, without realizing how the world of loops and all this stuff has really become integrated, I was I think by default a vague pioneer of using all that and triggering moments.
So now I just use some pads. I’ve got about five or six pads up there which we can trigger different sounds. I have very organic sounds on there: some chimes and couple of rivet cymbals. I love working rivet cymbals. Sometimes I just can't get to the real McCoy, so I can quickly do that. That becomes a nice way to orchestrate.
Musician's Friend: If you could transport yourself back to 1967 and take one of your modern accessories with you, what would it be?
Fleetwood: I'd take the snare drum. This is an amazing drum. You pay a lot of attention to that. I would say that I'd take the snare drum and the microphones that we use, if I might be so bold.
Musician's Friend: Last one, here. What is most treasured to you in your gear collection? Anything that has such sentimental value it's a keeper to you?
Fleetwood: The most meaningful, because it reminds me of a trip that was like a drummer's heaven, dying and go to heaven. I went to Africa to make an album in Ghana called The Visitor. I brought back some really roughly hewn drums, African drums that were in themselves; sadly they've lost the art of using a lot of woods because they have been stripped.
There was a chap there who used to play with Elvis Presley doing a musical exchange teaching them how to make drums again. I have some of those drums and those are really important to me because the whole premise of putting and seeing something that's so unbelievably musical, when you see children and people really doing their thing.
I used a lot of children on my album. They understood how to play rock-androll. Some of the older musicians, the polyrhythm thing, they couldn't see it so easily. So that reminds me of that lovely trip when I made that album in Ghana. I have those drums and they're very precious to me.
Fleetwood Mac's Extended Play EP is available now wherever great music is sold.