Mick Fleetwood feeling blue in Aspen
If You Go …
What: The Mick Fleetwood Blues Band
Where: Belly Up Aspen
When: Friday, Sept. 16, 8:30 p.m.
How much: $75-$300
Tickets: Belly Up box office; www.bellyupaspen.com
Mick Fleetwood is a bluesman at heart.
That’s why, at 69, the drummer and co-founder of Fleetwood Mac is barnstorming music clubs around the American West this fall in a tour bus with latter-day Fleetwood Mac bandmate Rick Vito and a crew of blues players. They headline Belly Up Aspen today.
The Mick Fleetwood Blues Band is on the road playing songs from the early, Peter Green-fronted Fleetwood Mac catalog — “Rattlesnake Shake,” “Albatross,” “Black Magic Woman” — alongside originals from the Grammy-nominated 2008 album “Blue Again!” and their renditions of blues classics.
Playing the blues is a trip back to Fleetwood’s early days on stage amid the fervor of the mid-’60s British blues explosion.
“It does connect to where I came from as a young chap in London,” Fleetwood said in a recent phone interview.
In those days, he bounced between blues bands like the John Mayalls Bluesbreakers and backed up American greats like John Lee Hooker on their swings through London. When he and Peter Green and John McVie formed Fleetwood Mac in 1967, it was as a blues band of that moment.
“We had a No. 1 album with Elmore James songs,” Fleetwood recalled. “Everybody thought it was a new kind of music but it definitely was us just emulating our heroes, many of whom we got to play with. The whole London scene back then was very exciting.”
Hitting the road this fall for a tour of clubs and theaters around the West is a trip back to that era and a back to the earliest days of Fleetwood Mac, before it added Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks and swerved toward pop-oriented songs and iconic 1970s albums like “Rumours” and “Tusk.”
“Going back to playing, ostensibly, the same genre and on the same level — clubs and little ballrooms and theaters — it’s not about making it,” he said. “We don’t have an album out or anything. We’re just playing. So it’s close to what people are talking about when people say ‘What were you doing before you made it?’”
The Blues Band gigs come on the heels of a nearly two-year-long Fleetwood Mac tour that wrapped last fall. There’s a purity and a joy, Fleetwood said, in playing the blues for a few hundred people a night. For a certain kind of rock star, like Fleetwood, there’s a freedom in these freewheeling small shows. He recalled getting a call recently from Robert Plant, when the Led Zeppelin singer was playing a small blues festival in Iceland. And he noted how often the Rolling Stones play unannounced blues-centric shows in small clubs — like the ones in London where Fleetwood saw them early on — between their massive stadium tours.
“Travel is not as easy as getting on a private jet with Fleetwood Mac and having 20 people looking after you and stuff,” he said. “We’re out there just as a band on a bus doing our thing. And it’s very similar to how we started out. “
Along with Vito and Fleetwood, the band features Mark Johnstone on keyboards and Lenny Castellanos on bass. He calls Vito “the only guy that can come anywhere close to the tone of Peter Green and he’s really good at it.”
But, he adds: “Having said that, he’s his own boss and brings his own music to the party.”
Fleetwood hasn’t been in Aspen since a 2008 show — with the Mick Fleetwood Blues Band — on Fanny Hill in Snowmass Village during Food & Wine Classic. In decades yore, he’d come occasionally to ski, and in the 1990s played a New Year’s Eve gig at the Double Diamond. (Fleetwood Mac, of course, has its place in Aspen lore because Stevie Nicks famously wrote “Landslide” here.)
He’s grateful to still be able to fill arenas with Fleetwood Mac, he said, but the road and the raw blues always call him back to the club circuit.
“I’m looking forward to the camaraderie that you get when you’re just wood-shedding as a tight little band and you don’t have too many distractions,” Fleetwood said. “There’s not a whole load of hoo-ha and not a load of political showbiz-y type things that come with being in Fleetwood Mac.”
These loose and personal shows leave room for an extended drum solo and jams on covers of blues classics like “When the Levee Breaks” or “Shake Your Money Maker” and a creative expression that Fleetwood misses when playing massive arena shows.
“You can improvise your way in and out of an evening,” he said. “And that’s challenging, but challenging in a way that you know you’re going to get your rocks off as a musician. It’s harder to get there when you know you have 30,000 people in front of you. You really have to hit your mark. You can’t exactly get off the drum kit and come chat to the audience, which is what I’m able to do now.”
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