It’s amazing to think that Fleetwood Mac will celebrate their 40th anniversary this year. Founded (and named) by legendary guitarist Peter Green after he quit John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, they began life as purveyors of British blues, metamorphosing into a more adult-oriented outfit with the addition of Christine McVie in 1970 and then Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks in 1975. The second album this line up produced was Rumours (1977), which sold in shedloads and still orbits the lower reaches of the album charts to this day. Subsequent success was more sporadic, but the two constants through all this time have been drummer Mick Fleetwood and the wonderful and criminally underrated bass player, John McVie.
McVie was born in Ealing, London on November 26, 1945, starting on trumpet as a child and then switching to guitar before concluding that as all his friends were playing six-string, he would be different and play bass. He landed the gig with Mayall in 1963 and juggled it with daytime duties as a tax inspector. During his last few months with Mayall in early 1967 he hooked up with Mick Fleetwood and, when McVie finally decided to quit The Bluesbreakers in September of that year, Peter Green had the rhythm section he’d longed for – to the point of naming his band after them.
Given the huge body of work behind him and the luminaries he’s worked with, McVie is unfairly neglected when conversation turns to great British bassists. His playing is never extrovert, and sometimes this gives the impression that he’s taking the easiest option. It’s the wrong impression. His work on John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton (1966’s ‘Beano’ album) is imaginative and incredibly mature for a 21-year old, albeit one who was a huge Willie Dixon fan (see workshop, Guitar & Bass 16/9). He carried on in a similar vein with Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac but, by the time Fleetwood Mac (1975) and then Rumours swung around, McVie had fallen more under the influence of Paul McCartney, leading to the development of the melodic eighth-note style that lights up many of the songs on those albums. John McVie’s not just about longevity; he also has excellent tone, musicality and a world-class feel.