Afternoon Despatch and Courier, February 14, 2000
He may not want to live on in erstwhile glory, but try as he might, it’s difficult to shrug off the Fleetwood Mac label. Jeremy Spencer was slide guitarist to blues band Fleetwood Mac long before Woodstock happened. Perhaps it was that spectacular music festival, or perhaps it was something else, but something saw to it that Fleetwood Mac was destined to live on in the public imagination long after their band members were past their prime.
After Spencer’s split with the band, which happened almost 20 years ago, the talented blues guitarist continues to hum along on a solo flight. In India on a three-week tour for a set of benefit concerts on behalf of the National Association for the Blind (NAB), Spencer has been acclaimed as the greatest white slide/blues guitarist in the world by Mick Fleetwood. Which means that if there was any acrimony with band members earlier, it isn’t showing.
Spencer is a tiny man and balding in his 50’s, but still packs a punch when it comes to his metier. Once long ago an accountant, he found the work of a nine to five job ‘rough’ before he discovered himself in Fleetwood Mac. Claiming that he doesn’t like overstuffed music, Spencer says he identifies with Dire Straits in the ‘80s and the wave of ‘unplugged’ music in the early ‘90s. "I like simple songs. I like simple chords, simple vocals and simple lead guitar. I just like simplicity. That’s just the way I like it."
Nothing lasts forever, believes Spencer, especially not musical togetherness. He left the band because he wasn’t fulfilled and felt like he was drying up inside. Fleetwood Mac got into a messy deal with the manager soon after and he was glad he left when he did. Looking back he has no regrets except perhaps that he could’ve pitched a little more into the band, been a little more serious without that take-it-or-leave-it attitude. "I’ve progressed from being a conceited brat during the early years—I was very rude to people when I think back on it."
He’s now in India working with Indian jazz and blues musicians including Roy Venkat and Alvira (Adrian) Fernandes. They are pretty ‘judicious’ in their output but all in all, the NAB concerts are going to be pretty much a Jeremy Spencer thing, he’s honest enough to admit.
His last album released by Atlantic, Flee was disastrous. The record company put the musicians on a shoe-string budget and then attempted to make them dance to its tune. "They gave us loads and loads of records and ‘suggested’ we produce a similar sound, which was absurd." Somebody gave him invaluable advice at this point: If they want hamburgers, give’em hamburgers, and so Spencer gave them a rancid one.
All these years in between he’s been doing some independent children’s stuff, not a whole lot of which has been published. The last two years he’s worked on an instrumental CD which should be out in the market soon. This is Spencer’s third visit to India and he thinks that Indian audiences are "deep."
"They tune into a part of the music the rest of the world doesn’t seem to notice, and it’s not always the big shebang song," he says. To musicians who say that Indians are ‘good for anything’ in music, he points out that some really big acts have flopped here.
The NAB is something he is helping out because he does things by gut instinct and he can thus make a connection with some of the blind jazz and blues players of the ‘20s and ‘30s. But wherever he is, whether in India or touring the world, he says he hopes to keep learning and also to continue doing what he’s been doing.