Interview with JEREMY SPENCER

November 2012

Very much a part of the FLEETWOOD MAC legend, Jeremy Spencer’s role in the band story has been overlooked since he left their ranks back in 1971, even though it was his song, “My Heart Beats Like A Hammer”, which opened their debut album. A master of slide and of vaudeville lightness, Spencer’s pop leanings complemented his own, and Peter Green’s blues, but there’s a dark veil to both guitarists’ lives – one burnt by mental illness and other by joining a religious cult, Or so the hearsay goes because, in reality, Jeremy’s been playing almost always, having stopped for the ’80s, and his 2012’s LP, "Bend In The Road", is a little short of breathless. So is the veteran back to the frontline? Over to him.

– Jeremy, going from strength to strength with each album, do you feel “Bend In The Road” completes your comeback into public view?

Hopefully not! I have so much other material new and old that I wish to record. I have also been toying with the idea of doing an album called “Interpretations”. During a recent recording endeavor with a team of young French musicians – about which I will talk about later – I recorded covers of some of my favorite songs from over the years: among them was Mark Knopfler’s “Done With Bonaparte”, and believe it or not, a bluesy rendition of THE BEATLES’ “I’m Looking through You”!

– There are some not-so-new tracks on this record. You’ve been performing its title track live for 15 years. Why is it only now that you decided to take the piece to the studio?

Besides my feeling that it was the right time, Brett Lucas, the guitarist and co-producer of the album, particularly liked the song and wanted to record it.

– The album closes with “Refugees”. How does it improve on the “Flee” version of it, which sounded fantastic in the first place?

I feel it is improved lyrically most of all and in its steady, “moving forward” style of pace. Yes, there is stuff I would have liked to have retained from the first version!

– As serious as it is, there’s a lot of laughter in your grooves – and always has been. Would it be right that, for all your fantastic playing, you were a jester in the MAC?

Yes, I was a jester then and still am, much to many people’s amusement and sometimes chagrin, although I do try to temper it with consideration for others these days!

– Your sense of humor is most prominent on the “Jeremy Spencer” album, a very diverse one. Were you finding own voice on that LP?

I don’t think I found my own voice on that one, but I did find many others!

– How did a Fabs parody “Take A Look Around Mrs. Brown” with its Walrus and Hare Krishna come about?

I was spoofing on the current hippy scene and its bands’ disdain of suburban normalcy when we were on our way to eventually being unwittingly entrenched in it ourselves.

– If it was a kind of compensation for your absence on “Then Play On”, why didn’t you play on this MAC album? And is it true there should have been an EP attached to it, with your songs?

FLEETWOOD MAC Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Jeremy Spencer, Danny Kirwan, Peter Green

Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Jeremy Spencer, Danny Kirwan, Peter Green

It is true that an attached EP of satire material was suggested in light of my protesting that I had nothing appropriate to contribute to the album’s musical direction. That suggestion grew to be its own solo album – the one you have just mentioned.

– You’re known mostly for your slide work. Why do you think your piano skills – with MAC you even did “Great Balls Of Fire”! – didn’t get the recognition they deserve?

That’s another question that remains a bit of a puzzle to me. Maybe it was a lack of confidence on my part. I have to be pushed and encouraged, and without that, I would not have stepped out and employed those skills on “Bend In The Road”. Actually, some of what I consider my best compositions have resulted from tinkering on the piano. Namely, “Merciful Sea”, “Refugees” and, more recently, “Bellefontaine”, “Caballero” and “Touched By Grace”.

– Back in the day, you wrote most diverse songs for FLEETWOOD MAC. So how did your Buddy Holly fix combined with the love to Elmore James?

I am surprised that you would consider the songs I wrote in those days diverse! I always considered myself as lacking in composing originality. Or you mean “diverse” as opposed to “originality”? Or maybe you were thinking of my recording such things as Tim Hardin’s “Hang On To A Dream”? Regarding Buddy and Elmore: Buddy Holly was my biggest musical influence during my early teen years until I heard Elmore James when I was sixteen. Both heavily influenced my guitar playing.

– The word has it, while Peter Green was eager to play on your songs, you didn’t want to take part in his. Is it true, and if it is, why?

It’s not that I didn’t want to, necessarily. I just didn’t feel confident playing guitar riffs finger-style in open tuning with thick strings and high action for one, and secondly, when it came to recording, Peter had the parts mapped out and I figured he should just play them himself! Today it’s different, I love playing finger-style combined with the slide. I am not so worried anymore.

– Was it Danny Kirwan’s arrival that alienated you from the band? And was it because of that that you preferred faith to the stage?

Quite possibly his musical presence, being quite strong, helped to push me into reticence, but I have not consciously linked that to anything regarding my faith. I might have to think about that one, though! God has been known to use many unusual situations to get one to reevaluate their stand regarding Him.

– How did the band’s dynamics change when Peter left?

We had to see what we could do with the ingredients we had left, musically, and considering our collective personalities. Neither Danny nor I could come up with the brooding musical fare that Peter was known for, so we had to readjust. In retrospect, “Kiln House” was an uplifting album and did surprisingly well in the States, whereas it flubbed in our homeland!

– Where did the rumor of you and Green planning to record a religious epic come from?

From me! Much to the rest of the band’s consternation, I let the cat out of the bag to Nick Logan, a journalist for “New Musical Express”, a leading British music weekly magazine, at the time. The project was just something Pete and I had talked about in passing, nothing too serious, and that’s what I told Nick. Of course, the idea made juicy news and took on a life of its own.

– Religion or not, why, in your opinion, people dubbed you crazy if you demonstrated such a quality on all of your albums?

Maybe it goes along with what Jesus told His disciples: “Marvel not if the world hates you; know that it hated Me before it hated you”!

– The songs on “Jeremy Spencer and the Children”, such as “Joan of Arc” and “Beauty for Ashes”, sound like prog folk – serious, almost devoid of blues. Was that a reflection of your beliefs?

In a way. Although I knew deep down that I was capable of delivering blues well, it didn’t seem to fit in with my mindset at the time. I now see and have experienced that sweet, empathetic blues has an extremely valid place in the expression of emotion – not necessarily negative – which can touch people deeply. I tried to get this thought across on the “Bend In The Road” song, “Walked A Mile With Sorrow”.

– In 1975 you had another band, ALBATROSS. Why did you name it after Green’s tune, not one of your own?

Should I be squirming? Actually that awful ALBATROSS episode was not my idea. The name and venture was the brainchild of a slippery musical agent who saw dollar signs, and lasted all of two months, thank God.

– Or was there an ancient mariner motive to it?

Ha! No, but I do feel that the tune has been hung around my neck, even though I had nothing to do with it!

– By the way, regarding your first band, LEVI SET BLUES GROUP: were there many blues-minded combos on the Brummie scene in the mid-’60s?

Not so many. Blues wasn’t regarded as too hip, as the going thing was Atlantic, Stax and Motown soul. We just went ahead anyway, gained a small following and shortly after we were considered pretty cool when John Mayall’s BLUESBREAKERS album with Eric Clapton made it into the British charts.

– “Flee” has a commercial sheen, up to disco grooves, but a lot of interesting ideas. Yet why did you choose to rework “When I Looked to See The Sunshine” from “Children” into simpler “Sunshine”?

I still haven’t finished reworking “Sunshine”! I have added a bridge and am calling it “Sunshine Through The Rain”. Maybe it will reappear as a definitive version on a future CD!

– For all its gloss, did you expect “Cool Breeze” to become a hit?

I wasn’t surprised. People who heard it picked up on it right away. By the way, I heard later that “Traveling” from that album was a big hit in Korea, Peru and Sri Lanka!

– At the same time, “Love Our Way Outta Here” was a showcase of different techniques: twang, harmony guitar, bluesy wail… A marking of way back?

Not so much, actually. It was part of a concoction brewed by Atlantic’s producers who had rushed Michael Forgarty, the keyboardist, and me along with some hotshot session players into their New York studio to finish the album with a disco-flavored a-side. Rototoms and extended taped loops had just come into fashion with Amii Stewart’s “Knock On Wood”.

– Your only live album, “In Concert “, was recorded in India, of all places. Why there? Are there many blues fans?

It was a good show, and a reasonable recording set-up had captured it, so when someone suggested we put it out as a limited CD release in India, I said, “Why not?” An interest in blues does exist among the affluent youth there, especially in Mumbai and Bangalore, and I was surprised to find many rare blues items in CD stores.

– “Bend In the Road” features Brett Lucas as your sparring partner. Is working with young musicians invigorating?

Very much so, when they are on a sympathetic, like-minded musical wavelength. The Detroit team was just this. It may be interesting for you to know that I have recently been enjoying a most rewarding musical experience, performing and recording in France with Mick Ravassat, a young French guitarist and his equally young BLUE TEAM consisting of a bass player and female drummer. Very sensitive musicians with an outlook on playing far beyond their years.

– Your voice now is hardly different from the early days, it’s still youthful. How do you keep the vocal chords in form?

Thank you. A few people have asked me this same question, including a young Irish singer who I met on a recent gig with the BLUE TEAM in France – except he wondered how I had maintained the high and meanwhile added the low! This question is another puzzle to me, but I am grateful to God for this ability, and can only attribute it to His helping me in gaining maturity while keeping a youthful heart and a happy balanced lifestyle!

– How does your painting inform your music – or is it vice versa?

I don’t know, except that I do see musical “pictures” in my mind’s eye, especially when working in a recording studio. For instance, I recently recorded a version of Don Gibson’s “Sea Of Heartbreak” with Mick’s BLUE TEAM, and with a narrow palette of instruments, we tried to achieve a musical impression of loneliness on a dark sea behind my vocal.

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