Fleetwood Mac is arguably as famous for its member shakeups and love squares as it is for its contributions to music. Former band member Bob Welch knows this as well as anyone: he was there during some of Fleetwood’s rockiest times.
Welch, who passed away in June, starred on guitar as the band worked to develop its sound in the early 1970s, leaving in 1974 just before the crest of its mainstream success. He was a struggling 25-year-old musician when he was invited to join what was then a primarily British blues band.
He was added to the lineup as the sole American at the same time as John McVie’s wife Christine in 1971. With Welch on the rhythm guitar, the group released two albums, Future Games and Bare Trees, that received greater stateside attention. Welch also wrote several songs as he played guitar alongside lead guitarist and singer Danny Kirwan.
Fleetwood Mac’s measured success was muddied by Welch’s personal conflicts with Kirwan, who became increasingly alienated from other bandmates and dependent on alcohol. Mick Fleetwood fired Kirwan in 1972. But that didn’t put an end to the discord. By the time Welch left the group in 1974, the band endured its ninth lineup change in seven years and a bizarre legal tangle over rights to the Fleetwood Mac name that resulted in a “fake Mac” band which contained none of the band’s actual members.
Welch helped resolve the issue and moved the band to Los Angeles to record his final album as part of the group, Heroes Are Hard to Find. He resigned in December 1974 after feeling estranged from the McVies and exhausted from touring.
Following this, the band hired music duo Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. With their talents, ensuing albums like 1975’s Fleetwood Mac, 1977’s Rumours and 1979’s Tusk earned the group true fame and fortune.
Welch wasn’t so lucky. He experienced moderate success as a solo artists, but had legal battles over underpayment of royalties, was excluded from the band’s 1998 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, and struggled with heroin addiction for a time. He committed suicide on June 7, 2012, after surgery for a terminal spinal illness.