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Christine McVie's first official credit with Fleetwood Mac was designing this cover for their new direction in music with the 1970 release of Kiln House.
It must be eight years ago when I found a great deal on Fleetwood Mac: 1969-1972, a 2013 boxed set of the band’s first four Reprise recordings, which have always been my favorite Fleetwood Mac records.
The boxed set of four vinyl records included Then Play On (1969), Kiln House (1970 ), Future Games (1971) and Bare Trees (1972), as well as the single “Oh Well,” from Then Play On.
I had owned all four albums since I was a teenager (and later also bought them on CD), but those recordings have traveled with me through the years and I thought they could use an update.
Also it allowed me to find a frame so I could hang the charming cover of my original copy of Kiln House, bought when I was 17, on my wall. The cover was drawn by the band’s newest member, Christine McVie, formerly Christine Perfect.
Kiln House was the first record Fleetwood Mac made after founding member and brilliant guitarist Peter Green lost his mind on LSD and drifted away, eventually being found by the BBC in 1976 when the California version of Fleetwood Mac was top of the pops, and he was working as a sexton in a village cemetery. When the interviewer asked the question about what he would do if he were asked to rejoin the wildly popular band he said he couldn’t possibly because his fingernails were too long to play guitar, and the camera cut to fingernails grown over the tops of his fingertips.
But this is about the passing of Christine McVie at age 79 on Nov. 30. She first burst onto the English music scene as Christine Perfect in a band called Chicken Shack. They had a Number 1 hit in the UK with their version of Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind.”
Kiln House was a major departure for a band that had been associated with the blues revival – electric blues – of the 1960s. While I dug the very bluesy Peter Green version of Fleetwood Mac, Kiln House seemed more a step in the direction of the groovy hippy utopia I was certain was ahead of us, along with Jeremy Spencer interpretations of the famous Sun Studio sound that dot the record.
It would be Spencer’s last record with the group. While on tour in Los Angeles, he stepped out for a magazine one day and never returned. Instead, he joined the cult formerly known as The Children of God. American Bob Welch was recruited to step in and take the band in yet another dreamy direction on the next few records.
But Kiln House was and is a happy, trippy, musical piece of candy, dripping with beautiful, rubbery guitar and the enduring rhythms that the Mac is known for thanks to titular members Mick Fleetwood on drums and John McVie on bass.
I still recall the simple beauty of the guitars enticing me the first time I heard this record as a musically open-minded 17-year-old. To me, this is the nadir of Fleetwood Mac. A real cracker.
The record today sounds as fresh and vital as it did the first time it caught my ears, which was when my late friend Dean Pfeffer of New Duluth played it for me. Hooked on first hearing. So clean. Precise.
I once interviewed guitarist Jeremy Spencer about the making of the record (unfortunately, the publication I was working for at the time is not online). The band decided on the album title Kiln House because they were staying in an old oast house – a building for drying hops for brewing – when they recorded the album.
And suddenly the all-male, three-guitar lineup was now two guitars, a kickass rhythm section and Christine on keyboards and vocals. She fit in beautifully. However, the only credit she gets on the record is for the lovely cover art.
It wasn’t until the next record, Future Games, that she was credited as a band member.
The records in the four-album box set are the ones that define Fleetwood Mac for me. I also own and enjoy the band’s next three records – Penguin (1973), Mystery to Me (1973) and Heroes Are Hard to Find (1974).
I moved to England in 1974, and the next year Fleetwood Mac unveiled its new California lineup with Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. That’s when I lost interest in the band and the rest of the world discovered them.