Fleetwood Mac: “The Ghost” (Bare Trees, 1972)

Yesterday, we lost Bob Welch, one-time singer/guitarist for Fleetwood Mac. He was 65. 

Welch was a member of the band from 1971 to 1974, during which time the band recorded five albums. Fleetwood Mac was still a blues band when Welch became the group’s first American member in ‘71. He was hired to be the rhythm guitarist while Danny Kirwan continued to handle the lead parts, but Kirwan exited the band a year later.

Kirwan was replaced by guitarist Bob Weston and singer Dave Walker (from Savoy Brown)—Walker lasted one album before departing amicably, but Weston lasted longer and nearly destroyed the band by having an affair with drummer Mick Fleetwood’s wife, Jenny Boyd. In the wake of Weston’s dismissal, Fleetwood was too despondent to tour, and the band’s manager attempted to fulfill the group’s scheduled dates with a completely different band, leading to a legal slugfest that again nearly torpedoed the group. 

Meanwhile, John and Christine McVie had divorced, and Christine had joined Welch in leading the band toward a much more pop-oriented rock sound. Welch encouraged the band to move to his hometown, Los Angeles, and they did. One of his contributions to 1973’s Mystery To Me, “Hypnotized,” scored the band its biggest hit to that point (it’s my favorite Mac song).

Welch was the stable core of the band during his time as a member—the group simply would not have survived were it not for his contributions and stewardship. If you love the band’s Buckingham-Nicks years, thank Welch for making them possible, because that hit-making machine never could have been built without him. 

Welch had a solo career after leaving Fleetwood Mac, and scored a hit in 1977 with a new version of “Sentimental Lady,” a song he’d originally written for Fleetwood Mac’s 1972 LP Bare Trees. The other song he wrote for that album was “The Ghost.” 

"The Ghost" is one of several songs, "Hypnotized" among them, that reveals Welch’s interest in the supernatural (he even tackled the Bermuda Triangle on a song of the same name on 1974’s Heroes Are Hard to Find). it gives his songwriting an interesting spin, even occasionally when he’s singing mostly about something else, such as on Penguin’s “Night Watch,” in which UFOs appear in an otherwise rather conventional narrative about a struggling relationship.

I wish Welch could get the respect he deserves for his role in transforming and guiding on of rock’s great bands through its most tumultuous years—as it is, when the band made it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Welch wasn’t included in the list of members to be inducted. This despite the fact that the band never would have merited inclusion if he hadn’t been around to help hold it together. Not to give the Rock Hall too much credit, but hopefully with his passing they’ll see fit to correct that mistake.

I don’t think too many people know this song. I know it jumped out at me, along with “Sentimental Lady,” when I bought my old vinyl copy of Bare Trees years ago. With luck, it’ll stand out to you, too.