Former Fleetwood Mac guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter, Bob Welch, died of an apparent suicide on Thursday. Some sources report that he was suffering health problems. Welch was a Los Angeles native, born in 1946 to a producer/screenwriter with Paramount and an actress/singer. He began playing clarinet at an early age, but moved to guitar in his teens. He moved to Paris after high school, eventually returning to L.A. where he became the guitarist for The Seven Souls, best known for “I Still Love You,” which went on to become a cult hit long after its release. The band broke up in 1969 and Welch returned to Paris. He struggled in various bands until 1971, when he was invited to join Fleetwood Mac — and was alledgedly hired without an audition because he was an American. At the time, Fleetwood Mac had lost Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer, and was regrouping with Danny Kirwin on guitar, John McVie on bass, Christine McVie on keyboards, and Mick Fleetwood on drums.
In 1974 Welch becoming the sole guitarist in the group with the departure of Kirwin’s replacement, Bob Weston (who passed away earlier this year). He recorded five albums with the group: Future Games, Bare Trees, Mystery to Me, Penguin, and Heroes are Hard to Find. His time with the band was turbulent, with drug and alcohol issues leading to the firing of Kirwin, affairs between band members and spouses, managerial problems, the appearance of another band touring the U.S. under the Fleetwood Mac name, lawsuits, and more. However, the band also enjoyed increasing sales and rising chart positions for their singles during this time.
Welch left Fleetwood Mac at the end of 1974. His replacements were Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. His contributions were critical in transitioning the band from its early traditional blues sound toward the smoother pop sound that later versions of Fleetwood Mac took forward to huge commercial success. He referred to his tenure in the band as “the bridge era” for the group.
The controversy continued, however, with lawsuits over royalty payments leading to estrangement between band members. When Fleetwood Mac was inducted into the Rock and Roll hall of Fame in 1998, Bob Welch was not included.
Welch went on to a successful solo career, selling more than a million copies of his first solo record, French Kiss. His followup, Three Hearts was certified Gold by the RIAA. Hits on these records included “Sentimental Lady” (an earlier version of this song was on Fleetwood Mac’s Bare Trees album), “Ebony Eyes,” “Hot Love, Cold World,” “Precious Love,” “Church,” and more. He continued releasing albums through the rest of his life including Bob Welch Looks at Bop, a jazz/loop-based album in 1999. In the 2000s, he released His Fleetwood Mac Years & Beyond and His Fleetwood Mac Years & Beyond, Vol. 2, which included re-recorded versions of Fleetwood Mac songs along with new originals.
In the ’90s, Welch relocated to Nashville and increasingly turned his focus toward writing songs for other artists, including Kenny Rogers, Sammy Hagar, The Pointer Sisters, and more.