Musician Bob Welch, who was part of the rock/pop group Fleetwood Mac in the era that was in between the band’s original blues sounds of the late 1960s to the later more superstar pop phase that started in the late 1970s, died today at his home in Nashville, TN, in an apparent suicide, a self-inflicted shotgun wound to the chest, reports the Los Angeles Times. A suicide note was left behind by Welch, who had suffered from undisclosed health issues.
Welch was born in 1945 in Los Angeles, CA, to parents who were in the Hollywood industry. His dad was movie producer and screenwriter Robert Welch, who worked with luminaries such as Bob Hope and singer Bing Crosby, and his mother was Templeton Fox, a singer and actress who had appeared various films throughout the mid 20th Century.
Welch started on clarinet before switching to guitar when he was a teenager. Instead of going to college in the States, he migrated to Paris to play in local bands there, but found no success. In 1971, living in England on near poverty, Welch was invited to join Fleetwood Mac. At that time, Fleetwood Mac was a very different band than the one that is known today, based more in electrifying up intrinsic blues sounds and incorporating rock sounds, which a lot of English bands of that ilk at that time were doing in the late 60s/early 1970s Mac had just lost two key members: Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer. Joining the band with Christine McVie, who was married to one of the founding members of Fleetwood Mac, John McVie, Welch started to steer Mac in a more melodic direction, a direction that would eventually make Mac one of the biggest bands of all time.
Welch was the only American member of the band at that time, a factor that led to his hiring even more than his playing. He was relegated to rhythm guitar backing up the lead man in Danny Kirwan. Kirwan, however, began to become alienated from the group as his alcoholism began to overshadow his personality and friction between him and Welch escalated to the point where Kirwan left a Mac show on stage after him and Welch had an argument. Kirwan was let go from the group soon afterwards. Releasing a few more records during the early/mid 1970s, with Mac going through more various lineups and limited success stateside and abroad, Welch felt estranged from the rest of the band, and resigned in late 1974. He was replaced by Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham, a duo who helped key a direction for Fleetwood Mac (using some of the blueprint sounds introduced by Welch) that would bring them to superstar status with albums like Rumours and Fleetwood Mac.
Welch then released a few solo albums afterwards, 1977’s French Kiss being the standout, which sported the top ten hit “Sentimental Lady,” originally recorded with Fleetwood Mac in 1971. Another single, the rocking “Ebony Eyes,” also came from this album. He released another solo album a few years later, and then faded into obscurity.
Welch almost remained sort of a Pete Best of Fleetwood Mac. Best was the original drummer of The Beatles, who had also left the band right before they became one of the planet’s biggest successes, just like Welch with Fleetwood Mac. Insult was added to injury when Fleetwood Mac was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998 and Welch was not named on the roster of Mac inductees, even though many early members were, Danny Kirwan among others.
Welch had health problems which may have contributed to his suicide. His death now leaves a cloud over that sunny vibe one feels when they hear of Fleetwood Mac, and also etches him now as a tragic footnote to the storied history of that band. Welch was 66 years old.