Bob Welch, RIP (July 31, 1946 – June 7, 2012)

11 Jun

Robert Lawrence “Bob” Welch, Jr. (July 31, 1946 – June 7, 2012) was an American musician. A former member of Fleetwood Mac, Welch had a briefly successful solo career in the late 1970s. His singles included “Hot Love, Cold World”, “Ebony Eyes”, “Precious Love”, and his signature “Sentimental Lady”.

He died last Thursday of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, police said. He was 65.  Police spokesman Don Aaron said Welch’s wife found him with a chest wound at their south Nashville home around 12:15 p.m.

Welch was born in Los Angeles, California, into a show business family. Raised in Beverly Hills, his father was movie producer and screenwriter Robert L. Welch, who worked at Paramount Pictures in the 1940s and 1950s, producing films starring Paramount’s top box office stars, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. He also worked as a TV producer, responsible for the 25th Annual Academy Awards TV special in 1953 and The Thin Man TV series in 1958-59. Bob’s mother, Templeton Fox, had been a singer and actress who worked with Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre in Chicago, Illinois and appeared on TV and in movies from 1962 to 1979.

As a youngster, Welch learned clarinet, switching to guitar in his early teens. He had received his first guitar at the age of eight. The young Welch developed an interest in jazz, rhythm and blues, and rock music. After graduating from high school, Welch eschewed attending Georgetown University, where he had been accepted, to move to Paris, professedly to attend the Sorbonne. Welch told People in a 1979 interview that, in Paris, “I mostly smoked hash with bearded guys five years older.” He spent time “sitting in the Deux Magots café” rather than attending to his studies, and eventually returned to Southern California, where he studied French at U.C.L.A.

Dropping out of U.C.L.A. before graduation, Welch joined the Los Angeles-based interracial vocal group The Seven Souls as a guitarist in 1964, replacing band member Ray Tusken, a guitarist who went on to become vice-president in charge of A&R for Capitol Records. The Seven Souls lost a battle of the bands competition whose prize was a recording contract with Epic Records to Sly and the Family Stone.

Welch moved back to Paris and started a trio, Head West, which was not a success. Welch told People Magazine, in his 1979 interview, that the two years in Paris between 1969 and 1971 were spent “living on rice and beans and sleeping on the floor.” During his time in Paris Bob became friends with future CBS correspondent Ed Bradley, years later Ed came to Sunset Sound to hang out during the making of French Kiss.

In the summer of 1971, the remaining members of Fleetwood Mac held auditions at their retreat in England, Kiln House, while seeking a guitarist to replace Spencer. Judy Wong, a friend of the band who served at times as their secretary (the Kirwan-written song “Jewel-Eyed Judy” was dedicated to her), recommended her high school friend Bob Welch to the band. Welch (who has been described as Wong’s high school boyfriend) was living in Paris at the time.

The band had a few meetings with Welch and decided to hire him without actually playing with him or listening to any of his recordings. Welch was tasked for the role of rhythm guitar, backing up lead guitarist Danny Kirwan. It was felt that having an American in the band might extend Fleetwood Mac’s appeal in the States. Welch eventually went to live in the band’s communal home, a mansion called Benifold, which was located in Hampshire. (Using mobile equipment borrowed from The Rolling Stones, the band would record four albums at Benifold: Future Games, Bare Trees, Penguin and Mystery to Me.)

In September 1971, the band released the first Fleetwood Mac album featuring Bob Welch, Future Games, with the title song written by Welch. This album was radically different from anything the band had done up to that point. The choice of Welch seemed to be paying off as there were many new fans in America who were becoming more and more interested in the band. In 1972, six months after the release of Future Games, the band released the well-received album Bare Trees, which featured Welch’s song Sentimental Lady. (The song would become a much bigger hit for him five years later when he re-recorded it for his solo album French Kiss. He was backed on the album by Mick Fleetwood, Christine McVie, and Lindsey Buckingham, who had replaced Welch as the band’s guitarist.)

While the band was doing well in the studio, their tours were more problematic. Danny Kirwan developed an alcohol dependency and became alienated from Bob Welch and the McVies. Welch held contradictory attitudes towards Kirwan in the 18 months they were band mates in Fleetwood Mac: On the one hand, their personal relationship was difficult as Welch felt that Kirwan was playing mind games with the band; and on the other hand, Welch had enormous respect for Kirwan’s musicianship.

In 1999, Welch stated: “He was a talented, gifted musician, almost equal to Pete Green in his beautiful guitar playing and faultless string bends.” In a later interview, Welch said: “Danny wasn’t a very lighthearted person, to say the least. He probably shouldn’t have been drinking as much as he did, even at his young age…. He was always very intense about his work, as I was, but he didn’t seem to ever be able to distance himself from it… and laugh about it. Danny was the definition of ‘deadly serious’.”

The end for Kirwan came in August 1972, during an American tour, when he stormed off stage in a violent rage after arguing with Welch. Before a concert on that year’s US tour, Kirwan and Welch rowed over tuning and Kirwan flew into a rage, smashing his guitar and refusing to go onstage. He reportedly smashed his head bloody on a wall in back of the stage, then moved into the sound booth to watch the show, where the band struggled without him as Welch tried to cover his guitar parts. After the fiasco of a show, he criticized the band.

Mick Fleetwood subsequently fired Kirwan, partly on the recommendation of Welch. The artistic direction of Fleetwood Mac essentially was left in the hands of Bob and Christine

Thought for the day

Failure does not mean that you are a failure it just means that you have not succeeded yet


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