Robert Lawrence “Bob” Welch, Jr. (August 31, 1945 – June 7, 2012) was an American musician. A former member of Fleetwood Mac, Welch had a successful solo career in the late 1970s. His singles included “Hot Love, Cold World,” “Ebony Eyes,” “Precious Love,” and his signature song, “Sentimental Lady.”
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 (solo, not as a duo). 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 Magazine 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 UCLA.
Dropping out of UCLA 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. The original line-up included lead singer Ivory Hudson, saxophonist and singer Henry Moore, drummer Ron Edge and bassist Bill Deiz, who later became a television news anchorman and reporter in Los Angeles. (Later band members Bobby Watson and Tony Maiden subsequently formed the funk group Rufus with Chaka Khan.)
The Seven Souls’ 1967 release “I’m No Stranger / I Still Love You” (OKeh 7289) made no impact at the time of its release, despite subsequent issue in France and Italy. However, the B-side “I Still Love You” has become a Northern Soul anthem over the past 30 years with original copies on OKeh (or French CBS / Italian Epic) changing hands for anything up to £400. “I Still Love You” was co-written by Henry Moore and Bill Deiz. The Seven Souls broke up in 1969.
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.
Bob Welch struggled with a variety of marginal bands until 1971, when he was invited to join Fleetwood Mac, then an erstwhile British blues band that had lost two of its three front-line members, Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer, within a few months. Along with fellow newcomer Christine McVie, a keyboardist/singer-songwriter (formerly of the British blues band Chicken Shack, and newly married to Fleetwood Mac founding bassist John McVie), Welch helped to steer the band in a more melodic direction, particularly after lead guitarist/singer-songwriter Danny Kirwan left the band in 1972.
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 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 given 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 recorded three albums at Benifold: Bare Trees, Penguin and Mystery to Me.) The band’s first album to feature Welch and McVie, Future Games, was recorded, however, at Advision Studios in London (as is cited on the back of the album jacket) and Bare Trees was recorded at De Lane Lea Studios in Wembley.
In September 1971, the band released Future Games, with the title song written by Welch. This album was different from anything the band had done up to that point. In 1972, six months after the release of Future Games, the band released Bare Trees, which featured Welch’s song “Sentimental Lady”. The song went on to become a much bigger hit for him five years later when he re-recorded it for his solo album French Kiss. Christine McVie also sang on the remake, and was a producer of the song.
The band did well in the studio, but their tours were more problematic. Kirwan developed an alcohol dependency and became alienated from 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 fought 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.
Fleetwood subsequently fired Kirwan, partly on the recommendation of Welch. The artistic direction of Fleetwood Mac essentially was left in the hands of Welch and Christine McVie.
Over the next three albums Fleetwood Mac released, they constantly changed line-ups around the core of Mick Fleetwood, the McVies and Welch. Kirwan was replaced by Savoy Brown lead singer Dave Walker and Bob Weston on lead guitar. Both Walker and Weston appeared on Penguin, released in January 1973, cracking the Top 50 on the Billboard Top 200 album chart in the U.S., reaching #49. Walker’s style did not mesh with Fleetwood Mac and he was dismissed and did not appear on Mac’s second album of 1973, Mystery to Me, which was released six months after Penguin.
Mystery to Me contained the Welch song “Hypnotized”, which got a lot of airplay on the radio in the United States. However, due to an aborted tour, Mystery to Me only reached #67 in the States, as that market was becoming increasingly important to the band, which was shipping albums in the respectable range of 250,000 units at the time.
Internal stresses caused by line-up changes, touring and the failing marriage of Christine and John McVie (exacerbated by John’s alcoholism), and an affair between Weston and Fleetwood’s wife, Jenny Boyd, proved debilitating to the band. Fleetwood was devastated by his wife’s revelation of the affair, and Weston was sacked from the band. Fleetwood’s personal problems led to the cancellation of a planned tour in the United States.
The band’s manager, Clifford Davis, decided not to cancel the tour and claimed that he owned the name Fleetwood Mac. According to Welch, Davis sent letters to all the remaining Fleetwood Mac band members saying he was putting a new “star-quality, headlining act” together and offering them jobs in this new band. Welch said that he believed that Davis’ gambit was ignored by them all. Without telling any of the band members, Davis then set up a tour with a new group of musicians, booking them into venues in the United States under the name “Fleetwood Mac” even though none of the new musicians had ever played with any previous incarnation of the band.
Davis announced that Welch and John McVie had quit Fleetwood Mac, and put the “fake Mac” band out on to tour the United States. None of the “fake Mac” members was ever officially in the real band, but it was announced that Fleetwood and Christine McVie would be joining the band at a later date. The members of Fleetwood Mac obtained an injunction preventing the “fake Mac” from touring under their name, while Davis obtained an injunction preventing the “real Mac” from touring. The lawsuits resulting from the tour, which was aborted, put the real Fleetwood Mac out of commission for almost a year.
During this period, Welch stayed in Los Angeles and connected with entertainment attorneys. Welch believed the band was being neglected by Warner Bros., the parent of their label, Reprise Records and decided that if the band wanted to get better treatment from Warner Bros., they would have to change their base of operation to Los Angeles. The rest of the band agreed. Rock promoter Bill Graham wrote a letter to Warner Bros. to convince them that the “real” Fleetwood Mac were in fact Fleetwood, Welch and the McVies. While this did not end the legal battle, the band was able to record as Fleetwood Mac again.
Instead of getting another manager, Fleetwood Mac decided to manage themselves. After the courts ruled that the “Fleetwood Mac” name belonged to Fleetwood and John McVie, the two band members set up their own band management company, Seedy Management.
In 1974, for the first time, Fleetwood Mac had only one guitarist, Welch, who took over lead guitarist duties. The quartet of Welch, Fleetwood, and the McVies represented the ninth line-up in the band’s seven-year history. Warner Bros. made a new record deal with the band, which recorded and released the album Heroes Are Hard to Find on Reprise in September 1974. The album became the band’s first to crack the Top 40 in the United States, reaching #34 on the Billboard album chart.
The Heroes Are Hard to Find tour proved to be the last for Welch. The constant touring had taken its toll on him. His marriage was failing and he felt that he had hit the end of his creative road with the band. In a 1999 online question and answer session on the Fleetwood Mac fan site The Penguin, Welch also said he felt estranged from John and Christine McVie while he felt close to Fleetwood, with whom he asserted he was running the band in 1974.
Welch resigned from Fleetwood Mac in December 1974 and was replaced by Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks.
Of the Fleetwood Mac albums on which Welch appeared, American album sales totaled 500,000 units shipped between 1971 and 2000 for Future Games; 1 million units of Bare Trees between 1972 and 1988; and 500,000 units of Mystery to Me between 1973 and 1976, when it was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America.
The Buckingham–Nicks version of Fleetwood Mac achieved superstar status with the albums Fleetwood Mac (1975) and Rumours (1977), which shipped 5 million and 19 million units in the US alone, both reaching #1 in the US. (Rumours, which has shipped 40 million units worldwide, is one of the most successful sound recordings ever released.) Mick Fleetwood continued to manage Bob Welch’s career into the 1980s. In 1994, Welch sued Fleetwood, John and Christine McVie, band attorney and attorney Michael Shapiro and Warner Bros. Records for breach of contract related to underpayment of royalties. In 1978, Welch and the three band members signed a contract with Warner Bros. agreeing to an equal share of all royalties from their Fleetwood Mac albums. Welch alleged that the three subsequently had struck various deals with Warner Bros. that gave them higher royalty rates. Welch alleged that Fleetwood and the McVies had failed to inform him of the new, higher royalty rate, thus depriving him of his fair share of royalties. The breach of contract lawsuit was settled in 1996.
When Fleetwood Mac was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, original band members Peter Green, Jeremy Spencer, Danny Kirwan, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie were named to the Hall, as were Christine McVie, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. Welch, who anchored the band for several years and five albums, was not. “My era was the bridge era,” Welch told the Cleveland newspaper the Plain Dealer in 1998, after he was snubbed by the Hall of Fame. “It was a transition. But it was an important period in the history of the band. Mick Fleetwood dedicated a whole chapter of his biography to my era of the band and credited me with ‘saving Fleetwood Mac.’ Now they want to write me out of the history of the group. It hurts.”
Welch went on to tell the Plain Dealer, “Mick and I co-managed the group for years. I’m the one who brought the band to Los Angeles from England, which put them in the position of hooking up with Lindsey and Stevie. I saw the band through a whole period where they barely survived, literally.” At the time, Welch believed that he had been blackballed by the Hall because of the breach of contract lawsuit against Fleetwood and John and Christine McVie. At the time of his snubbing by the Hall, he believed that the falling out with three band members led them to pressuring the selection committee into excluding him from the Hall.
In a 2003 online question and answer session on the Fleetwood Mac fan site The Penguin, Welch revised his opinion of why he was snubbed by the Hall. He had recently attended a Fleetwood Mac show and visited the band members back stage after the show. The visit reconnected him with Mick Fleetwood, his ex-band mate and ex-manager, after being estranged for many years. (He had never been estranged from Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, who were not parties to the lawsuit.) By 2003, Welch believed that he had been snubbed by the Hall as the directors in New York, music industry insiders, did not like his style of music. However, he did believe that the lawsuit was a factor in his being blackballed, as it prevented him from getting in touch with Mick Fleetwood, whom he was not talking to at the time of the induction, who may have otherwise have used his influence to get Welch included with other members of the band. For example, Jerry Garcia had used his influence to get 12 members of the Grateful Dead inducted into the Hall, including some members whose contributions were considered marginal. As the Plain Dealer article noted, 16 members of the Parliament-Funkadelic collective were inducted into the Rock Hall—an oddly large number in the author’s view, considering Welch’s pivotal role in Fleetwood Mac and a board member’s contention that only band members who made important creative contributions to a group’s sound and impact are nominated for inclusion.
In September 1977, Welch released his first solo album, French Kiss (originally to have been called Paris 3), a mainstream pop collection featuring contributions from Fleetwood, Buckingham and Christine McVie. This album (ultimately certified platinum by RIAA) marked Welch’s commercial apogee, peaking at #12 on the Billboard album chart in 1978. It yielded three hit singles: a revamped version of “Sentimental Lady” produced by Buckingham and McVie (#8), the rocker “Ebony Eyes” (#14; featuring Juice Newton on backing vocals) and “Hot Love, Cold World” (#31).
Welch followed up French Kiss with 1979’s Three Hearts, an album that replicated the rock/disco fusion of French Kiss. It peaked at #20 (earning a RIAA gold certification) and spawned the hit “Precious Love” (#19), while the follow-up single “Church” (#73) also charted. From 1980 to 1981, he hosted a music video program, Hollywood Heartbeat.
Welch released solo albums into the early 1980s (The Other One, Man Overboard, Bob Welch, and Eye Contact) with decreasing success. During this period, he partied with nouveau hard rock band Guns N’ Roses (who rehearsed in his garage) and developed a short lived cocaine and heroin addiction for less than a year before being hospitalized in the spring of 1985; according to Welch in 1999, “I was being a very bad boy, very decadent, very cynical, VERY stoned. It was not a good time.”The day he got out of detox, he was introduced to Wendy Armistead (an employee of Michael Viner and Deborah Raffin) by Taryn Power (Tyrone Power’s daughter) and Tony Sales at the Central (now the Viper Room). Welch and Armistead were married in December 1985, and remained together as husband and wife and business partners until his death. They relocated to Phoenix, Arizona to maintain Welch’s sobriety in 1986. Welch abstained from illegal drugs (including marijuana) for the rest of his life. Thereafter, he turned away from performing and recording and focused his attention on songwriting for others. In Phoenix, the Welches put together a short-lived group called Avenue M, who went on tour and recorded one song for a greatest hits compilation. They later moved to Nashville, Tennessee.
In 1999, Welch released an experimental jazz/loop based album, Bob Welch Looks at Bop. He followed this up in 2003, with His Fleetwood Mac Years and Beyond, which contained new recordings of songs he originally recorded with Fleetwood Mac, as well as some solo hits. In 2006, he released His Fleetwood Mac Years and Beyond 2, which mixed a half-dozen new compositions, along with a similar number of his Mac/solo remakes. He released more CDs with Fuel Records in 2008, 2010, and 2011.
Welch appeared as an avatar named Bob Welch Magic in 2008 performing solo acoustic favorites and hits live for 30 minutes, in a show with Von Johin (musician/publisher Mike Lawson) and Cypress Rosewood (musician Tony Gerber) in the virtual world of Second Life streaming live over the internet into the Gibson Island virtual stage from Lawson’s studio.
On June 7, 2012, at the age of 66, Welch committed suicide in his Nashville home at around 12:15 p.m. He was found by his wife, Wendy, with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest; a nine-page suicide note and love letter had been written to Wendy. According to her, Welch had undergone spinal surgery three months earlier, but doctors told him that he would not fully recover. He was in serious pain and he did not want his wife to have to care for an invalid. Also, she believes that the pain medication pregabalin (Lyrica), which he had been on for six weeks, may have contributed to his death.
RCA Records 1983
RCA Records 1981
Capitol Records 1980
The Other One
Capitol Records 1979
Capitol Records 1978
Capitol Records 1977