Yes, the early 70’s were not a good time to be a member of Fleetwood Mac. Yet another casualty of those times was guitarist/songwriter Danny Kirwan, fired from the band in 1972. He joined the band in 1968, largely as a guitar foil for Peter Green (since Jeremy Spencer didn’t appear to have much interest in contributing to Green’s songs), but soon gained a reputation for a rather intense personality, short temper, and alcoholism (subsisting only on beer for days at a time, according to some). However, both in FW Mac and on his solo albums after the band, Kirwan’s songs were very melodic, with calm (even joyful at times) moods. It would appear he channeled the positive aspects of his personality into his music.
His contributions to the band included strong material such as “Station Man” (played during some FW Mac shows by Lindsey Buckingham years after Kirwan was gone from the band), “Woman of a 1000 Years”, and a good chunk of Bare Trees, including the title song and the soaring instrumental “Sunny Side of Heaven”.
Tensions between Kirwan and the band had been escalating, though, and it was around this time that a backstage fight with Bob Welch at a show led to Kirwan’s refusal to go on stage. He ended up watching from the side and then criticized their performance to them afterwards. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back, as the cliche goes, and he was ousted from the band soon after.
It would take a few years, but Second Chapter, Kirwan’s first solo album, was eventually released in 1975. Small record labels, lackluster promotion and Kirwan’s by-now worsening mental health problems all helped to sabotage any successful solo career that may have resulted from the three albums he released before his disappearance from recording. In my opinion, it wasn’t any fault of the music. There are some beautiful songs (we’ll just forget his ill-conceived reggae cover of The Beatles’ “Let It Be”), especially on the first two (Second Chapter and Midnight in San Juan), characterized by a lush, summery, soft-rock sound that easily could have dominated the 1970’s airwaves if business matters had aligned differently and if Kirwan’s head was in a better place.
1979’s Hello There Big Boy (complete with grimace-inducing title and album cover – though I’ve read recently that the image may have been a jab at Bob Welch’s then-current equally grimace-inducing French Kiss album cover) was the last we would hear of Kirwan. Ram Jam City, a collection of demos recorded for Second Chapter was released in 2000 and is a really nice release, if you can find it. Reportedly homeless for a time in the 80’s and/or 90’s, Kirwan may live in a home for the mentally ill these days, though information is hard to come by.
(Stay tuned for the last two “ex-Fleetwood Mac solo’s” in the upcoming week or so – Peter Green and Bob Weston. More mental illness, more tragedy, oh yeah- and more music!)
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No one compares with Peter Green for his accomplishments as a guitarist, singer, & writer. And Jeremy Spencer was a great addition, as well as a comedic force, at a time when that was a rarity in ‘rock theatre’. But Danny Kirwan was something else apart from either of them. His songs and his vocals were additions that came from somewhere else and truly lifted FM’s early music to new places and atmospheres, something vital after both Green & Spencer vanished. To my ears, he was the more significant contributor, until he evidently fell apart and left the door open for Welch & C.McVie to add their new touches.The band was never very close to the overall qualities of the early-mid years during those later Big Pop L.A. years. I had hopes for Buckingham, but that didn’t last for long.