Classic Singles – Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac’s Debut Part 1 –
The A-Side: ‘I Believe My Time Ain’t Long’
Although attendance for the Sunday shows are estimated at about 15,000, the band would truly introduce themselves to the public with their first single in November.
They had one shot (possibly two, though B-sides were rarely played) to make an impression.
They already had at least three numbers, ‘Fleetwood Mac’, ‘First Train Home’ and ‘Rambling Pony’, recorded sometime in August with John McVie on bass, in the can, but those songs would remain unreleased until 1971.
Based on the bootlegs of their debut and their second show at the Marquee Club two days later they also had at least another sixteen songs to choose from.
Of the nine songs performed by Green at the two shows, six were originals.
All eight of Spencer’s numbers were covers, with six coming from Elmore James’ catalog.
The song used to open both of those shows, ‘Talk To Me Baby’ a.k.a. ‘I Can’t Hold Out’, a raucous, high energy number, had a hook that seemed designed to catch a listener’s attention. Problem was, there was little for Green to do on this number. (The number would remain a staple of their live show, but they wouldn’t cut this song in the studio until the “Blues Jam In Chicago” session in January of 1969)
The Green original ‘Looking For Somebody’ may have been too “minor key” for a first single, but his cover of ‘How Many More Years’ packed a potential commercial punch. Problem was, Green’s numbers were performed in a trio format, as Spencer chose to sit them out.
The number that was eventually chosen, ‘Dust My Broom’, was a brilliant compromise; a cover of a Robert Johnson song by way of Elmore James, it demonstrated their blues bona fides and provided a showcase for both Spencer and Green.
James had recorded on a number of Sonny Boy Williamson II’s sessions for the Trumpet label, beginning in January of 1951.
In August of that year, he cut this one song. For reasons unknown, he never recorded another for the label that could be used as the B-side*.
Elmore James: guitar & vocal /
Sonny Boy Williamson II: harmonica /
Leonard Ware: bass / Frock O’Dell: drums
Recorded August 05, 1951
Released November 1951, A-side Trumpet 78 No. 146
In August of 1955, Johnny Vincent’s Ace record label reissued the single on 45, crediting both sides to Elmore James (James was by then well established, having been recording for the Bihari brothers since 1952) and changing the titles to ‘I Believe My Time Ain’t Long’ and ‘I Wish I Was A Catfish’.
In 1965, Ace licensed much of their catalog to the Sue record label for release in the U.K. and ‘Dust My Broom’, under its new title, was released on the compilation LP “We Sing The Blues”
It would be fair to assume that as this is a cover of an Elmore James song, it must have been Spencer’s idea to record it, but I’ve often wondered, with Green’s familiarity with Sonny Boy Williamson II’s body of work (see his cover of ‘Mighty Long Time’ from the “Live at the Marquee”) from his time spent listening to John Mayall’s library and playing with him in the Bluesbreakers, if he may have been the one to bring this to the table.
Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac
Jeremy Spencer: guitar, vocal / Peter Green: harmonica /
Bob Brunning: bass / Mick Fleetwood: drums
Recorded September 9, 1967, CBS Studio, New Bond Street
Released November 3, 1967 A-side, Blue Horizon single (U.K.)
Available on: The Pious Bird of Good Omen and
The Complete Blue Horizon Sessions 1967 – 1969
Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac – I Believe My Time Ain’t Long (R. Johnson/arr. E. James) (3:01) –
The band takes the number at a slighter faster pace than used on James’ recording, and the sound is fuller, with all available space being utilized.
Especially on the single mix, the rhythm section is brought to the fore, with Brunning’s thick bass notes laying the foundation as Fleetwood’s drums provide the forward momentum.
Spencer pulls off the difficult trick of sounding as if he were singing at the top of his range without a sign of strain.
Vernon remixed the number for release on “The Complete Blue Horizon Sessions 1967 – 1969” box set bringing up Green’s harp, and giving the drums a drier, crisper sound. Spencer’s slide is also cleaned and sharpened.
On the original mix, Green’s harmonica must fight for space with the drums. The new mix also clears a space for the overdub of Spencer’s guitar playing without the slide, best heard on the outro.
In what may have been a bone thrown to the “Blues purists” of the time, Spencer sings the second verse as written by Robert Johnson, not the one sung by James, a wink to those in the know. On the earlier version recorded at The Marquee, and later, when he recorded the number for the “Mr. Wonderful” LP, he uses James’ lyrics, changing only the last line (to me, the words are garbled, and if anyone can offer a “translation” it would be appreciated)
When performed at the Marquee Club show a few weeks earlier, they didn’t so much play the song as discharge it, unleashing a fusillade of shouted vocal, pummeling rhythm guitar and bass backed by Fleetwood’s pounding drums and cymbal crashes. The poor sound on the available recording smears all the elements into a tsunami of sound atop which rides Spencer’s pealing slide guitar.
Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac
Jeremy Spencer: guitar & vocal / Peter Green: guitar /
Bob Brunning: bass / Mick Fleetwood: drums
Recorded August 15, 1967 – The Marquee Club, London
Available on: Live at the Marquee** (Receiver 1992)
Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac – Dust My Broom (Elmore James) (4:05) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ji9IqsVbyh4
In concert, Green was content to allow Spencer and the band to bash away at the number as so many of their contemporaries were at the time. After all, Green did not consider this “Blues”, but rather, “Rock ‘n Roll”.
As an introduction to “his” band however, he wanted it known that they were a “Blues band”, and the sound that Vernon helped them create aligned them more closely with Jo-Ann Kelly and T.S. McPhee than Savoy Brown and Chicken Shack.
Almost all of the covers before, and after Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac’s single were based on James’ later, more heavily amplified, harder charging variations of his original Trumpet recording beginning with ‘I Believe’ in 1952 and reaching its apex with 1955’s ‘Dust My Blues’.
For me, the most successful contemporaneous recording was by Canned Heat, who covered the number on their first LP, released in England in 1967.
Playing fast and loose with both the arrangement and lyrics, they manage to come closer to the “style” of Elmore James (on his later recordings) in his magpie habit of picking up bits and pieces from here and there and using them to create something new. Adding tremendously to the success of this number is the addition of Ray Johnson on piano.
Bob Hite: vocal / Al Wilson: guitar /
Henry Vistine: guitar /
Larry Taylor: bass / Frank Cook: drums /
Ray Johnson: piano
Available on: Canned Heat (Liberty 1967)
Canned Heat – Dust My Broom (3:28) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aHu24OK0-z4
Despite the creativity of the arrangement, and the energy with which they play, it is the vocal that ultimately lets the song down, lacking the sense of scale (in both passion and humor) to match the music the way that Spencer did.
There is also a Canned Heat connection with the flip side to Fleetwood Mac’s debut single, ‘Rambling Pony’ and we’ll take a look at that in the next installment.
*This wasn’t the first time McMurray had that problem. A month earlier, in July of 1951, she recorded Bobo Thomas performing a cover of Robert Petway’s ‘Catfish Blues’. She then lent him a guitar and amplifier to allow him to work up some more material for a B-side. She didn’t hear from him again for close to a year.
Three months after recording James, she took the two orphaned recordings and paired them under the name Elmo James, with ‘Dust My Broom’ as the A-side.
(As to Bobo Thomas, he’d been arrested shortly after his session on charges involving the guitar, and had been waiting eight months for his hearing. McMurray and a lawyer went to court with him and after pleading not guilty he was released. The episode cost the label $250.00. He never recorded again.)
** All of the releases of this show on the Castle Communications labels, “Live at the Marquee” on Receiver and Trojan and the U.S. release on Purple Pyramid, “A Night at the Marquee” incorrectly list the song as ‘Dust My Blues’. Sony’s 2019 release “Before the Beginning: Rare Live and Demo Sessions 1968 – 1970” also mistitles Spencer’s performance of ‘Dust My Broom’ at the Carousel Ballroom as ‘Dust My Blues’.
The same performance is listed as ‘I’ll Dust My Broom’ on Eat to the Beat’s 3 disc “Transmission Impossible” and on Roxvox’s “Live at the Carousel Ballroom 1968” also released in 2019.