Review: Fleetwood Mac – Before the Beginning 1968 – 1970 Live & Demo Sessions” (Sony Music) Part 1 – The Carousel Ballroom / Fillmore West recordings

This was the last of six compilations of concert and / or BBC broadcasts from the Peter Green era Fleetwood Mac that were released in 2019 (see: https://smilingcorgipress.com/six-new-releases-of-vintage-peter-greens-fleetwood-mac-recordings-in-2019-an-overview/for an overview)

All of the sets were drawn from the same source materials, but this collection stands out for pulling from two others and for the handsome packaging, the highlight being the liner notes, forty-two pages in all, with well-chosen illustrations, written by Christopher Hjort, author of the invaluable “Strange Brew – Eric Clapton & The British Blues Boom 1965 – 1970” (Jawbone Press 2007)

 

Hjort provides a thumbnail history of Green and the band in sixteen entertaining and informative pages providing background and context for the music on the three discs.

It is thus all the more frustrating that one of the biggest knocks on the set has been the label’s self-defeating decision to not identify the sources of the performances.  All of the tracks here, and on the other 2019 releases have been in circulation among collectors for decades, and as Green’s fans are among the most obsessive, they were quick to post the information as soon as the set-list was announced.

For those new to the music (and hopefully these releases will at least introduce, if not make fans of, new listeners) the lack of information seems like a self-inflicted wound.

 

The fourteen tracks on Disc 1 and the first five on Disc 2 are taken from two different stands at the Carousel Ballroom at the end of June and at the same venue, now renamed the Fillmore West, in early July of 1968.

The first ten songs on Disc 1 were also released on the single CD “Live at the Carousel Ballroom 1968” (Roxvox).

The other 3 CD set released in 2019 “Transmission Impossible – Legendary Radio Broadcasts From the 1960’s & 1970’s” (Eat to the Beat), shares fifteen of the tracks found on “Before the Beginning 1968 – 1970 Live & Demo Sessions”, dropping four and adding one not found on that collection.

 

While the three collections all share the same songs, there are differences in the song titles that may be confusing to some.  This collection is the only one to correctly identify Elmore James’ ‘Something Inside of Me’ (Disc 1, track 2) – with the other two listing it as ‘My Baby’s Gone’.

The next number is listed here as ‘The Woman I Love’, where the other two bill it as ‘My Baby’s Skinny’.  While Green does include lyrics from Doctor Clayton’s ‘Moonshine Woman Blues’ which B.B. King recorded as ‘The Woman I Love’, the number is a Green original and there is no consensus as to the actual title.

Hjort goes into greater depth as to the song’s provenance and the label would have done well to heed his expertise as he correctly identifies Spencer’s next number as ‘Dust My Broom’, Elmore James’ take on the Robert Johnson number ‘I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom’.

This is listed as ‘Dust My Blues’ (a different, though minor variation, on the Johnson song that James recorded in 1955) on the both the jewel case sleeve and the CD.  The other two collections show it as ‘I’ll Dust My Broom’.

 

The four songs feature Paul Butterfield (as he cannot mention him by name, Hjort alludes to his identity as the “horn-like harmonica player”) joining the band.  The first number, ‘Stop Messin’ Round’ is incomplete, only the final minute and twenty seconds caught on tape.  This is one of the four numbers from these shows that the “Transmission Impossible” collection omits.

Once again, Hjort correctly identifies Spencer’s next Elmore James cover as ‘I Believe’ while the packaging has the track as ‘I Believe My Time Ain’t Long’.  “Transmission Impossible” opts to reuse the fictional ‘I’ll Dust My Broom’.

Disc 1 concludes with one of the show’s highlight’s, Spencer’s cover of James’ ‘The Sun is Shining’ accompanied by Butterfield.

Disc 1 of “Transmission Impossible” finishes with the final track with Butterfield (although he is heard only briefly) a race through Little Richard’s ‘Long Tall Sally’ followed by Jeremy singing Johnny Otis’ ‘Willie and the Hand Jive’ and a breakneck run through Little Richard’s ‘Tutti Frutti’, exclusive to that collection.

 

Disc 2 of “Before the Beginning” picks up with ‘Long Tall Sally’ and ‘Willie and the Hand Jive’ and then jumps to an incomplete recording of Green singing ‘Need Your Love So Bad’ the chorus and final verse (running a minute and thirty-two seconds).

This is followed by a band version (without Butterfield) of ‘I Believe’ (again misidentified on the packaging as ‘I Believe My Time Ain’t Long’) and concluding with an epic (eight minute) take on James’ ‘Shake Your Moneymaker’.

The omission of the two incomplete numbers on “Transmission Impossible” will be of concern to completists only.

The eight-minute ‘Shake Your Moneymaker’ was most likely left off due to time restraints and as there are far better versions available, not a tremendous loss.  That they excised the second version of ‘I Believe’ is truly unfortunate, and not made up for with the inclusion of ‘Tutti Frutti’.

Note: neither set includes neither of the two versions of Little Richard’s ‘Ready Teddy’, one incomplete, that are available on various bootlegs and downloads of these shows.

 

I found the sound quality to be far superior to the bootlegs of the show(s) that I’ve owned over the years; fluctuations in volume (most noticeable on the opening track ‘Madison Blues’) have been leveled, the vocals have been brought way up in the mix (maybe too far forward for some) the guitars ring sharp and clear but the bass is a bit too muted and the drums too prominent.

The lack of audience sound (the applause at the head of the opening track have been spliced onto the original recording) and the separation of the instruments from one another and the vocals, are, I believe, all part of the original recording and there is little that could have been done to “fix” these issues.

It should be noted that Spencer’s cover of Homesick James’ ‘Got to Move’ is marred by tape warble and is cut short (though very cleanly) at the end.  There is a full-length version in circulation (an audience recording) but the sound quality is much poorer.

Compare the sound on the first ten tracks with that of the remaining numbers from these shows.

Although the vocals are too low and the instruments too high, they all sound as if they are in the same room.

It is on the Butterfield tracks that the decision to cut out the between song stage talk detracts from the listener’s involvement.

On the bootlegs of the show, at the end of ‘Stop Messin’ Round’ Green sounds genuinely surprised and pleased to announce Butterfield’s appearance, as if Butterfield had come on stage unplanned and simply joined in on the number.

A voice (not from the audience) can then be heard saying that Green should let Butterfield “sing one”.  Butterfield defers, “…no man, I’d rather just play”; he then asks Green for the key they are playing in.

In reply, Green asks, “…can you do one like ‘Who’s Been Talking’ in D?”

And with that, they go into ‘I Loved Another Woman’, for me, a highlight of the set.

Green calls Spencer back out and Spencer digs into Elmore James’ ‘I Believe’.  Butterfield remains silent as Spencer plays.  It is possible that he was waiting to see if and when Spencer would give him the nod to join in; it takes three minutes before Butterfield is heard, and Spencer repeats the opening verses to allow Butterfield to play.

Butterfield is right there from the beginning for the next and final number on Disc 1, a cover of James’ ‘The Sun Is Shining’, another highlight.

 

The first five tracks on Disc 2 wrap up their stand at the Carousel.  Again, the bootlegs provide a different picture of the show.  After ‘The Sun Is Shining’ there is a long delay as Spencer apparently walked off-stage to deal a buzzing amp (Green apologizes for the “cheap guitars”); Green tells the audience that they will be back in two weeks to play “The Fillmore” and then tells them they will play something that Butterfield has never played before.

With that, they rip into their encore numbers, beginning with ‘Long Tall Sally’.

Butterfield give a few perfunctory blows on the harmonica before bowing out, as there is nothing that he can add to this.

The number is granted an enthusiastic response from the audience and Spencer shouts out “I need the Hand Jive”.  Fleetwood begins to bang out the Bo Diddley beat but it quickly sputters to a halt.

Green steps up to the mike and asks “You wanna rock? (pause) Or you wanna fuck?”

Fleetwood starts them up again and they turn in a fine version of the Johnny Otis number.

All of this has been removed on this collection, the songs flowing one into the other, a more enjoyable listening experience but missing the flavor and atmosphere of the bootlegs.

 

As mentioned, ‘Tutti Frutti’ and ‘Ready Teddy’ are absent and the set jumps to three numbers from a set from their return to the venue a few weeks later.

There is a curious lack of energy to the first two numbers.  As mentioned, ‘Need Your Love So Bad’ is an incomplete recording, capturing only the final verse and chorus.

Next up is a second version of ‘I Believe’.  The band could slip into complacency playing these variations of James’ ‘Dust My Broom’ arrangement, but the bring a welcome suppleness to this performance and Spencer’s ragged vocal fits the slightly slower tempo at which they take this one.

 

After only brief pause, the band tears into a raucous performance of ‘Shake Your Moneymaker’.  This one of the best played versions captured on tape up until this time, but Spencer’s graphic patter during the extended breakdown (nearly three minutes in length) while transgressive at the time, has fifty years on, dated particularly poorly as there is no attempt at humor, (bootleg recordings from later tours find Spencer far more inventive and funny), only dirty talk.

As I have lamented the label’s decision to cut some of the stage talk between numbers elsewhere, I credit them for not editing (censoring) this number, allowing the listener to experience this number as it was played and the audience heard it.

These recordings provide an extended look at Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac in the months before Danny Kirwan joined the band and their sound changed dramatically.

Those changes are documented on the remaining ten tracks of Disc 2 with the recordings taken from their stand at The Warehouse, in New Orleans, to reviewed in the next installment.

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