Bob Weston obituary

Lead guitarist with Fleetwood Mac in the early 1970s

Bob Weston
Bob Weston, left, with Fleetwood Mac members, Christine McVie, Bob Welch, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood. Photograph: Michael Putland/Hulton Archive

The long-lasting pop band Fleetwood Mac is also one of the most controversial, its several changes of style and personnel often arising from romantic entanglements rather than musical differences. Bob Weston, who has died aged 64 of a gastrointestinal haemorrhage and cirrhosis of the liver, was the band's lead guitarist in the early 1970s, and contributed to both the evolution of its sound and its turbulent history.

Born in Plymouth, Devon, he began lessons on the violin at the age of 8, switching to the guitar at 12. Like many others, he was swept up in the rhythm and blues boom of the early 1960s, citing as influences in interviews such figures as Muddy Waters and Hubert Sumlin (accompanist of Howlin' Wolf), as well as the jazz musician Django Reinhardt.

By the mid-1960s, Weston was in London, looking for groups to join and recording sessions to play on. His first taste of success came with The Kinetic, a group of British musicians who worked mainly in France. As well as making the album Live Your Life (1967), they supported such luminaries as Jimi Hendrix and Chuck Berry in Paris shows.

Back in London, Weston's skills as a creative blues guitarist led to work with the singer Aliki Ashman and the organist and singer Graham Bond. In 1970, Weston joined the backing group of the blues singer Long John Baldry, touring Europe and the US as well as playing on Baldry's album Everything Stops for Tea (1972), produced by two of the singer's proteges, Rod Stewart and Elton John.

Baldry's band sometimes performed on the same bill as Fleetwood Mac, which since 1968 had been in the forefront of British blues groups. This was due mainly to the imagination and skill of the singer and guitarist Peter Green, who had crafted such big hits as Albatross and Man of the World (both 1969). However, Green's departure in 1970, followed by the loss of fellow guitarists Jeremy Spencer and Danny Kirwan, had left the band rudderless. In 1972, the remaining members decided to recruit Dave Walker of the blues rock band Savoy Brown as lead vocalist, and Weston as lead guitarist.

He recalled meeting Kirwan in The Speakeasy, a musicians' club in London's West End. "He rather sarcastically wished me the best of luck, adding 'You're going to need it.'"

Bob Weston of  Fleetwood Mac in 1973 Bob Weston in 1973, the year of Fleetwood Mac's Penguin album, on which he co-wrote songs. Photograph: Fin Costello/Redferns/Getty Images

Kirwan's remark proved to be prophetic, although to begin with, Weston made a significant contribution to the group's sound on stage and in the studio. Fleetwood Mac was in transition from being a blues band to a more melodic pop-rock one, and Weston was adept at both styles. He played on the 1973 albums, Penguin and Mystery to Me, co-writing several songs. Penguin is regarded by many Fleetwood Mac aficionados as one of the group's most underrated recordings.

They were also on a schedule of relentless touring, which was beginning to take its toll. Walker was unceremoniously fired early in 1973, there were tensions between the husband-and- wife team of Christine Perfect and John McVie, and when Weston began an affair with Jenny Boyd, the wife of drummer Mick Fleetwood, the scene was set for a split. This duly came in Lincoln, Nebraska, during an American tour in October 1973.

Weston was woken by a phone call summoning him to the tour manager's hotel room. He was told that other group members had already departed, that the remaining tour dates would be cancelled and that his services were no longer required. He was put on the next flight back to London.

This proved to be a cathartic moment for Fleetwood Mac. Within a year they had re-formed with the lineup that would go on to create Rumours (1977), although in the interim their manager had formed another "Fleetwood Mac" to fulfil US tour commitments. It has sometimes been alleged, inaccurately, that Weston was part of that group.

In fact, he landed on his feet in London, where his Fleetwood Mac credentials opened doors. He had abortive discussions with George Harrison about collaborations, but toured with blues veteran Alexis Korner and played on Sandy Denny's final album, Rendezvous (1977). His most lucrative project was with the actor Murray Head, star of Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar. Weston featured on Head's album Say It Ain't So (1975), a big hit in France and Canada, and led Head's touring band.

Weston also recorded three solo albums, Nightlight (1980), Studio Picks (1981) and There's a Heaven (1999), and spent much of the last two decades writing or arranging music for films and television in France and Britain. Still in touch with older musicians, he had been due to record with the ex-Rolling Stones guitarist Mick Taylor. He is survived by his younger brother, Peter.

• Robert Joseph Weston, guitarist and songwriter, born 1 November 1947; died 3 January 2012

Bob Weston's website

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