“Oh, good luck taking over that gig!”
Mick Fleetwood is recounting one of his initial impressions of Sammy Hagar. He had just heard the Red Rocker was to replace David Lee Roth as the front man for Van Halen, and the founder/drummer of Fleetwood Mac, no stranger to difficult rock-band dynamics himself, was understandably empathetic.
Years later, Fleetwood’s feelings toward Hagar have turned from simple commiseration to admiration: “He’s the real deal. He’s a real musician and a great singer, very relaxed.” They are also now great friends, close enough that not too long ago when Hagar visited Hawaii—where Fleetwood lives—he phoned him up and the two got together.
Fleetwood had heard about Hagar’s latest project, Off The Record, a series of videos meant to pair rock royalty with buzzworthy emerging artists. “I felt compelled to ask him about his project,” says Fleetwood, and now he is appearing in the first of the series alongside Nicole Atkins, a singer/songwriter who performs personal material in a mix of styles. The conversations between the two, as well as musical performance, debut today on YouTube.
And that’s how that happened.
Why I’m on the phone call to Mick Fleetwood in Maui is a little more obscure. It has to do with my having gone not off, but on, the record as a fan of Cabo Wabo Tequila and my generally shameless sycophancy when it comes to rock’n’roll royalty. Cabo Wabo is a brand developed by Hagar, and it is under its aegis that the videos are being produced. When the promoters called and asked if I wanted to talk to a rock colossus, I said, “By all means.”
The video was shot in Fleetwood’s, the drummer’s soon-to-be-opened bar on Front Street, and features quite candid discussions. Atkins asks Fleetwood about the band’s first experiences on the road, and he responds, “When you’re in a band, it’s like a traveling circus.” Fleetwood then launches into an anecdote about narrowly missing being busted along with the Grateful Dead in New Orleans, when the then little-known Fleetwood Mac opened for the Dead, but got lost on the way to the post-concert party. (The Dead later recorded the incident in its song “Truckin”.) “If we’d have been in that hotel you’d have never heard of Fleetwood Mac again. We’d have been flung out of the United States,” points out the British musician.
I ask him if the video conversation played out over tumblers of Cabo Wabo, and rocker responds: “Are you kidding, of course." Fleetwood admits he is a late bloomer to Tequila, but found his way through his closeness with Hagar. “His spirit is literally in his brand,” says Fleetwood about the singer’s Tequila, which was named to describe a late-night stagger home after a night of partying in the Mexican resort Cabo San Lucas (the Cabo wobble).
The drummer, who has his own wine company (Fleetwood Private Cellars), says he admires Hagar’s participation in the brand and that it is very well thought out rather than being simply a branding device. “It takes part in every aspect. I’ve been around when he got a new label for a particular Tequila, and he has the excitement of a kid.”
About their respective forays into the world of marketing alcohol, he says its measure of the blind passion that is necessary to succeed. Otherwise, such a venture doesn’t make sense. “You look at it on paper, you should run for the hills or be fitted for a white overcoat.”
Fleetwood also praises Atkins, with whom he wasn’t familiar before the filming of the video. “I had no idea. I was given a few options, did my listening and thought, ‘she’s cool.’ I got to know her through this program.”
He says he was expecting it to be a mentoring situation for a very fresh talent, but was impressed by how accomplished the singer already was. “She’s well positioned. It could have been like a lamb to slaughter. But she’s been in the trenches. She’s hunkered down and toured in station wagons and paid her dues already.”
During their discussion, Fleetwood says, anything was up for grabs, and the subject of the many romantic entanglements and contretemps within Fleetwood Mac comes up. Atkins, who counts the band’s vocalist Stevie Nicks among her influences, shares the idea that her own breakups have fueled her songwriting and her music kept her going as well.
“She knows who she is,” Fleetwood now reflects. “There’s a payoff to the pain in your music, not that you go around looking for it.”
With all this heavy talk about pain and suffering and dues paying, I interject a more hopeful subject and one I am more used to writing about: cigars.
Fleetwood lights up and cops to being an occasional smoker. “I don’t go out and buy them, but if someone asks I love it. I love the smell,” he says. “I’m the guy who when someone lights up a cigar rather than backing away, I’ll get a chair so I can sit next to the smoke.”
And there you have the obligatory cigar quote. I guess I paid my dues.