(Pictured: Fleetwood Mac, 2018, with Mike Campbell at center in the hat and Neil Finn on the right.)
The Mrs. and I still talk about the night we went to an outdoor show starring, among others, the Drifters, Paul Revere and the Raiders, and the Temptations. This was in the late 80s, so these were not the original editions of the groups. If I’m recalling correctly, there were several touring groups calling themselves the Drifters back then, and links of each to the original Drifters were fairly tenuous. Paul Revere was still leading the Raiders, although Mark Lindsay and Freddy Weller
(who sang lead on “Indian Reservation”) were long gone. (Whoops: see below.) The Temptations were the closest to the real thing—Otis Williams and Melvin Franklin were still in the group then, as was Richard Street, who had joined the Temps in 1971 but who had sung with Williams and Franklin in the Distants as far back as 1959. We didn’t really care about the details, though. We had a marvelous time with several other couples. How much we paid to get in, I don’t remember. Maybe five bucks per person, tops? Whatever it was, it seemed fair to us 30 years ago.
Tonight, a show called The Music of Cream hits my town, Madison. It features Kofi Baker (son of Ginger), Malcolm Bruce (son of Jack) and Will Johns (nephew of Eric Clapton and son of producer/engineer Andy). The original Cream last played together in 2005. Since then, Jack Bruce has died (in 2014) and Ginger Baker’s health has declined. He’s 79, and Eric Clapton is 73. Cream isn’t walking through that door, but The Music of Cream is. Tickets start at $25—fair enough for what, despite the family connections, is a tribute band. The original Cream reportedly turned down a lot of money for a tour in 2005. Today, were it possible, how much would a show with Ginger Baker, Clapton, and Malcolm Bruce command per ticket? Never mind that’s it’s two-thirds of the original band and they’re 50 years older. Would people be asked to pay $100? $150?
In the early days of the Beatles, Ringo Starr famously said that he expected to open a couple of hairdressing shops after the Beatles petered out. He could not foresee the way no band beloved by baby boomers ever has to die. The Drifters, Paul Revere and the Raiders, and the Temptations never did, and even in 2018 they still haven’t.
But should they?
Days after Glenn Frey passed in 2016, Don Henley announced that the Eagles were done, but his accountants apparently talked him out of it, and now the band goes on with Frey’s son in his father’s place and country star/former Pure Prairie League member Vince Gill along for the ride. Shortly after Walter Becker’s death a couple of years ago, his family sued Donald Fagen to keep him from going on the road as Steely Dan, but Steely Dan went on a lucrative tour with the Doobie Brothers this summer, and they’re playing dates in the UK with Steve Winwood next year.
And then there’s Fleetwood Mac, which fired Lindsey Buckingham, an integral part of the group for over 40 years, and hired a guy from Crowded House and one of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers to take his place. It’s one thing for a middle-tier band to hire new guys and keep playing county fairs and casinos, like the Little River Band, which has one guy left from its heyday (and he joined in 1980, closer to the end of the band’s chart run than to the beginning). But it seems different to me when a top-drawer superstar act does it and still commands big coin for a ticket. If you paid between $69.50 and $229.50 to see Fleetwood Mac in Milwaukee last month, what did you get? Fleetwood Mac without Lindsey Buckingham, Fleetwood Mac doing “Don’t Dream It’s Over” and “Free Fallin'”, Fleetwood Mac doing “Go Your Own Way” without the guy who sang and played lead on it—isn’t that essentially a tribute band? Is “Take It Easy” sung by Deacon Frey or “Lyin’ Eyes” sung by Vince Gill really by the Eagles, or is it something else?
In true-blue late-capitalism fashion, the marketplace decides. If people are willing to pay the freight, the show goes on. But where does it end? In this climate, what’s keeping Paul and Ringo from calling up Dhani Harrison and Julian Lennon and hitting the road as the Beatles?
Not a damn thing, actually.