Who’s Walking Through That Door?

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(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.

4 thoughts on “Who’s Walking Through That Door?

  1. You make some good points, but you choose a difficult band to make them with.
    Fleetwood Mac has been through so many members, what’s a few more?
    (I could grumble about paying $100 to see a Fleetwood Mac that doesn’t have Peter Green or Danny Kirwan.)

    And Steely Dan was prescient enough to build personnel flexibility into their business model.
    Hell, even having the same bunch of guys play an entire concert is more stable than they were on the records, where a rotating cast would appear from song to song (and Becker, in particular, would be absent half the time anyway.)

    I remember, in Fagen’s statement right after Becker ‘s death, he promised to keep touring to keep the music they created alive.
    (This must have triggered the lawsuit.)
    I guess if you want your music to be played and played well, the only way to ensure that is to keep doing it yourself – and the crowds and the paychecks will be bigger if you use your old band’s name.
    (Bigger paychecks is no small issue in the matter of Steely Dan, where the touring band is large and full of people who command top dollar for their services.)

    1. I had some second thoughts about using Fleetwood Mac in this, but I dismissed them with the following bit of mental gymnastics: when most people think of Fleetwood Mac, they’re thinking of the Rumours lineup and neither the blues-band incarnation nor the Rick Vito/Billy Burnette edition nor the version without Stevie and Christine. I would wager something on the order of 90% of people attending their shows think of the band that way as well. What you’re getting with them now is a simulacrum. (Upon further review, I really really hate the addition of Tom Petty and Crowded House tunes to their setlist. Mike Campbell and Neil Finn can play those at their own shows.)

      I respect Donald Fagen’s interest in keeping Steely Dan’s music alive, but I suspect his interest is primarily mercenary as well, given that he has complained in print about audience demand for those old songs. (In the tour diary in his book “Eminent Hipsters,” he wishes that the people he calls “TV babies” would be consumed in a flash fire.) He and Walt did SD albums in the new millennium and he’s got four solo records to choose from, but “Hey Nineteen” and “Bodhisattva” are still on the setlist.

  2. spnetingler

    If Freddy Weller sang “Indian Reservation” it would be a surprise to Mark Lindsay (whom I have played with – he’s still in remarkable voice and shape). Weller was well into his solo country career by then, and the song was initially slated to be a Lindsay solo record. Weller recorded the Cowsills’ “Indian Lake” which is probably where some of the online confusion begins.

    Since Revere died in 2014, the current touring PR&R has exactly zero members from any of the classic lineups (Doug Heath from the mid-70’s is the closest) but they do have a Revere progeny.

    I once saw Two Dog Night at a state fair.

    And Roger and Pete should tour as the Daltrey-Townsend band, and stop calling themselves the Who. They maybe should have done that in 78.

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