The Backbone of the Mask
….story about John McVie, Alembic Instruments in SF and my new Alembic bass
Welcome to Behind the Mask June 2016. This time, Paul Jones, bass player with Fleetwood Mask, will tell you about the roots of Fleetwood Mac and his tributee and inspiration, John McVie who has been a fixture in popular music for more than 50 years.
John McVie and all the members of early Fleetwood Mac, grew up as students of American blues. Following WWII, England was rebuilding, and American blues were a new sound that many young people in England grew to make their own. As the bassist for England’s top blues band, John Mayall and the Blues breakers, McVie performed and recorded with many British rock and blues heroes from 1962 – 67.
As a successful touring bass player, John had access to the best gear along the way. In the early 60’s he mostly played Fender Jazz basses, then moved to the Fender Precision’s. In 1967 Fleetwood Mac had their first US tour ending in San Francisco during the Summer of Love. They performed with The Butterfield Blues band, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company and the Grateful Dead. It was the chemist and sound engineer from the Grateful Dead who introduced the band to harder drugs and took them and their music from traditional British Blues to experimental rock songs like Green Manilishi, Albatross, and Oh Well. I can relate to this, growing up in the suburbs of SF in the late 60’s myself. Plenty of hippies in the parks when I was a little boy.
SF Bay Area and Alembic Instruments
Thanks to these early trips in San Francisco’s, John was introduced to Ron and Susan Wickersham, and Rick Turner who worked at Alembic instrument. Ron and audio and electronics engineer from Ampex, was responsible for the Grateful Dead’s wall of sound. With Susan’s artistic designs and marketing skills and Rick Turners guitar building expertise, the made some amazing new guitars and basses. They built custom guitars for Jerry Garcia and basses for Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, The Who’s John Entwistle, Jazz legend Stanley Clarke, and bass number 32 for John McVie.
When Fleetwood Mac recorded their number 1 albums – Fleetwood Mac and Rumours, John was using his custom Alembic basses. They had a better sound than just about anything else thanks to the Wiskersham’s and Rick Turner’s innovative features, active electronics and exotic hard woods. John purchased several Alembics in San Francisco and played them on tour. He really enjoyed a rather special, ‘continuous fret’, stainless steel neck bass that he used in the studio frequently in the 70’s.
On our way to some Fleetwood Mask performances in the Napa wine country area, we had the pleasure of meeting and getting a tour of Alembic’s factory and offices in Santa Rosa. The same Wickersham family is making custom instruments and electronics the same way for 40+ years.
The newest member of the Mask – the Penguin Mask Bass
I was so impressed that I decided to take the plunge and order a custom bass. These are quite an investment, so I had to part with quite a few of my children (aka other basses and electronics) to make this happen.
My new Alembic Signature Deluxe is my tribute to what I learned about John and Fleetwood Mac, featuring some custom inlays of a Penguin and my favorite Mask from my years in Fleetwood Mask. Thanks to John Prock at the Monterey Music Store, Mica Thomas, Susan and Ron at Alembic, too.
Next time I’ll tell you about being Mr Nick’s and then more about the McVie’s, Penguins and lessons on the road.
Until next time,