As wonderful as it can be to see artists still performing several decades into their career, it’s easy to notice the shortcuts that some will take.

The key of a song will be brought down a few steps in order to better accommodate the singer’s range. The tempo will be slowed down for the musicians to keep up. And if they’re still able to sing and play at the same level? One word: teleprompter. Mick Fleetwood, however, has no interest in such things. Anyone who saw the British drumming veteran behind the kit for his ‘day job’, Fleetwood Mac, when they toured Australia last October will testify to his uncanny ability to hold the fort as a pure-bred drumming powerhouse – especially when it came to unwieldy drum solos and big jams on songs like ‘World Turning’. So what is Fleetwood’s secret to keeping the beat after 40-plus years?

“I take it as quite a compliment that people still think I play as well now as when I did when I was younger,” says Fleetwood, who turns 69 this year. “It’s a funny thing, really. I certainly try and keep fit, and I work at it. I’m always training, at least three or four days a week. I’m alive, y’know? I’m blessed that I’ve got this sort of stamina, as I’m one of those classic idiot drummers that goes in swinging. It’s very much in the style of Keith Moon, or Animal from The Muppets, that sort of thing. Sometimes, I wish I was more like Charlie Watts. He’s my favourite drummer, because he always plays it so cool – it’s all in the wrists with him, and it never even looks like he’s so much as breaking a sweat up there!”

Roughly six months after Fleetwood and the Rumours lineup of the Mac were in town, the band’s long-time leader and sole constant is set to return to Australian shores across the Easter long weekend as a part of the gargantuan Bluesfest lineup. He will be joined by the band he has moonlighted with for many years, playing a mix of electric blues and early rock’n’roll in what can only be described as the most aptly named band in the history of Bluesfest: The Mick Fleetwood Blues Band. Surely if any band does what it says on the tin, it’s this one.

“I live in Maui, which is a Hawaiian island,” says Fleetwood, “and the band I’ve assembled are all from that area, too. Rick Vito is a brilliant singer and guitar player who’s a very old and very dear friend, and he sings for us. With the band, we take it pretty much all the way back to the very beginning. It’s a documentation of where I come from – we play a lot of the songs that the earliest incarnations of Fleetwood Mac used to play. It’s a rock’n’roll band and it’s a blues band in the truest sense of both. “It’s a chance for us to do a lot of cool older stuff. Rick and the band get to bring their own flavour, and I get to relive some old memories. It’s a cool set-up, the way we have it. We get to have a blast, and the fans get to come down and blow it out with us.”

Long before Fleetwood Mac were led by Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, the band took its cues from the great early blues musicians, guided by 12-bar jams and harmonica rather than frilly tambourines and inner-band turmoil. Of course, there was nothing wrong with the latter, as classic LPs like Rumours will testify, but Fleetwood himself always held a deep-seated love of the blues. When he’s not touring the world and playing the pop hits of a generation, he likes to take things back to where it all began for him as an idealistic teenager who headed for the big city of London with a drum kit and a dream.

“The love and the affinity that one has for where they came from as a musician – that never goes away,” he testifies. “That never leaves the party. In truth, it’s something where you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Fleetwood Mac will be back at it, doing what we love to do as that band. Having my own band and my own situation allows me to have a bit of fun and do something that comes really easily. We don’t have to write 20 brand new songs every time that we tour – we have a catalogue’s worth of songs to draw from. It allows us to do whatever we want, really, and allows us to get to do it all on the fly. We don’t need two weeks of rehearsal – we just get up there and we do what we do.”

Fans will get the chance to see Fleetwood, Vito and the rest of the MFBB in action at Bluesfest, as well as some key headlining shows around the festival. Fleetwood admits that it’s a remarkably quick turnaround between visits – “I’m a glutton for punishment, aren’t I?” he quips – but is incredibly thankful to the festival for the opportunity to come back again so soon. “This is what I’m talking about!” he says. “The freedom of this band allows us to do stuff like this!”

[Mick Fleetwood photo by Sean M. Hower]

The Mick Fleetwood Blues Band play Bluesfest 2016, runningThursday March 24 – Monday March 28,at Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm, Byron Bay; and the Metro Theatre on Monday March 28.

Get unlimited access to the coverage that shapes our culture.
to Rolling Stone magazine
to Rolling Stone magazine