SIMON COLLINS, The West Australian
When he is not touring with Fleetwood Mac, drummer Mick Fleetwood likes to spend his time with the reds and the blues.
The reds are the wines he has blended with California's Langtry Estate and Vineyard for the past eight years, and the blues are of the 12-bar variety found on the Mick Fleetwood Blues Band's latest album Blue Again.
A Grammy-nominated return to his roots, the album draws on the British blues sound of the original Fleetwood Mac, formed in the late 60s by Fleetwood and gun guitarist Peter Green. Bassist John McVie soon joined to add the "Mac" part of their moniker.
Chatting during the Mac's recent Australian tour, the English-born musician says his Mick Fleetwood Private Cellar range has overcome the usual snobbishness directed towards celebrity labels and is making serious inroads into the US market.
"I love it. It's hard work and it's been a lot of fun," Fleetwood, 62, says from the Hyatt Hotel. "I'm not a big technician, like my playing, but I come from the heart and fortunately we're getting really well written up."
While there was little time for the giant drummer to sample some local wines during the Fleetwood Mac tour, he hopes to do some serious "research" when he returns for some east coast shows with the Mick Fleetwood Blues Band in February.
Fleetwood's fifth "solo" release since 1981, Blue Again features guitarist/singer Rick Vito who toured with Fleetwood Mac from 1987-91 when Lindsey Buckingham left the band.
The blues side project is a chance for Fleetwood to reconnect with the traditional sound of the 60s British blues movement as well as the origins of his legendary pop outfit.
"I'm a blues player and that's certainly me and John (McVie) - we came out of that whole blues movement. It's just something I've always loved to do," Fleetwood says. "To focus on that has been a thrill and getting back to playing blues and really addressing some of the original Fleetwood Mac material is a joy."
The Hawaii-based musician and vintner enjoys changing gears between the precise stadium shows of Fleetwood Mac and the looser, smaller performances of the Mick Fleetwood Blues Band.
"When Fleetwood Mac get out and grind the big wheel and get it going, it's sort of hard to stop which is good because . . . there's plenty of bums on seats," he says. "I love to play (with the Mac) - every performance is a joy.
"But you're aware of a lot more pressure just by the fact you're representing a musical franchise. You've got to be on the spot at the right time."
Meanwhile, the blues band affords him a chance to jam and have some fun with 12-bar blues. "There's more freedom for an old fart like me to mess around," he laughs.
The Mick Fleetwood Blues Band started with loftier aspirations than winery tours and bar-room jams. When he and Vito planned the project two years ago, they wanted a reunion of the original Fleetwood Mac members at London's Royal Albert Hall. While he managed to convince former slide guitar player Jeremy Spencer, who left the band in 1971 to join a Christian cult, to perform, the event hinged on the presence of Green.
The guitar great has battled schizophrenia for most of his life and got the "heebie-jeebies" not long before the show, forcing Fleetwood to cancel the event. Green still has a strong presence on Blue Again. Half the songs on the album were penned by him, including Black Magic Woman, Albatross and Rattlesnake Shake.
While the blues band gigs are always fun, Fleetwood says that the Mac's current greatest hits tour - which stopped by Perth for two epic concerts this month - has been one of the most enjoyable in the legendary band's long history.
He says that without a new album to worry about, the two odd couples of the Mac - himself and McVie; Stevie Nicks and Buckingham - have somehow managed to tour without burning out.
A clear sign of a rare healthy passage for Fleetwood Mac came when Blue Again landed a Grammy nomination for best traditional blues album and Nicks was only beset by mock envy.
Fleetwood chuckles: "Stevie congratulated me and said, 'Well, I didn't get a Grammy nomination for my solo album'."
Blue Again is out now.