Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Mick Fleetwood's "The Visitor" turns 43

As with any personal achievement worthy of public merit.  "The visitor" began as a dream. And it was Mick Fleetwood's belief in what he would find that finally moved five tons of musical and recording equipment to a little village in Ghana late last December (1980). Then, for the next six weeks, over 200 musicians from all over Ghana gathered in Accra to join with producer Richard Dashut, bassist George Hawkins, guitarist Todd Sharpe, and a Ghanaian percussion section in which the oldest player is 12 years. Mick Fleetwood's dream became a reality. "The Visitor" is Mick Fleetwood's triumph. But it is much more: it is a gift for the world from a place that never stops giving.

Mick Fleetwood "The Visitor"
Released June, 1981
Billboard Top 200 debut at No.140.
Peak Position No.43
14 weeks on the chart.

Singles Released: "You Weren't In Love" and "Walk a Thin Line" (Fleetwood Mac cover)

Ghana's Drumbeats Strike A Fleetwood Nerve

Billboard September 12, 1981

LOS ANGELES - With his first solo album, "The Visitor" which was made in Ghana with African musicians, Fleetwood Mac's Mick Fleetwood had at least two goals: to make an African-influenced album that mainstream Western pop audiences would listen to and to establish a link with Africa that will enable him to record there in future and produce African artists.

"The rest of Fleetwood Mac thought I was going to come back with howling in trees," laughs Fleetwood. "I wanted the album to be accessible. That was the point. If I had come back with a totally African album, I know it would have sat on the shelf in some little record store somewhere like some of these jazz albums. There's really no point in that."

Fleetwood, a fan of various types of percussion, had dreamed of going to Africa to participate with African musicians -for him, many of their rhythms are at the heart of rock music. He wanted to have selected African musicians perform Western songs mixed with traditional African songs. "I had a meeting with a Ghanain professor, a musicologist who was lecturing at UCLA on drum music," recalls Fleetwood.

"He played me tapes of stuff I could expect to hear and I played him stuff that I liked and had played on. I told him I wanted to go and be able to play around with material yet keep it pretty much as it was. We haven't taken any of the African songs and put English words to them or taken the melodies and worked in new words. These are their songs. I asked the professor if this was something he would find appealing or would the people be insulted?" 

With the go-ahead from the professor, Fleetwood prepared to go. The African material was chosen in Africa while the Western songs came from a variety of sources. The single, "You Weren't In Love," comes from Australia. He and coproducer Richard Dashut found it while resting in that country before heading to Africa. "We were in a bar and heard the song. It turned out to be a huge hit for the artist, Billy Fields, but at that time it was just a demo," he recalls. "We asked the bar owner about it and he said that Fields brought it in just for him to play at his restaurant. We looked Fields up the next day."

Traveling with Fleetwood were fellow Western musicians guitarist/vocalist Todd Sharp and bassist /vocalist George Hawkins. Former Fleetwood Mac member Peter Green contributes vocal and guitar overdubs on one track. He doesn't feel this overlaying of Western styles harms the African spirit. "I wanted to participate with them," he says. "I wasn't going to pretend that I was going to learn to play African drum rhythms in two weeks. I wanted to be Mick doing something somewhere else and have people I met do things I wanted to do. I wanted to have them confronted with playing 'Not Fade Away' or whatever."

Fleetwood's work stylistically fits in with what Talking Heads' David Byrne and producer Brian Eno have done in terms of incorporating African rhythms into pop music. However, Fleetwood feels his methods are different.

"Eno was there when I was there. He was up north at a drum festival and he produced a Ghanain hi-life (an electrified form of African music) band. The rest of the time I think he was sitting there with his tape recorder getting ideas. It's healthy but that's not what I wanted to do," he declares.

"I'm not putting him down. I'm sure he has all the good intentions in the world but when you see how easy it is to steal from a certain situation you say `somebody should be putting something back'." 

Part of his "putting something back" includes cutting the African musicians in on the royalties from "The Visitor" and lending credibility to the recently formed Musicians Union in Ghana. In return for the use of Ghana Film Studios, where the LP was recorded, Fleetwood and crew bought $15,000 worth of film for the financially ailing studio. The studio used it to document the Fleetwood trip and the film may air on PBS in the near future. 

Fleetwood has already featured several of the Ghanain drummers on German television and two tracks on which Ghanains participated may make it onto the next Fleetwood Mac album. No matter how "The Visitor" does, Fleetwood is planning to bring out an album of a concert Fleetwood participated in on his last day in Ghana. "I'm hoping my album will open the door and then I can present an album which is hard-core. I like to think we can play a little part in getting people to listen to more diverse stuff without being frightened off," Fleetwood comments.

So far, he is pleased with the reception the album has gotten. The album has gone top 50 in the U.S. "I wish more of the African stuff was getting played - comparatively little of it is," he bemoans. "If they started playing it, people would probably start phoning like crazy. If `You Weren't In Love' isn't a hit, it might well be worth going for one of the African songs as a single. At least, it would get played a little bit. It is refreshing, yet it's not like having to listen to jazz fusion in X, Y, and Z key or something. It's easy to listen to."

Warner Bros. didn't think so. Fleetwood Mac's label declined to release the package so "The Visitor" is on RCA. "I'm not angry at Warner Bros.," he says. "I'm quite happy with RCA. It's just one of those things. I was surprised and initially disappointed. But in retrospect, it's just business."

For the future, Fleetwood sees returning to Africa and bringing some of the musicians over here. "I wouldn't mind going there and just using the studio to make an album which might consist of something devoid of using African musicians. I would do it just to be there," he states. "I really hope though, I can bring some of the bands over. If I could just get them on a couple of talk shows. I know the effect would be amazing. If some of the bands from Jamaica can do it, I know it's possible." 

Mick Fleetwood (drummer with Fleetwood Mac) visiting and playing with master musicians in Ghana.  
Produced by Sunset and Vine of London for the BBC in 1982.

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