Robert Lawrence “Bob” Welch, Jr. (July 31, 1946 – June 7, 2012) was an American musician. A former member of Fleetwood Mac, Welch had a briefly successful solo career in the late 1970s. His singles included “Hot Love, Cold World”, “Ebony Eyes”, “Precious Love”, and his signature “Sentimental Lady“.
Welch was born in Los Angeles, California, into a show business family. Raised in Beverly Hills, his father was movie producer and screenwriter Robert L. Welch, who worked at Paramount Pictures in the 1940s and 1950s, producing films starring Paramount’s top box office stars, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby (solo, not as a duo). He also worked as a TV producer, responsible for the 25th Annual Academy Awards TV special in 1953 and The Thin Man TV series in 1958-59. Bob’s mother, Templeton Fox, had been a singer and actress who worked with Orson Welles‘ Mercury Theatre in Chicago, Illinois and appeared on TV and in movies from 1962 to 1979.
As a youngster, Welch learned clarinet, switching to guitar in his early teens. He had received his first guitar at the age of eight. The young Welch developed an interest in jazz, rhythm and blues, and rock music. After graduating from high school, Welch eschewed attending Georgetown University, where he had been accepted, to move to Paris, professedly to attend the Sorbonne. Welch told People in a 1979 interview that, in Paris, “I mostly smoked hash with bearded guys five years older.” He spent time “sitting in the Deux Magots café” rather than attending to his studies, and eventually returned to Southern California, where he studied French at U.C.L.A..
Dropping out of U.C.L.A. before graduation, Welch joined the Los Angeles-based interracial vocal group The Seven Souls as a guitarist in 1964, replacing band member Ray Tusken, a guitarist who went on to become vice-president in charge of A&R for Capitol Records. The Seven Souls lost a battle of the bands competition whose prize was a recording contract with Epic Records to Sly and the Family Stone. The original line-up included lead singer Ivory Hudson, saxophonist and singer Henry Moore, drummer Ron Edge and bassist Billy Diez. (Later band members Bobby Watson and Tony Maiden subsequently formed the funk group Rufus with Chaka Khan.)
The Seven Souls’ 1967 release “I’m No Stranger / I Still Love You” (OKeh 7289) made no impact at the time of its release, despite subsequent issue in France and Italy. However, the B-side “I Still Love You” has become a Northern Soul anthem over the past 30 years with original copies on OKeh (or French CBS / Italian Epic) changing hands for anything up to £400. The Seven Souls broke up in 1969.
Welch moved back to Paris and started a trio, Head West, which was not a success. Welch told People Magazine, in his 1979 interview, that the two years in Paris between 1969 and 1971 were spent “living on rice and beans and sleeping on the floor.” During his time in Paris Bob became friends with future CBS correspondent Ed Bradley, years later Ed came to Sunset Sound to hang out during the making of French Kiss.
Bob Welch struggled with a variety of marginal bands until 1971, when he was invited to join Fleetwood Mac, then an erstwhile English blues band that had lost two of its three front-line members, Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer, within a few months. Along with fellow newcomer Christine McVie, a keyboardist/singer-songwriter (formerly of the British blues band Chicken Shack) married to bassist (and long-time band member) John McVie, Bob helped to steer the band in a more melodic direction, particularly after lead guitarist/singer-songwriter Danny Kirwan left the band in 1972.
Evolution of the band
In the summer of 1971, the remaining members of Fleetwood Mac held auditions at their retreat in England, Kiln House, while seeking a guitarist to replace Spencer. Judy Wong, a friend of the band who served at times as their secretary (the Kirwan-written song “Jewel-Eyed Judy” was dedicated to her), recommended her high school friend Bob Welch to the band. Welch (who has been described as Wong’s high school boyfriend) was living in Paris at the time.
The band had a few meetings with Welch and decided to hire him without actually playing with him or listening to any of his recordings. Welch was tasked for the role of rhythm guitar, backing up lead guitarist Danny Kirwan. It was felt that having an American in the band might extend Fleetwood Mac’s appeal in the States. Welch eventually went to live in the band’s communal home, a mansion called Benifold, which was located in Hampshire. (Using mobile equipment borrowed from The Rolling Stones, the band would record four albums at Benifold: Future Games, Bare Trees, Penguin and Mystery to Me.)
In September 1971, the band released the first Fleetwood Mac album featuring Bob Welch, Future Games, with the title song written by Welch. This album was radically different from anything the band had done up to that point. The choice of Welch seemed to be paying off as there were many new fans in America who were becoming more and more interested in the band. In 1972, six months after the release of Future Games, the band released the well-received album Bare Trees, which featured Welch’s song Sentimental Lady. (The song would become a much bigger hit for him five years later when he re-recorded it for his solo album French Kiss. He was backed on the album by Mick Fleetwood, Christine McVie, and Lindsey Buckingham, who had replaced Welch as the band’s guitarist.)
While the band was doing well in the studio, their tours were more problematic. Danny Kirwan developed an alcohol dependency and became alienated from Bob Welch and the McVies. Welch held contradictory attitudes towards Kirwan in the 18 months they were band mates in Fleetwood Mac: On the one hand, their personal relationship was difficult as Welch felt that Kirwan was playing mind games with the band; and on the other hand, Welch had enormous respect for Kirwan’s musicianship.
In 1999, Welch stated: “He was a talented, gifted musician, almost equal to Pete Green in his beautiful guitar playing and faultless string bends.” In a later interview, Welch said: “Danny wasn’t a very lighthearted person, to say the least. He probably shouldn’t have been drinking as much as he did, even at his young age…. He was always very intense about his work, as I was, but he didn’t seem to ever be able to distance himself from it… and laugh about it. Danny was the definition of ‘deadly serious’.”
The end for Kirwan came in August 1972, during an American tour, when he stormed off stage in a violent rage after arguing with Welch. Before a concert on that year’s US tour, Kirwan and Welch rowed over tuning and Kirwan flew into a rage, smashing his guitar and refusing to go onstage. He reportedly smashed his head bloody on a wall in back of the stage, then moved into the sound booth to watch the show, where the band struggled without him as Welch tried to cover his guitar parts. After the fiasco of a show, he criticized the band.
Mick Fleetwood subsequently fired Kirwan, partly on the recommendation of Welch. The artistic direction of Fleetwood Mac essentially was left in the hands of Bob and Christine.
The next two and a half years proved to be the most challenging for the band. In the three albums Fleetwood Mac would release in this period, they would constantly change line-ups around the core of Mick Fleetwood, the McVies and Welch. The band then faced the ultimate challenge, a very threat to their existence, when their manager put a band on the road in America under the name Fleetwood Mac that contained none of the band members, precipitating a legal row.
Kirwan was replaced by Savoy Brown lead singer Dave Walker and Bob Weston on lead guitar. Both Walker and Weston appeared on Penguin, released in January 1973, cracking the Top 50 on the Billboard Top 200 album chart in the U.S., reaching #49. Walker’s style did not mesh with Fleetwood Mac and he was amicably dismissed, failing to appear on Mac’s second album of 1973, Mystery to Me, which was shipped to market six months after Penguin.
Mystery to Me contained the Welch song “Hypnotized”, which got a lot of airplay on the radio in the United States and became one of the band’s most recognizable Fleetwood Mac songs to date. However, Mystery to Me only reached #67 in The States, as that market became increasingly important to the band, which was shipping albums in the respectable range of 250,000 units at the time.
Fake Mac and the move to Los Angeles
Internal stresses caused by line-up changes, touring and the failing marriage of Christine and John McVie (exacerbated by John’s alcoholism), and an affair between lead guitarist Bob Weston and Mick Fleetwood’s wife Jenny Boyd proved debilitating to the band. Mick was devastated by his wife’s revelation of the affair, and Weston was sacked from the band. Mick’s distress led to the cancellation of a planned tour in the United States, the band’s most important market.
In what would be one of the most bizarre events in rock history, the band’s manager, Clifford Davis, determined not to cancel the tour, claimed that he owned the name Fleetwood Mac. According to Bob Welch, Davis sent letters to all the remaining Fleetwood Mac band members saying he was putting a new “star-quality, headlining act” together and offering them jobs in this new band. Welch said that he believed that Davis’ gambit was ignored by them all. Without telling any of the band members, he then set up a tour with a new group of musicians, booking them into venues in the United States under the name “Fleetwood Mac” even though none of the new musicians had ever played with any previous incarnation of the band. 
Davis announced that Bob Welch and John McVie had quit Fleetwood Mac, and put the “fake Mac” band out on to tour the United States. None of the “fake Mac” members was ever officially in the real band, but it was announced that Mick Fleetwood and Christine McVie would be joining the band at a later date. The members of Fleetwood Mac obtained an injunction preventing the fake Mac from touring under their name, while Davis obtained an injunction preventing the “real Mac” from touring. The lawsuits resulting from the fake Mac tour, which was aborted, put the real Fleetwood Mac out of commission for almost a year.
During this period, Bob Welch stayed in Los Angeles and connected with entertainment attorneys. Welch quickly realized that the band was being neglected by Warner Bros., the parent of their label, Reprise Records. He came to the conclusion that if the band wanted to get better treatment from Warner Bros., they would have to change their base of operation to Los Angeles. The rest of the band agreed immediately. Rock promoter Bill Graham wrote a letter to Warner Bros. to convince them that the “real” Fleetwood Mac were in fact Fleetwood, Welch and the McVies. While this did not end the legal battle, the band was able to record as Fleetwood Mac again.
Instead of getting another manager, Fleetwood Mac decided to manage themselves. After the courts ruled that the “Fleetwood Mac” marque belonged to Mick Fleetwood and John McVie, the two band members set up their own band management company, Seedy Management.
Heroes Are Hard to Find
In 1974, for the first time in its history, Fleetwood Mac had only had one guitarist, Bob Welch, who took over lead guitarist duties. The quartet of Welch, Mick Fleetwood, and the McVies represented the ninth line-up in the band’s seven year history.
Warner Bros. made a new record deal with the real Fleetwood Mac, after which the quartet of Mick Fleetwood, the McVies and Welch recorded and released the album Heroes Are Hard to Find on Reprise in September 1974. (The band did not switch to the parent label Warner Bros. Records until 1976, after the multiple platinum success of the 1975 album Fleetwood Mac, with Rumours marking their first release on the Warners’ label in 1977.) The Heroes Are Hard to Find album was the first to crack the US Top 40 in the United States, reaching #34 on the USA Billboard 200 chart.
The Heroes Are Hard to Find tour proved to be the last one for Welch. The constant touring had taken its toll on him. His marriage was failing and he felt that he had hit the end of his creative road with the band. In a 1999 online question and answer session on the Fleetwood Mac fan site The Penguin, Welch also said he felt somewhat estranged from the British members of the band after four years. He claimed he felt close to Mick Fleetwood, with whom he claimed he was running the band in 1974, but felt estranged from John and Christine McVie.
Of the Fleetwood Mac albums on which Welch appeared, American album sales totaled 500,000 units shipped between 1971 and 2000 for Future Games; 1 million units of Bare Trees between 1972 and 1988; and 500,000 units of Mystery to Me between 1973 and 1976, when it was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America.
Legacy and lawsuit
The Buckingham-Nicks version of Fleetwood Mac achieved supergroup status with the albums Fleetwood Mac (1975) and Rumours (1977), which shipped 5 million and 19 million units in the US, alone, both reaching #1 in the US. (Rumours, which has shipped 40 million units worldwide, is one of the most successful sound recordings ever released.) Welch’s French Kiss, released in 1977, was his sole platinum album, and after his gold-certified album Three Hearts (1979), his career faded.
Mick Fleetwood continued to manage Bob Welch’s career into the 1980s. In 1994, Welch sued Fleetwood, John and Christine McVie, band attorney and attorney Michael Shapiro and Warner Bros. Records for breach of contract related to underpayment of royalties. In 1978, Welch and the three band members signed a contract with Warner Bros. agreeing to an equal share of all royalties from their Fleetwood Mac albums. Welch alleged that the three subsequently had struck various deals with Warner Bros. that gave them higher royalty rates. Welch alleged that Fleetwood and the McVies had failed to inform him of the new, higher royalty rate, thus depriving him of his fair share of royalties. The breach of contract lawsuit was settled in 1996.
Hall of Fame controversy
When Fleetwood Mac was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, original band members Peter Green, Jeremy Spencer, Danny Kirwan, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie were named to the Hall, as were Christine McVie, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. Welch, who anchored the band for several years and three albums, was not. “My era was the bridge era,” Welch told the Cleveland newspaper the Plain Dealer in 1998, after he was snubbed by the Hall of Fame. “It was a transition. But it was an important period in the history of the band. Mick Fleetwood dedicated a whole chapter of his biography to my era of the band and credited me with ‘saving Fleetwood Mac.’ Now they want to write me out of the history of the group. It hurts.”
Welch went on to tell the Plain Dealer, “Mick and I co-managed the group for years. I’m the one who brought the band to Los Angeles from England, which put them in the position of hooking up with Lindsey and Stevie. I saw the band through a whole period where they barely survived, literally.” At the time, Welch believed that he had been blackballed by the Hall because of the breach of contract lawsuit against Fleetwood and John and Christine McVie. At the time of his snubbing by the Hall, he believed that the falling out with three band members led them to pressuring the selection committee into excluding him from the Hall.
In a 2003 online question and answer session on the Fleetwood Mac fan site The Penguin, Welch revised his opinion of why he was snubbed by the Hall. He had recently attended a Fleetwood Mac show and visited the band members back stage after the show. The visit reconnected him with Mick Fleetwood, his ex-band mate and ex-manager, after being estranged for many years. (He had never been estranged from Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, who were not party to the lawsuit.) By 2003, Welch believed that he had been snubbed by the Hall as the directors in New York, music industry insiders, did not like his style of music. However, he did believe that the lawsuit was a factor in his being blackballed, as it prevented him from getting in touch with Mick Fleetwood, whom he was not talking to at the time of the induction, who may have otherwise have used his influence to get Welch included with other members of the band. (Jerry Garcia had used his influence to get 12 members of the Grateful Dead inducted into the Hall, including some band mates whose contributions were considered marginal.) Welch said he had also communicated with Christine McVie but was still estranged from John.
In 1975, Welch formed the short-lived hard rock power trio Paris with ex Jethro Tull bassist Glenn Cornick and ex Todd Rundgren’s Nazz drummer Thom Mooney. Paris released two albums; Paris and, after Hunt Sales replaced Mooney, Big Towne 2061. Sales’ brother Tony subsequently replaced Cornick before the group split.
In a 1979 interview with People, Welch said that the two Paris albums were “ill-conceived.” Due to the misfire of Paris, his finances had deteriorated until he had only $8,000 left. Mick Fleetwood and members of Fleetwood Mac would soon help him reinvigorate his career as a solo act.
In September 1977, Welch released his first solo album, French Kiss (originally to have been called Paris 3), a mainstream pop collection featuring contributions from former band mates Mick Fleetwood and Christine McVie. This release brought Welch his greatest success, selling one million copies being certified by the RIAA on 5/1/78. It yielded three hit singles: a revamped version of “Sentimental Lady”, which hit Billboard’s Top 10, the rocker “Ebony Eyes” and “Hot Love, Cold World”.
Welch followed up French Kiss with 1979’s Three Hearts, an album that replicated the rock/disco fusion of French Kiss. It was certified Gold by the RIAA on 2/23/1979, and spawned the top 20 hit “Precious Love”, while the follow-up single “Church” also charted. He also hosted a music video program, Hollywood Heartbeat.
Welch released solo albums into the early 1980s (The Other One, Man Overboard, Bob Welch, and Eye Contact) with decreasing success, during which time he also developed a heroin addiction. After cleaning himself up in 1986, Welch turned away from performing and recording and focused his attention on songwriting for others. In the early 1990s, he moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where he put together a short-lived group called Avenue M, which backed him on tour and recorded one song for a greatest hits compilation. He later moved to Nashville, Tennessee.
In 1999, Welch released an experimental jazz/loop based album, Bob Welch Looks at Bop. He followed this up in 2003, with His Fleetwood Mac Years and Beyond, which contained new recordings of songs he originally recorded with Fleetwood Mac, as well as some solo hits. In 2006, he released His Fleetwood Mac Years and Beyond 2, which mixed a half-dozen new compositions, along with a similar number of his Mac/solo remakes.
Mr. Welch experimented with virtual web life, by appearing at Gibson Island, a corporate sponsored island in Second LIfe. He appeared in 2008 performing hits live for 30 minutes on the internet from the Gibson stage.
Welch had been married since 1985 to Wendy Armistead Welch of Memphis, Tennessee. The couple resided in Nashville.
On June 7, 2012, Welch committed suicide in his Nashville home at around 12:15 p.m. He was found by his wife with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest; a suicide note had been left behind. Welch suffered from undisclosed health issues prior to his death.