After living one of rock music’s most bizarre stories, Bob Welch committed suicide on June 7, 2012. In a note allegedly left behind, Welch explained that spinal surgery three months prior would not lead to a full recovery and his act was an attempt to prevent Wendy Armistead, his wife, from having to care for an invalid. To that end, Welch shot himself in their Nashville home.
Welch was born into an entertainment family in Los Angeles, California. His father was film producer/screenwriter Robert Welch and his mother, Templeton Fox, had been a singer and an actress. Welch began playing guitar at age eight. He kept at it, playing in various bands throughout the sixties. Thanks to Judy Wong, an old high school friend, he was hired by Fleetwood Mac in 1971 without a real audition. Mick Fleetwood and John McVie, co-founders of the band, hired McVie’s wife Christine at about the same time.
It was a transitional time for the band which had been an all-male blues band. Danny Kirwan remained their lead guitarist but Welch replaced Jeremy Spencer on rhythm guitar. The band released “Future Games”, a vastly different sounding collection of tunes that helped attract a wider U.S. audience. Six months later, “Bare Trees” (containing Welch’s signature song “Sentimental Lady”) solidified the band’s chartability and that tour was successful.
However, internal strife blamed on Kirwan’s drinking erupted when Kirwan and Welch argued onstage during a 1972 performance. Kirwan was dismissed, Bob Weston was hired as lead guitarist and former Savoy Brown singer Dave Walker was hired to take over vocals. This configuration produced the successful LP “Penguin”. Walker was amicably dismissed because his style conflicted with Fleetwood’s musical notions. Weston also left and Welch became lead guitarist for two more LP’s, “Mystery to Me” and “Heroes are Hard to Find”.
The bizarre twist to the story was instigated by the actions of their manager, Clifford Davis. Mick Fleetwood became despondent over his wife’s affair with Bob Weston. Christine and John McVie’s marriege was also crumbling and they wanted to cancel the upcoming tour. Davis then assembled a group of musicians whom he intended to send on the road as Fleetwood Mac. “Fake Mac” was prevented from touring by “Real Mac” who, acting as their own management, toured in support of ‘Heroes’ in 1974.
Welch, feeling estranged from the British band members, resigned in December of 1974. He formed the ill-fated band Paris and went solo by 1977 with Mick Fleetwood as his manager. Fleetwood, Christine McVie and Stevie Nicks contributed toWelch’s solo LP “French Kiss” which charted well, fueled by the restructured version of “Sentimental Lady”. It proved to be his only viable LP.
The connection to Fleetwood Mac disintigrated following Welch’s lawsuit against them for underpayment of royalties. The suit was settled in 1996 but Welch was excluded from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 1998, an event which did include former members Peter Green, Jeremy Spencer and Danny Kirwan. Welch did re-connect with Fleetwood in 2003 but it was too little too late. His career had dwindled to writing songs for others in lieu of touring and recording.
Welch did assemble several songs which had been intended for release with Fleetwood Mac. These appeared on his CDs “Fleetwood Mac Years and Beyond Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 (2003 and 2006 respectively). His suicide was a sad end for a talented musician and a man who had assisted greatly in helping Fleetwood Mac stay alive as a band. His legacy will reflect all of these events and leave unanswered the questions about what could have been.