Jeremy Spencer: Precious Little (Blind Pig)

jeremy_spencerThis satisfyingly crafted surprise from an “exiled” Fleetwood Mac founding member could be hauntingly nostalgic for fans of the original British blues band from almost 40 years ago. As one of the “cursed” early guitarists of Mac, Spencer emerges as not only musically intact, but richly evolved as well. No small feat for a guy who walked away from it all 37 years ago, literally disappearing (into a religious cult he remains a member of) hours before a Stateside gig, in the midst of the band’s first incarnation and ascendence to popularity. They were a swaggering, slide-guitar-driven, uncannily Chicago-sounding blues band fronted by a very young foursome of English lads.

The mythic guitarist Peter Green, a more evocative player than his (soon to be far more successful) contemporaries Clapton, Beck, Mayall, et al, fronted the original lineup with Spencer. Rhythm section Mick Fleetwood and John McVie rounded out the band, enduring to the bitter, multi-million dollar platinum AOR hit-studded three-decades-later end. Green also walked on the band early on and wandered into a life of erratic behavior and hermitage, allegedly turning his back on big dollar royalties for his original “Black Magic Woman.” A somewhat lackluster comeback in recent years reveals little of the young transcendent Green guitar of days when he’d record with the likes of Otis Spann, or the risk-taking creator of “End of the Game,” nor his underrated ’80s output: see In the Skies (1979) and Little Dreamer (1980). Third guitarist Danny Kirwan – yes, it was unusual for a band to have three guitarists back then – spiraled down into obscurity and semi-depravity, leaving an unsteady Mac mid-tour and mid-breakdown in 1972.

Mac shed its final blues trappings and went on to mega-success. Jeremy Spencer flew below the media radar for decades, music-wise. With the cult Children of God (later calling themselves The Family, around which allegations of child abuse swirled in England), Spencer never abandoned his guitar playing nor his devotion to the blues. His faithful slide work deeply evokes the Elmore James/Otis Rush/Johnny Littlejohn/J.B. Hutto school of blues guitar. It’s as strong today as it was in his young raw Mac days of the late ’60s. The pleasant surprise beyond this is the graceful mellowing of his playing and singing, which still retaining its earnest quality. His vocals and playing have an audible glow.

Spencer suggests a spiritual path and spiritual decisions led to the creation of Precious Little. The result is divine. The opening “Bitter Lemon,” a Napoleon brandy-smooth slide-guided original, offers sage “turn it into sweet lemonade” advice. Two Elmore James favorites, “It Hurts Me Too” and “Bleeding Heart,” are sweetly, and deeply blues-steeped. “Dr. J” is pure vintage Mac-cago blues, refined but still with kick. “Please Don’t Stop” reflects Spencer’s continued fondness for late ’50s at-the-hop rock obscurities. Several nice self-penned quiet ballads turn up as well, including the Dire Straits-veined title song.

The accompanying band, a group of Norwegian blues players, some playing together 20 years, have remarkable savvy and telepathy. At first somewhat skeptical of the union, Spencer quickly fell in love with them. Discovery of Stax Records’ late-’60s mixing desk at the Oslo recording studio was another comforting sign for Spencer. The band’s musical empathy bears out Spencer’s observation that “there was more appreciation of and passion for the blues in Norway than I’d encountered anywhere else in the world…to the point Norwegians have as many as 25 blues festivals a year.”

Who knows when or if Spencer might surface again? He’s left this precious little gem for those who care to notice. - Tali Madden

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Mr. Madden escaped New York a few decades ago, and still misses his egg creams. Aside from a brief flirtation with the Desert Southwest, he's been damply ensconced for half his life in Portland, Oregon. The freelance writer has written extensively on blues and jazz for outlets including the late Blues Access magazine, contributed to the MusicHound Blues and Jazz album guides, and produced and programmed jazz broadcasts for public radio.


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