For the week of 4/16/2012…

“Temperature Is Rising (100.2°F)” by Otis Spann with Fleetwood Mac

It’s the third week of April and suddenly it’s as hot in New Jersey as it gets during the summertime.  I was driving home in the heat, and suddenly a nice, slow-burning blues seemed to be in order, so I popped in an Otis Spann CD and listened to this track, a collaboration with Fleetwood Mac.

At this point, you’re probably thinking, “Wait a minute, Fleetwood Mac playing the blues with Otis Spann?  What the fuck?”  What you’ve got to realize is that while Fleetwood Mac achieved fame in the late ’70s as a soft-rock/pop band, they had a decade of history prior to their breakthrough with Rumours in 1977.  And when they started out in England in the 1960s, they were a blues-rock band in the vein of Cream or early Led Zeppelin — very much a product of the British blues craze of that era.

So how did they end up becoming a pop-rock band?  Well, personnel changes played a large role.  Peter Green, the blues guitarist who also served as the band’s vocalist and the driving force behind their music, left the band in 1970, leading to their shift away from the blues.  His departure was the first in a series which led to the hiring of the band members who comprised the lineup with which Fleetwood Mac would become famous:  Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, and Christine McVie.  The only members of the Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac lineup who were part of the blues-era Fleetwood Mac lineup were Fleetwood and Mac themselves: drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie.  Green, Danny Kirwan, and Jeremy Spencer all played guitar in this earlier configuration of the band.

But enough about Fleetwood Mac; after all, this is an Otis Spann song.  Spann is widely regarded as one of the greatest blues pianists of all time.  Like many other bluesmen of his generation, Spann was born in Mississippi and migrated north to Chicago as an adult; he became a blues legend as the pianist in his half-brother Muddy Waters’ band throughout the 1950s and ’60s.  In the late ’60s, he embarked on a fruitful solo career and another talented pianist, Pinetop Perkins, took over his spot in Muddy’s combo.  Around that time, producer Mike Vernon decided to arrange a collaboration between Spann and Fleetwood Mac; on a single day, January 9, 1969, they got together and recorded this album, The Biggest Thing Since Colossus.  Actually, only three members of the then-quintet play on the album:  Green, Kirwan, and John McVie.  Third-string guitarist Spencer wasn’t included, and Mick Fleetwood stepped aside to allow Otis to play with his preferred drummer, S.P. Leary.

The result was a pretty damn good blues record, and “Temperature Is Rising” is a sublime example of the wonderful piano and guitar playing these guys were capable of.  (They actually recorded two versions of it; this one was named “100.2°F” because it’s the “hotter” version, while “98.8°F” was left off the album.)  If you want to sample some more, someone actually uploaded the whole album as a single, forty-minute YouTube video, which you can find here.

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