John Graham McVie was born on November 26th, 1945, in Ealing, West London, to Reg and Dorothy McVie. After a brief period as a trumpeter as a boy, he turned his attention towards the guitar at around the age of 14. After realizing that most of his friends were trying to play lead, John took the top two strings off his guitar and decided to play bass. His father eventually bought him a pink Fender bass on credit: "He brought it home one day as a present and I went mad. I stood in front of the mirror in my room and dreamed I was Jet Harris, the Shadows' bassist, because he played a pink Fender, too."
After attending Walpole Grammar School until he was nearly seventeen, John started a nine month civil service training as a tax inspector. Also at this time, blues musician John Mayall was interested in forming a band and was looking for a bassist, and was given McVie's number from a friend. Mayall, who would later be heralded as "The Father of British Blues," turned out to be "a mentor" to McVie, and taught him the rudiments of the blues. After nine months of working full-time during the day as a tax inspector and playing all-nighters with the Bluesbreakers , John decided to become a professional musician.
John McVie spent nearly five years in the Bluesbreakers, and aside from being fired (but always rehired) several times for 'excessive drinking,' he was by far Mayall's longest serving sideman. In 1967, after Eric Clapton left the Bluesbreakers for a brief while, Mayall hired a persistent and talented young guitarist named Peter Green, as well as a new drummer by the name of Mick Fleetwood. The three hit it off both musically and socially; thus, the seedlings of Fleetwood Mac were born. Once Clapton returned to the Bluesbreakers, the newly-acclaimed Green was encouraged to form his own band, so he recruited Mick Fleetwood (already fired from the Bluesbreakers for drunkenness) and tried to convince John to join as well. (A temporary bassist, Bob Brunning, had been hired during this time.) Hesitant to leave the financial security of a steady gig, McVie stubbornly refused for several months, even though Peter had already named the band after his favorite rhythm section. Finally, after coming to the conclusion that Mayall had gotten "too jazzy," McVie phoned up Green and Fleetwood in September of 1967 and said he was in.
Right away, Fleetwood Mac began to establish themselves as 'crusaders of the English Blues movement'. While playing clubs on the blues circuit, the band frequently encountered Chicken Shack, and McVie took a liking to the group's beautiful singer and pianist, Christine Perfect. John recalls: "One night we were at the Thames Hotel, Windsor, and I was sitting with Chris, and I asked if she would care to go out to dinner some evening. She said she would, and it was quite romantic." Soon after, he proposed at a club called 'The Bag O' Nails', and the two were married two weeks later in August of 1968. Peter Green served as best man. Since the two spent so much time touring with their respective bands, they rarely saw each other, and in 1969 Christine decided to leave Chicken Shack to be a housewife and "spend more time with hubby." Her 'retirement' from the music business was brief, as she officially joined Fleetwood Mac in 1970. In 1971, it was John who started the band's penguin iconography, after getting a tattoo of his favorite animal on his right forearm.
In the years to follow, the band would muddle through many personnel changes, legal battles, and long, stressful tours. As the years passed, the strain of trying to keep the band going caused McVie's alcohol problem to worsen. Ironically, once Fleetwood Mac found the success they had strived for with the addition of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks in 1975, the McVies' marriage began to break apart. Mick Fleetwood recalls that the constant togetherness of the couple "certainly was not a problem to start with. It became a problem when the road dog element in John came out. Hey, you're sharing a bedroom, you're sharing a van, you're sharing! It's a tall order to put on to anyone, and I think many years later it was intangible situation, where they became very unhappy." Christine maintains that, "John and I had spent the equivalent of fifty years of marriage together. We had no individuality, no separation." McVie learned of Christine's affair with the band's lighting director, Curry Grant, while on the road, and at the end of the tour she moved out of the house that they had bought together in Topanga. After trying unsuccessfully to live there with another woman, John sold the house and bought a boat with his share of the proceeds. He lived on Adelie for two years at Marina Del Rey.
It is no secret that the making of the album Rumors was a traumatic experience for all five members of the group, and it has been noted that McVie in particular "had to pull himself back from the edge of suicide. All made a conscious decision to subdue emotions for the sake of the band. In return, McVie thinks, hard work helped soothe the agony and affront of seeing his wife with another man." Hearing 'Don't Stop' in the studio was especially awkward: "I listened to the words, which were mostly about me, and I got a little lump in my throat... especially when you turn around and the writer's sitting right there."
John was remarried in 1978 to Julie Anne Rubens, his former secretary, and eventually purchased another boat called The Challenge, along with property in St. Thomas, Hawaii, and Los Angeles. (Incidentally, on Christine McVie's 1984 solo album, the song 'The Challenge' is named after John's boat. He had flown to the Switzerland studio to visit during the making of the record, and the song 'Love Will Show Us How' is the end result of a riff the two worked on together.)
Photo By Chris Walter photofeatures.com