Bob Welch, the singer-guitarist who spent several years as a member of Fleetwood Mac before launching a solo career, died Thursday of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was 66.
Nashville police spokesman Don Aaron said Welch was found dead by his wife, Wendy, with a chest wound at their Nashville home around 12:15 p.m. Thursday. Aaron said Welch had apparently had health issues recently, and noted that a suicide note was left.
Welch was a guitarist and vocalist for Fleetwood Mac from 1971 to 1974, during the group’s transition from a straight blues-rock group into the massive-selling radio hitmakers they would become immediately after his departure. He formed the British rock group Paris in 1976 and had late-’70s hits including “Sentimental Lady” and “Ebony Eyes.”
Born in Los Angeles, Welch was the son of film producer and screenwriter Robert L. Welch, who produced the 1953 Academy Awards, and singer-actress Templeton Fox. A guitarist since age 8, Welch left home for Paris after high school, then returned to attend UCLA. Dropping out prior to graduation, he played with L.A. group the Seven Souls, then with Paris group Head West, finding little success with either.
While living in Paris in 1971, Welch was introduced to British blues group Fleetwood Mac by a mutual friend, shortly after the band parted company with founding member and guitarist Peter Green. With Welch and fellow newcomer Christine McVie, the band released “Future Games” that year, featuring two solo Welch compositions. “Bare Trees,” featuring Welch’s “Sentimental Lady,” followed in ’72, itself followed by “Penguin” and “Mystery to Me” in ’73, the latter boasting a minor U.S. hit in the Welch-composed “Hypnotized.”
During ’73 and ’74, the band experienced a great deal of personnel upheaval and legal issues, most notably a bizarre dispute with former manager Clifford Davis, who had attempted to convene an entirely different band under the Fleetwood Mac moniker. Amid the turmoil, Welch convinced the group to relocate from England to Los Angeles and wrote the bulk of the material for 1974’s “Heroes Are Hard to Find,” which would become Fleetwood Mac’s first record to break into the top 40 of the U.S. album chart.
Welch left the band in winter of ’74, replaced by Bay Area duo Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, whose songwriting would soon launch the band into the upper echelons of the rock stratosphere, culminating with 1977’s mega-smash “Rumours.” Though Welch’s era of the band was considerably less successful, drummer Mick Fleetwood later credited Welch with holding the band together during the contentious period.
Welch founded power-trio Paris the next year, and the group released two unsuccessful albums before disbanding in 1977. Repurposing material intended for a third Paris album, and embracing a slick pop-rock sensibility, Welch released solo debut “French Kiss” in ’77 to the best sales of his career. Single “Ebony Eyes” reached No. 14 on the charts, but it was a contemporized re-recording of Fleetwood Mac tune “Sentimental Lady” — featuring backing vocals from McVie and Buckingham — that registered the biggest splash, hitting No. 8 and remaining in the top 20 for several months. “French Kiss” would eventually go platinum.
In 1979 Welch hit again with gold-selling follow-up “Three Hearts,” but his streak ended there; Welch released four albums over the next four years to precipitously declining chart positions. Aside from short-lived band Avenue M and a jazz curio, Welch was mostly silent as a recording artist after the early ’80s.
In 1994, Welch sued his former Fleetwood Mac bandmates, as well as label Warner Bros. Records, for breach of contract, alleging underpayment of royalties from his recordings with the band. The case was settled out of court two years later. Two years after that, Fleetwood Mac was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with the band conspicuously excluding Welch from the ceremony, to Welch’s considerable dismay.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)