LONDON (AFP, NYTimes) - Fleetwood Mac guitarist Danny Kirwan, a pillar of the wildly successful group in its early years, has died in London at 68.
The band's co-founder Mick Fleetwood said in a Facebook post on Friday (June 8): "Today was greeted by the sad news of the passing of Danny Kirwan in London, England).
"Danny was a huge force in our early years. His love for the Blues led him to being asked to join Fleetwood Mac in 1968, where he made his musical home for many years."
The British-American band spiralled from a blues outfit to the world's biggest pop band in the 1970s, selling more than 100 million albums.
Kirwan was only a teenager when he joined in 1968, but his talent was apparent to the band's guitarists Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer, bassist John McVie and drummer Fleetwood.
His work was featured on five albums, beginning with Then Play On, a bluesy 1969 record on which he shared writing and lead guitarist duties with Green. He wrote half of the tracks on the band's 1972 album, Bare Trees.
During four years with the band, Kirwan composed thoughtful instrumentals and performed inventive harmonies. Onstage, he was known for his vibrato.
Fleetwood's post said: "Danny's true legacy, in my mind, will forever live on in the music he wrote and played so beautifully as a part of the foundation of Fleetwood Mac, that has now endured for over fifty years.
"Thank you, Danny Kirwan. You will forever be missed!"
In an interview last year, Fleetwood said: "Danny had pure, resonant note comprehension. Many guitarists make the vibrato sound like a dying cow or a mosquito in heat. Danny had an unbelievable touch."
Kirwan struggled with alcoholism and was fired from the band in 1972. (This reportedly followed a tantrum on tour during which he smashed his Gibson Les Paul guitar.)
His departure came as Fleetwood Mac was transitioning from its foundation in bluesy rock to the more melodic, California pop-rock the band came to epitomise in the 1970s. Kirwan played a role in that transition but had left the band before Stevie Nicks joined it; before the release of hit albums like the chart-topping Rumours and the experimental Tusk; and before the debut of singles like Go Your Own Way, Rhiannon and Don't Stop.
While Fleetwood Mac evolved without him, Kirwan set out alone. He released a few solo albums that failed to make waves, and then faded almost entirely from public view.
He spent some time living rough on the streets of London in the early 1990s, according to an interview he gave The Independent newspaper in 1993. "I've been through a bit of a rough patch but I'm not too bad," he told The Independent. "I get by and I suppose I am homeless, but then I've never really had a home since our early days on tour."
When Kirwan was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1998 along with seven other past and present members of Fleetwood Mac, he did not attend the ceremony, Rolling Stone reported.
The group, formed in 1967 and named for Mick Fleetwood and John McVie, is still on tour with newcomers Mike Campbell and Neil Finn.
Campbell was the bassist for the late great American rocker Tom Petty. Kiwi Finn is known for rocking with Split Enz and Crowded House.