On a December night in 1968, guitarist Rick Vito left Kutztown University and drove with musician friends to the old Electric Factory in Philadelphia to see Fleetwood Mac — then a burgeoning blues band fronted by extraordinary guitarist Peter Green.
That night, Vito saw his future.
Twenty years later, Vito became the guitarist in Fleetwood Mac, replacing Lindsey Buckingham.
On Thursday Oct. 24, Vito, now 63, returns to Kutztown University for its Rockin’ Alumni Showcase, sharing a bill with country singer Mark Wayne Glasmire, a Bethlehem native and fellow Kutztown University alumnus. The concert is part of a series to showcase the newly refurbished Schaeffer Auditorium.
In a phone call from his home outside Nashville to promote the show, Vito said Kutztown in many ways was the starting point for a career in which he also played with blues legend John Mayall, Bob Seger, Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne.
Here’s a transcript of the call:
LEHIGH VALLEY MUSIC: Tell me what you can about the Rocking Alumni Showcase?
RICK VITO: “Well, part of it, anyway, is the reopening of Schaeffer Auditorium. When I attended Kutztown, I started my professional career opening up for Muddy Waters at the first Kutztown University Blues Festival in, I believe, ’69. I’m not sure.
“So for me, it’s sort of a full circle – coming back to Kutztown and doing a blues show in the newly refurbished Schaeffer Auditorium.”
Yeah, when they opened the auditorium, I wrote a story. It really does look amazingly good. And then they were telling me all of the history behind it and mentioned your show, and I thought, “Wow, I’ve got to write about that.”
What can you tell me about your time at Kutztown? What do you recall about it?
“Well, you know, I guess anybody who goes to college, it’s a coming-of-age time. You kind of figuring out who you are and what you want to do with your life. I started off trying to establish myself as an art student, and that didn’t really work out and so I just did some general courses until I realized that I had friends and enjoyed the activities in the theater department, so I switched my major to theater.
“But I was always a musician, although I’m unschooled, and so I wasn’t interested in doing formal music study, but it was my passion. And it was such an exciting time musically in the ‘60s, and we could just take a short drive into Philadelphia to see Jimi Hendrix or Cream or all the happening guitarists of the day – Jeff Beck, everybody came through, either in Philly or New Hope.
“And so I always felt like Kutztown was sort of an out-of-the way place, but looking back on it, really it just was a short drive to anything I really wanted to see. And, in fact, a group that I was very fond of – Delaney Bonney and Friends – used to play in the area, and I used to go to see them and introduced myself to them and gave them some things that I had recorded and they invited me at one point to sit in with them live at Lehigh University.
“And I guess that made a good impression – it was a good night; got a great response. And so they invited me, when I finished school, to move out to L.A., which is what I did. And they hired me.
“So, Kutztown, as it turns out, it was a good place for me to be and where I was supposed to be.”
Yeah, as I prepared for this interview, I read in several places about you meeting with them, and it didn’t include the Lehigh University angle, so I’m glad you mentioned that. So let me sort of ask a little bit deeper question: The stuff that you learned there and the times performing there – does that in any way relate to you still today? To what you’re doing today?
“Well, I think going on stage is always a good learning experience, so I was supporting myself apart from my tuition, as a musician, playing locally at Kutztown and various colleges in the area – clubs. And also the theater experience, I tried to tie that into being a good performer and just being aware of certain communication in a big place with your audience. So I would guess that would be – it was the first jumping-off point to life in the profession. It started there.”
Yeah. You have played with so many greats – Bob Seger, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, Boz Scaggs. Do you have a favorite time – at this point in your life, looking back – do you have a favorite time in your career?
“Well, I think after I turned 30, I started to get more comfortable with everything I was doing. And almost around the same time that I turned 30, I started working with Bonnie Raitt for the second time. I worked with her as a substitute in ’77 and did the gig full-time for a couple of years when I was 30. And that was just a great experience. It was a great job and I liked her. And that led to work with Jackson Browne, which I really enjoyed, which led to work with Bob Seger, which I really enjoyed.
“And then in my mid-30s, I got asked to join Fleetwood Mac, and that was the most incredible experience – to be a member of a band of that caliber for four years. And so I’ve got to say that my 30s and very early 40s were my favorite times. Just a lot of things came along. I had just established myself, I guess, to the point where I had a good reputation and things came to me easily.”
Let me just ask you to talk a little bit about your time in Fleetwood Mac. The first question I would ask is what was it like to replace somebody as prominent as Lindsey Buckingham? And then talk about your time with the band a little bit, if you could.
“Well, I had a lot of experience going into band situations and replacing somebody who had established themselves. You know, when I joined John Mayall, I wasn’t directly replacing them, but I was in a line of guitarists that included some of the greats, like Clapton and Peter Green and Mick Taylor. So you have to have that in mind and bring your ‘A’ game to the table, pretty much. With Jackson Browne, I was replacing David Lindley. So you have to really kind of step up to the plate, and this is your time to shine.
“So I had that in the back of my mind for many years, and so I think I was able to do that pretty successfully. That’ why I got the gig. And so when it came to Fleetwood Mac, I was a big Peter Green fan. I wasn’t necessarily a Lindsey Buckingham fan. His style was way too different than the kind of stuff I did, but we weren’t doing a lot of his tunes. We only did ‘Go Your Own Way’ and a couple others that he co-wrote that were ensemble songs.
“So it wasn’t a difficult thing for me – I never felt like I was stepping into his shoes or anything like. If anything, I was bringing a little bit of Peter Green back in – that sound – back to the band in the songs that I did in my performances during the shows.
“That’s generally how that whole thing worked. I had been used to doing that kind of thing for a number of years.”
Did you leave the band before Lindsey returned, or was that part of the same thing?
“No, actually, the whole group started to splinter around ’91. Christine [McVie] announced that she was leaving and then Stevie [Nicks] said, ‘If Christine’s leaving, I’m leaving.’ And that kind of threw the band into really a kind of uncertain phase, and then Mick and John and Billy [Burnette, who also came in to replace Buckingham with Vito] continued on with Dave Mason and Bekka Bramlett for a version of Fleetwood Mac that went on for a couple years. And it wasn’t until quite a few years after that that the original band – not the original band but the original ‘70s version of Fleetwood Mac – decided to reform, I guess, for the [President] Clinton inauguration. And then, I guess, decided to stick after that after a while. But he was out of the band. He was definitely not a member of Fleetwood Mac for a number of years until that thing came along.”
In preparing for this interview, I looked back through our archives and found a story about when you played with Fleetwood Mac at Stabler Arena at Lehigh in 1990. Do you recall that show at all?
“Where’s Stabler Arena?”
It’s Lehigh University’s concert hall – auditorium.
“Uh, well, I do remember doing a gig in the area – that was probably it. I remember that it was a smaller sports kind of arena.”
“That sound right? I couldn’t hear anything in there, and I remember I felt so bad [Laughs] I had a bad night, and I looked over Robert Plant [singer from Led Zeppelin] was sitting there. And I thought, ‘Oh, man, this is just [laughs], it was a bad night for me personally. That’s kind of what I remember about that, but a lot of friends had showed up and I felt like, ‘Oh, man,’ [Laughs]. But they happened every now and then.”
You still occasionally play with Mick Fleetwood Blues Band, yes?
“Yeah, yeah. We’ve gotten back together and we’re good friends and we enjoy playing the blues, more the bluesy kind of material. And we had a live CD that came out, and a DVD that came out in late 2009, and so in 2010 it was nominated for a Grammy in the blues category.”
I saw that. Congratulations.
“Thanks. It was a nice honor.”
Yeah. And so is most of your work these days solo gigs? Or what are you doing most of these days?
“Uh, well, my schedule is not as full as it was when the music business was in better shape and there was more emphasis on rock ‘n’ roll and blues and stuff. So these days, it’s just a different world out there. So what I do now is sessions when I’m asked to do them. I do solo gigs when I’m asked to do them, and when my agent can round them up, and I do the Mick Fleetwood Blues Band, and I do like a world beat kind of music, which is different from anything I’ve done before.
“You know, I produce when I get asked to do it. I write music. I pitch songs . You know, you just sort of do a lot of different things to make a bottom line happen.”
Your last solo disc was 2009?
“Let’s see, yeah, it was a European release. It was a best-of. It was compiled from, I think I had had seven solo CDs out. Not all of them were released in the states. Some of them are out of print now, from Europe. But there was a label in Europe that I was working with, and they put a lot of stuff out on me and I would go to Europe to tour once or twice a year for a number of years.”
I’m going to really test your memory on this one. As I was preparing for the interview, I found a story, and article, that referenced you playing in a band called The Wright Brothers Blues Band, while you were at Kutztown, I guess, and you played a tiny little club called Illicks Mill just outside of Allentown.
“Yeah, yeah. We played there quite a few times.”
Yeah. And again, do you have any recollection of that?
“Well that was one of the clubs I mentioned earlier that was very receptive to what we were doing. The Wright Brothers were Mark and Dean Wright that had a band together in the area for a number of years. And when I came up to Kutztown , in fact, we all went to see, coincidentally, the original Fleetwood Mac in Philadelphia, and that was, I think, December of ’68. And we were all so knocked out, we said, ‘Look, why don’t we combine bands, so to speak – you come into this and we can keep the same name or call it something else.
“And I said, ‘Look, you got a good, established name. Let’s keep calling it The Wright Brothers. So we continues on, inspired by the blues that Fleetwood Mac was doing, because they were really authentic about it. They really had a lot of craft and humor and authenticity and that’s what we trying to do. We were kind of purists about it.”
So you sort of saw your future when you were in this area.
“I did. Yeah, I did. It wasn’t completely solidified until that night at Lehigh, when I sat in with Delaney and Bonnie. It was at that moment that I realized ‘This is unquestionably what I’m going to do. I’m not gonna have anything else to fallback on, I’m not going into the theater. I’m going to do this.”
RICK VITO AND THE LUCKY DEVILS, headlining the Rockin’ Alumni Showcase, with Mark Wayne Glasmire, Showcase by two Kutztown University alumni in newly renovated Schaeffer Auditorium, 7:30 p.m. Thursday Oct. 24, Kutztown University’s Schaeffer Auditorium, 15200 Kutztown Road. Tickets: $12. Info: www.kutztownpresents.org, 610-683-4092