Danny Kirwan, Guitarist in Fleetwood Mac’s Early Years, Dies at 68

Fleetwood Mac in Los Angeles in 1969. From left: John McVie, Danny Kirwan, Mick Fleetwood, Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer.

Danny Kirwan, a guitarist, singer and songwriter for Fleetwood Mac whose work fueled the band’s rise during its early years, died on Friday in London. He was 68.

His former wife, Clare Morris, said he died in his sleep after contracting pneumonia earlier this year and never fully recovering from it. Fleetwood Mac also announced his death in a Facebook post.

Mr. Kirwan was only a teenager when he joined Fleetwood Mac in 1968, but his talent was apparent to the band, which at the time consisted of the guitarists Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer, the bassist John McVie and the drummer Mick Fleetwood.

His work was featured on five albums, beginning in 1969 with the bluesy “Then Play On,” on which he shared writing and lead guitar duties with Mr. Green. He also sang all the songs he wrote with the band, which included half the tracks on the gold-certified 1972 album “Bare Trees.”

As a guitarist, he was known for his vibrato.

“Danny had pure, resonant note comprehension,” Mr. Fleetwood said in an interview last year. “Many guitarists make the vibrato sound like a dying cow or a mosquito in heat. Danny had an unbelievable touch.”

Mr. Kirwan was fired from the band in 1972. (This reportedly followed an emotional outburst on tour in which he smashed his Gibson Les Paul guitar.)

Image
Credit...RB/Redferns, via Getty Images

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 epitomize in the 1970s. Mr. Kirwan played a role in that transition but had left the band before the American singer-songwriters Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined and before the release of hit albums like the chart-topping “Rumours” and the experimental “Tusk” and Top 20 singles like “Go Your Own Way,” “Rhiannon” and “Don’t Stop.”

While Fleetwood Mac — whose lineup in those years also included the singer, songwriter and keyboardist Christine McVie, who joined the band in 1970 — evolved without him, Mr. Kirwan set out alone. He released a few solo albums, but they failed to make waves and he faded almost entirely from public view.

When Mr. 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.

Daniel David Kirwan was born in South London on May 13, 1950. As a teenager he was the frontman for a band called Boilerhouse, which was playing in a Brixton pub when he was discovered by Mr. Green and Mr. Fleetwood, according to online biographies.

He and Ms. Clare had a son, Dominic, who survives him. Mr. Kirwan had led a quiet life in London since retiring from the music industry, Ms. Clare said.

He had surfaced briefly in 1993 when, in an interview with the British newspaper The Independent, he said he had been homeless.

“I’ve been through a bit of a rough patch, but I’m not too bad,” Mr. Kirwan told the newspaper. “I get by, and I suppose I am homeless, but then I’ve never really had a home since our early days on tour.”

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