Robert Lawrence "Bob" Welch, Jr. was born in Los Angeles, California, into a show business family. Raised in Beverly Hills, his father was movie producer and screenwriter Robert L. Welch, who worked at Paramount Pictures in the 1940s and 1950s, producing films starring Paramount's top box office stars, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. Bob's mother, Templeton Fox, had been a singer and actress who worked with Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre in Chicago, Illinois and appeared on TV and in movies from 1962 to 1979.
As a youngster, Welch learned clarinet, switching to guitar in his early teens. He had received his first guitar at the age of eight. The young Welch developed an interest in jazz, rhythm and blues, and rock music. After graduating from high school, Welch declined attending Georgetown University, where he had been accepted, to move to Paris, professedly to attend the Sorbonne. He spent time "sitting in the Deux Magots café" rather than attending to his studies.
Eventually, Bob returned to Southern California, where he studied French at U.C.L.A.. Dropping out of U.C.L.A. before graduation, Welch joined the Los Angeles-based vocal group The Seven Souls as a guitarist in 1964. Welch moved back to Paris and started a trio, Head West, which was not a success.
Bob Welch struggled with a variety of marginal bands until 1971, when he was invited to join Fleetwood Mac, along with fellow newcomer keyboardist/singer-songwriter Christine McVie. Judy Wong, a friend of the band who served at times as their secretary, recommended her high school friend Bob Welch to the band. Welch was living in Paris at the time. The band had a few meetings with Welch and decided to hire him without actually playing with him or listening to any of his recordings.
Welch played rhythm guitar, backing up lead guitarist Danny Kirwan. It was felt that having an American in the band might extend Fleetwood Mac's appeal in the States. Bob helped to steer the band in a more melodic direction, particularly after lead guitarist/singer-songwriter Kirwan left the band in 1972.
Welch eventually went to live in the band's communal home, a mansion called Benifold, which was located in Hampshire. In September 1971, the band released the first Fleetwood Mac album featuring Bob Welch, Future Games, with the title song written by Welch. This album was radically different from anything the band had done up to that point.
In 1972, six months after the release of Future Games, the band released the well-received album Bare Trees, which featured Welch's song "Sentimental Lady." The song would become a much bigger hit for him five years later when he re-recorded it for his solo album French Kiss. (He was backed on the album by Mick Fleetwood, Christine McVie, and Lindsey Buckingham, who had replaced Welch as the band's guitarist.)
Welch released solo albums into the early 1980s (The Other One, Man Overboard, Bob Welch, and Eye Contact) with decreasing success, during which time he also developed a heroin addiction. After cleaning himself up in 1986, Welch turned away from performing and recording and focused his attention on songwriting for others.
In the early 1990s, he moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where he put together a short-lived group called Avenue M, which backed him on tour and recorded one song for a greatest hits compilation. He later moved to Nashville, Tennessee.
In 1999, Welch released an experimental jazz/loop based album, Bob Welch Looks at Bop. He followed this up in 2003, with His Fleetwood Mac Years and Beyond, which contained new recordings of songs he originally recorded with Fleetwood Mac, as well as some solo hits. In 2006, he released His Fleetwood Mac Years and Beyond 2, which mixed a half-dozen new compositions, along with a similar number of his Mac/solo remakes.
Welch had been married since 1985 to Wendy Armistead Welch. The couple resided in Nashville. On June 7, 2012, Welch committed suicide in his Nashville home at around 12:15 p.m. He was found by his wife with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest; a suicide note had been left behind. Welch suffered from undisclosed health issues prior to his death.