Guitar One, Volume 6, Number 6 (06/2003), Mac Daddy
Guitar One, Volume 6, Number 6, June 2003
by Tom Lanham
Thirty years ago, Lindsey Buckingham brought his guitar and songwriting aesthetics into the Fleetwood Mac fold. Since then, he has resurrected the band from blues-rock oblivion and vaulted them to the pinnacle of superstardom. On Say You Will the first studio album from the classic lineup in 16 years, Buckingham proves that neither he nor the band has stopped thinking about tomorrow.
Itís probably the last thing on earth your typical rock fan is expecting this spring - a new Fleetwood Mac album. But Say You Will (Warner Bros.), which reunites most of the groupís stellar mid-70ís lineup in a timeless pop setting, is a rather remarkable reality. The epic 18-song set, which features founding members Mick Fleetwood and John McVie as well as 1973-87 alums Stevie Nicks and visionary axe-man Buckingham (keyboardist Christine McVie has retired), runs the stylistic gamut from chirpy sing-song pop ("Bleed To Love Her," "Steal Your Heart Away," "Whatís The World Coming To" - recalling the bandís best Rumourswork) to boldly experimental Travis-picked fretburners ("Come," "Say Goodbye," "Red Rover"). Buckingham, who produced the set, asserts that the new effort did not merely mark time as the Macís other "reunion," The Dance did in í96.
It began innocently enough nearly a decade ago when he began composing tracks for what he imagined would be his fourth solo album. Things didnít exactly go as planned. First, Buckingham bumped into Fleetwood and invited him to slap skins for the Rob Cavallo-engineered solo sessions. Then John McVie started dropping by. "At that point, people started going, ĎUh-oh! Look whoís in the studio!í" recalls the extremely youthful-looking 53-year-od, relaxing in a Culver City Studios trailer during some recent rehearsal downtime. "And that led to a bunch of people saying, ĎWell, letís see if we can get Christine and Stevie on board and get something going for Fleetwood Mac now. And weíll ask Lindsey to put his solo material on the shelf.í" The guitarist reluctantly agreed, and The Dance was the result. But afterwards, with Ms. McVie bowing out, the quartet decided to soldier on, using the aforementioned songs - with added material contributed by Nicks - as the foundation for Say You Will.
Buckinghamís genius bubbles up from almost every note on the disc: his breathy, crystalline tenor; his shrewd way with a Top 40-friendly hook; and his warm fingerpicking style, performed on personally commissioned guitars like the Turner Model 1. Not bad for a kid who never took a lesson, and who, when asked about which instrument he employed on a certain track, responds with chin-scratching "Oh, I dunno. I never really pay attention. Maybe it was my Strat, but it could even be a Strat through a Roland."
Now, just when the multiplatinum mega-hit album Rumours has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, its driving creative force has returned to remind old fans - and indeed, a whole new generation or two - that, as Buckingham puts it, "not all rock and rollers peak in their 30s, then decline, never to be heard from again." He adds, "I think this album has the potential to give courage to a lot of musicians, some who are maybe 15 years younger than us now, to not take their eye off the ball so soon. It might even break down an old rock clichť or two."
Youíve said that another factor in reforming the band was that the outgoing regime at Warner Bros. initially turned down your solo stuff.
Yeah. Stevie was on the road, and she had done about six months before she finished. But I said, "Why donít we rent a house and start cutting some of your tracks? We all know we wanna do a Fleetwood Mac album sooner or later and Iíve already got 20 tracks. So we could start cutting it, and if itís going well, great - weíll do a Fleetwood Mac album." And actually, the irony at that time was that I had a deal with Warner Bros. and Fleetwood Mac didnít. So we were free agents. We found a house and the three of us started cutting tracks. Stevie sent over a bunch of old songs and we started working on Ďem. When she finally got off the road and we broke for Christmas, she wrote four new songs. And all that turned into this album. My songs were in the can, so all we really had to do was open the mix up and get Stevieís voice on Ďem. It was a thrill for me to be engineering and producing, but it was also great to be involved in the hands-on part of it; there were things that didnít exist when I left. So it was really a pretty potent situation, even with the absence of Christine. We all missed her, but at the same time it opened up a whole set of possibilities as a three-piece band; everyone had about 33 percent more space to maneuver as musicians.
So whoís playing keyboards now?
Nobody! Well, here and there, but not too much. Itís really mostly guitar, with vocal pads and only a few keyboard parts.
You took some incredible aesthetic changes with Tusk, the Rumours follow-up back in í79. You recorded most of your own stuff at home on a 4-track, right?
Thatís what I started on. But by that time I had a 24-track at home, in the bathroom or in one of the small rooms.
But you really pushed the envelope with that album, shocking longtime fans in the process. It was a great affirmation of artistic purpose.
Yeah. And one of the most satisfying things about that now is that, even though it created a lot of turmoil and dissent at the time - not just the process of making Tusk, but how it turned out - Mick will tell you now that itís his favorite album. So time has vindicated whatever happened back then. We came out with Rumours, which was certainly a beautiful album, musically and otherwise. But the musical soap-opera aspect of it, I think, became more the focal point than the music. [The McVies broke up during the recording, as did the romance between Buckingham and Nicks.-Ed.] And at some point, the sales began to be more attributable to the rumors than the music. But then youíre in this spot: Where do you go from there? Well you can make a Rumours Two and try to repeat exactly the same thing for all the wrong reasons. In the meantime, whatever ambivalence Iíd had about that, or about the softness of the band in general . . . music from England had come out, punk and New Wave . . . . It wasnít really anything that influenced me directly, but it did give me the courage to say, "Hey, look, I wanna try some new things. I think itís important that we donít get pigeonholed into this one idea." So what I did wasnít a new thing; it was just going back to something Iíd been doing for years with tape machines, which was to fuse the writing process with the record-making process. When you work with a group, itís kinda like making movies - itís a more verbalized process to get from Point A to Point B. But when you work alone with a tape machine and your subconscious takes over, itís probably more like having a canvas and painting. So I wanted to take these two things and put them together - I knew thereíd be a lot of new colors and surprising things that would happen if I was allowed to take time and do that, even while the band was working on a few things themselves. Then Iíd bring the music back in and weíd build on it. I had a meeting with the band, and everyone was dead set against it. But somehow I managed to prevail and do it. And as the process unfolded, everyone became quite enamored of what we were doing, and by the end, everyone was totally on the same page. What I was doing was very much to the left, but it was also a cool and appropriate thing to do for a group that was trying to be credible and trying to keep their reasoning correct. I mean, releasing "Tusk" as a first single, compared to "Go Your Own Way" - it took everybody by surprise, and that was part of the beauty of it for me. It confounded everybodyís expectations.
And now every marching band in the world has to learn "Tusk" on day one.
Ha! Yeah, I know. I know. Itís crazy. So at the time, everyone was happy with Tusk, until, of course, it didnít sell 16 million albums. And then there was a backlash again - I think it sold 3, 3 Ĺ initially. I donít know what it is now. So there was a political dictum that came down, saying, "Well, weíre not going to do that again!" And I went "Uhhh . . . okay, fine." So you get Mirage, which is not a bad record, but itís sorta drifting in hazy waters. Tango In The Night was better, but it was way under duress. So that was how Tusk came about, and itís nice to know that it has somewhat of a broader appeal now than it seemed to at the time.
What did you learn about guitar technique during Tusk?
Nothing. It wasnít about learning anything that youíd call "state of the art" or even correct. It was just improvising things, and whatever those improvisations were, well, I couldnít begin to tell you what I was doing back then. In the same way, I probably tried a hundred things in the last year-and-a-half on this record, but I canít necessarily tell you what they were. You just think of things; you try Ďem, and theyíre gone. They either work or they donít.
Are you still using the Turner guitar?
Yeah. Rick Turner designed that for me, and Iím actually rehearsing with it right now. It solved a problem for me years ago, which was that when I joined the band I was playing a Telecaster, and I played fingerstyle. But that sound was a little too thin for the existing sound that they had, with the piano, the bass, and drums. So I had to find something that fit in, and a Les Paul was the best I could do. And well, a Les Paul is not a great guitar for the way I play, and Gretsches werenít gonna do it, because they were too percussive and really didnít respond on a level I needed. It was very difficult to find a guitar that fit the bill, because I had to adapt to a preexisting sound. Just in terms of my style, not using a pick. I wasnít gonna give up the way I played; I just had to find a guitar that would work for my style and fit in. I did use a Les Paul for about a year, and then I asked Rick Turner to make me something that was somewhere between a Les Paul and the kind of guitars he was building up in Marin County. And he did just that.
So how many different instruments were used on Say You Will?
Oh, I couldnít say. Not as many as youíd think. Maybe 12.
Sounds like a Martin strumming away on several numbers.
It is as Martin. I have an old D-18 that Iíve had since I was about 19.
And youíve never, ever used a pick if you could help it?
Well, I will use a pick in the studio, sure, for strumming or whatever. But not on stage. We have a couple of other guitar players now, and they can use picks if they want. But oddly enough, because the Turner was so across-the-board versatile onstage, in a way it made it not the best guitar to use in the studio. Itís useful at times, but you wanna try to find something that is more specific. I have an old Strat I use a lot, and one of those Roland VG-8ís - itís just got banks of sounds in it, and you can get away with a lot of that, too. But still itís all pretty low-tech stuff that Iím doing.
But The Dance must have reminded you of at least one thing - just how much some of those legendary Mac standards really meant to people, two decades later.
Itís hard to be really be connected with that as one might think. But we did have a funny experience about a year and a half ago, where somebody was remixing the Rumours album in [ProTools] 5.1. Mick and I went down to hear it, just to make sure we liked it, and my manager and a few other people were there. And Mick and I were sitting there laughing, going "Oh yeah! Remember when we did that? And this?" But by the time the album was done, we looked around and there were two or three people crying. Totally crying. To us, you do the work, you relate to a whole other set of things. Your reference points are totally different in terms of what it took to get it done. Youíre not necessarily in touch with the illusion it creates, and youíre too insulated to be in touch with the collective effect itís having. Obviously, you figure if youíre selling 16 million albums, then somethingís happening. But it doesnít mean that you know what this is, or know those nuances, per se.
Itís fascinating to note all the different levels on which you function here - the purse pop level of "Say You Will," "Steal Your Heart Away," "Whatís The World Coming To" - compared wit the sonically surreal level of "Come," "Red Rover."
Yeah. But weíre not playing down to anyone. "Steal" and "World" are mine, and the title track is Stevieís, and they all definitely fall into a similar category. And for me, I dunno - a song is something that you always think about covering. And as much as itís interesting for me to stray into that unknown realm of "Red Rover" - and weíre working on "Red Rover" today - itís interesting to do live. Weíve got three guitar players running through this vibrato on/off thing, and the on/off is toed into a specific click. And we have to play to that click or the timingís all off, so weíre working it all out and itís pretty trippy. But as much as thatís where my heart is in terms of pushing the envelope, and that "new frontier" kind of vibe . . . well, weíre a pop band. And those pop songs are always going to be there, and I would be very uncomfortable if we didnít have some of those, Ďcause thatís where we stand. When Stevie and I joined Fleetwood Mac, and suddenly it was this big commercial animal, people would say, "Did you just decide you were gonna do that?" And my answer was always, "Well, no - this is what we do. This is what we like."
Does everyone in the band just admit it now, that youíre the alpha personality?
Well, I dunno. I donít think anyone would wanna define it quite that way. But one of the things that has happened is a male bonding kinda thing. It was interesting to watch John and Mick talk, for example, without Christine there. John was able to be a little looser, with no baggage or buttons to be pushed. It was really neat to see some business get taken care of that mightíve been 30 years old. And one more thing about my guitar, in terms of theory: As a lead player, this album was really more about having the space to be - for lack of a better phrase - more tasteless, more aggressive, and more masculine, and it was appropriate.
And the most important aspect of the guitar that has moved forward is how Iím using the fingerpicking. If you look at "Red Rover" and "Say Goodbye," thatís all an extension of when I tried to play the song "Big Love" onstage with one guitar. Iíd happened onto something that the audience totally got, and it was also at the center of what I do. So how could I build on that in a record-making way? Well, all of these things now, like "Red Rover," are from that idea - one guitar doing all the work, with some edges on it. And thatís the most significant area in which Iíve grown as a guitar player.
And you can hear it all over this disc - youíre still in love with rock Ďní roll.
I am. I wonder what the future is, where music is going, because itís an awfully strange world. But yes, music saved my life. And Iíd probably be in prison if I hadnít been doing this. With all the energy I had to put out? Iíd never make it in some job where I had to conform too much.
Lindseyís Top 10 Guitar Moments
If Oscars were given to guitar players, Lindsey Buckingham would be a dual winner for Best Lead Performer and Best Performer in a Supporting Role--though many would say his work as the latter overshadows his work as the former. Buckingham might agree, as he tends to paint himself as a craftsman who serves the song, and not the player, but he sure can wind out with the best of Ďem. Here are 10 of his most golden (and platinum) moments.
Buckingham Nicks (Polydor, 1973)
While the melodic gem "Frozen Love" is the song that caught Mick Fleetwoodís ear and compelled him to ask the pair to join Fleetwood Mac, itís this plaintive acoustic instrumental track that sets the table for Buckinghamís signature style. "Stephanie" (Stevie Nicksí given first name) showcases his self-taught three-finger meshing of Travis picking and banjo strumming, here played on a Martin D-18 and recorded on a Sony 2-track. Direct ancestor to Fleetwood Macís "Landslide" and Rumourís "Never Going Back Again."
2. "World Turning"
Fleetwood Mac (Reprise, 1975)
A turgid footstomper in a drop D that combines two guitar parts and features a chorus burning with a series of thumb=picked bass notes.
3. "Go Your Own Way"
Rumours (Warner Bros., 1977)
Contrary to popular, er, rumor, thereís no 12-string at work here, just a triple-tracked six-string capoed at the 8th fret. Itís a rare occasion where Buckingham uses a pick, but he does play that frenzied, sustained outro solo on a Les Paul with his fingers.
4. "The Chain"
Rumours (Warner Bros., 1977)
Macís mantra, with a Travis-picked intro that morphs into a beautiful (albeit edgy) support for the bandís elegant three-part harmonies.
5. Tusk (Warner Bros., 1979)
The anti-Rumours, or Buckinghamís Pet Sounds. Mostly recorded on his home studioís 24-track MCI board, Tusk debuts Buckinghamís custom Turner Model 1, essentially an Alembic with a Les Paul mentality. Peppered with punky, quirky tracks like the bleating "The Ledge," and the baroque "Save Me A Place," and the insistent "Thatís Enough for Me."
6. "Iím So Afraid"
Fleetwood Mac Live (Warner Bros., 1981)
More urgent than the version on The Dance, but on that DVD, you can watch as Buckingham plants his thumb near the soundhole and see how his flailing fingers unleash a hurricane of all the right notes as the song gets darker and darker and darker.
7. "Tango In The Night"
Tango In The Night (Warner Bros., 1987)
This comeback discís title track, recorded at "The Slope" (Buckinghamís Bel Air home studio), is filled with Ď80s-style power chording, epic shred, and a vibe in the verses reminiscent of "Play in the Rain," a hypnotic cut from Buckinghamís 1984 solo effort.
8. "This Is The Time"
Out of the Cradle (Reprise, 1992)
Killer track from Buckinghamís third solo album, complete with an Oriental-style coda and a torrential rideout. Hands-down his best solo, done on a Ď63 hybrid Strat and recorded direct. Preceded by a mono, varispeeded classical intro deftly performed on a fretless Steinberger.
9-10 "Big Love" and "Go Insane"
The Dance DVD (Reprise, 1997)
Stripped-down, dramatic solo reworkings of these two tunes are a one-two punch on DVD ("Go Insane" isnít on the companion CD), accenting Buckinghamís acoustic prowess. Youíll forget thereís a full band waiting offstage as he gamely attacks his nylon-stringed solid-body Gibson Chet Atkins acoustic/electric (capoed at the 4th fret for "Insane"). Fingerpickiní good.
Thanks to blackcat for the transcription.
2003-06-01 Number of views: