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The Oregonian (Portland) < Billy Burnette < Main Page

The Oregonian (Portland)


STUART TOMLINSON - of the Oregonian Staff
Billy Burnette's early days in show business prepared him for joining Fleetwood Mac: He was a child star.

Burnette (who plays rhythm guitar) and Rick Vito (lead guitar) were asked to join the band this summer after songwriter Lindsey Buckingham quit to concentrate on his solo career.

As the son of '50s rocker Dorsey Burnette (brother to Johnny Burnette and band member of his Rock 'n' Roll Trio, which had such early '60s hits as ``You're Sixteen'' and ``God, Country and My Baby'') the Memphis-born singer/songwriter recorded his first record at age 7: ``Hey Daddy! I'm Going to Tell Santa on You,'' for Dot Records.

``My dad said, `C'mon we'll make a record,' '' the 34-year-old Burnette said recently in a telephone interview from Austin, Texas. ``I don't remember much about it.''

Fleetwood Mac -- John McVie, Mick Fleetwood, Stevie Nicks, Christine McVie, Vito and Burnette -- return to Portland's Memorial Coliseum for an 8 p.m. show Thursday.

On an even more obscure note, Burnette recorded a Dr. Seuss song, ``Just Because We're Kids'' (produced by Herb Albert), between stints on kiddie televison shows with Bozo and Chucko. At 13 he played guitar in Peggy Lee's band, touring the Far East, and later went on to write songs for the Everly Brothers, Ray Charles (``Do I Ever Cross Your Mind''), Jerry Lee Lewis (``Honky Tonk Heaven''), Roy Orbison (``Dream You''), Eddie Raven (``She's Gonna Win Your Heart'') and Ringo Starr.

Burnette, who admits to ``keeping busy,'' also recorded ``six or seven solo records'' and has written and recorded songs for such films as ``Summer School'' and ``Project X.'' He was also a member of the Zoo, the alter-ego rock 'n' roll band of the Fleetwood Mac drummer and founder, Mick Fleetwood -- until he received, as it's called in Hollywood, ``The Call.''

``They called me on a Wednesday -- Mick had mentioned that it might happen because Lindsey wasn't sure if he was going to tour,'' Burnette said. ``The next day Mick called and said `You and Rick Vito, how about Saturday afternoon? I'll get you some tapes to learn the songs, and we'll play.' We played about five songs and they all came over and asked us to join the band.''

One of the more enduring pop bands of the past 20 years, Fleetwood Mac -- formed by Fleetwood, McVie and Peter Green in 1967 after they left John Mayall's Bluesbreakers -- has undergone myriad changes in lineup and musical style.

Starting with the blues-oriented, Green-influenced first albums -- ``English Rose'' and ``Then Play On'' in 1969 -- through the band's 1987 pop offering, ``Tango in the Night'' (on which Buckingham produced and wrote six of the 12 songs) the band has had 10 different lineups.

Green and Jeremy Spencer left to join religious cults in the early '70s. Bob Welch, driving force for the ``Future Games'' and ``Bare Trees'' LPs, left in '74.

The duo of Buckingham and Nicks joined in '75 at the request of Fleetwood, and helped bring the band solidly into the mainstream with ``Fleetwood Mac.'' Hit singles ``Rhiannon,'' ``Say You Love Me'' and ``Go Your Own Way'' soon followed, as did John and Christine McVie's divorce and bitter public bickerings and legal battles over rights to the band's name.

Following the success of ``Rumours'' in 1977, and the follow-up LP, ``Tusk,'' in 1979, the band went their separate ways for solo records, with Nicks emerging as the most popular. Her duets with Tom Petty (``Stop Draggin' My Heart Around'') and Don Henley (``Leather and Lace'') hit respectable marks on the pop charts, as did solo singles such as ``Stand Back'' and ``Talk To Me.''

Carl Lee of Michael Levine Public Relations Co. in Los Angeles said Nicks was hospitalized Nov. 24 and 25 for bronchitis; shows in Omaha and Minneapolis were canceled but the tour goes on.

Was Burnette daunted by the seemingly unstable history of the band, the childish battles and star egos run wild? Although he had worked on Christine McVie's solo LP in '84, and had sung a duet with Nicks, he agreed to join with some trepidation.

``When it came time it was kind of natural to join them,'' Burnette said. ``I was always a big Fleetwood Mac fan, so it was very exciting and emotional for me, but I had a couple of nights where I rose up in bed and went `Hmm, what's going on here?'

``We had a dress rehearsal in LA for all our friends and record company folks before we started the tour and we were all a little nervous because we didn't know what to expect. We didn't know if the new guys would get thrown and jousted around the stadium.''

Still unsure of how diehard Fleetwood Mac fans would react to Buckingham's abscence, Burnette said his fears were laid to rest following the first date in Kansas City.

``Everybody came off stage and looked at each other and said `Yeah, it works.' ''

Burnette said he wasn't asked to join the band solely for the tour, or to mimic Buckingham's distinctive voice and guitar. He fully expects to be in the studio in March for the next album as an equal partner and songwriter.

``I think Rick and I have brought a little more rock 'n' roll edge to the band,'' he said. ``The two guitars are able to do parts on the record that the band couldn't do with only one guitarist. After 40 gigs we're starting to interject our own little things and stretch out a little bit.''

Burnette cited ``World Turning'' and ``Oh Well'' as his favorite songs to perform in concert. ``We go all the way back to the `Bare Trees,' Peter Green days -- and even Buckingham-Nicks tunes.''

On ``Tango in the Night'' Fleetwood Mac uses dreamy vocals, snappy arrangements and -- to Mick Fleetwood's credit -- spare and crisp drum parts on tunes such as ``Little Lies'' and ``Big Love.'' Buckingham's influence -- layered vocal tracks -- while cloyingly cute at times (``Family Man''), is still a major one and will be missed. Christine McVie turns in her usual complement of pop ballads.

What do Burnette and Vito hope to bring to the mix?

``They've always wanted two guitarists, and before Stevie and Lindsey they had three guitar players,'' Burnette said. ``Now the band has a rhythm guitar and a lead player, and Rick and I both sing.''

Burnette said he continues to be astonished by the loyalty of Fleetwood Mac fans.

``Every night it's a great feeling to step on stage with this band,'' he said. ``The fans are the greatest I've ever seen for any band -- just diehard fans for the Mac: They love 'em more than ever now that they've come back and haven't given up.'' PREVIEW Fleetwood Mac Where: Memorial Coliseum When: 8 p.m. Thursday Playing with: The Cruzados Tickets: $18.50 at G.I. Joe's, Galleria Jean Machine, Everybody's Records, coliseum box office

Date: 1987-12-11         Number of views: 1532

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