Vito Interview with New Jersey Record
Rick Vito has heard the line that Lindsey Buckingham was such a potent musical presence in Fleetwood Mac that it took two guitarists to replace him.
And the journeyman guitarist _ who has been a sideman for Bob Seger, Bonnie Raitt, and Jackson Browne, among others _ can laugh at it.
These days, Vito is secure in knowing that he and Billy Burnette are integral members of Fleetwood Mac. The two joined the lineup after Buckingham announced his departure on the eve of the band's 1987-88 tour.
"There was never talk of us duplicating what Lindsey did, and there were never any restrictions placed on us," said Vito. "From the start, it was stressed that we project our own styles of play and exert our own influences."
Burnette and Vito were no strangers to the band. For eight years, Burnette had played sporadically with drummer Mick Fleetwood, including a stint in the Zoo, a four-man side project that Fleetwood put together between Fleetwood Mac projects.
In 1982, Fleetwood met Vito at a recording session at which Burnette was also working.
"I think Mick had me in the back of his mind, so I really didn't have to do an actual audition," said Vito. "It was all very casual, in fact. I got the call, I learned some songs at home, and then I went to the rehearsal studio. After playing a bit, I was offered the job, along with Billy.
"Billy and I really play well off one another. He's not some frustrated lead guitarist, but, rather, he's extremely inventive on rhythm guitar. He'll craft parts that are uniquely his own, as well as being complementary to what I'm doing."
While both Vito and Burnette proved their merit during the lengthy "Tango in the Night" tour, it was on the recording of "Behind the Mask," Fleetwood Mac's new album, that the newest members really made their presence felt.
The death of Christine McVie's father caused Fleetwood Mac to cancel several dates on its tour, which brings the band to Byrne Arena on Tuesday. And it was during the unfortunate break that Vito took time to talk about his entry into the band's lineup and the contributions he believes he has made.
Speaking from his California home early one evening, the soft-spoken Vito said: "Joining the tour as Billy and I did was a little like trial by fire. But with hindsight, it certainly was the way to go.
"We got to know each other musically by playing together and exciting the people. It was a real confidence booster that carried over when we headed into the studio."
Buckingham, the craftsman of Fleetwood Mac's soft-edged rock, had helped the band move up the rock-and-roll ladder to international stardom. But success came at the expense of significant contributions from the other band members.
When Buckingham left, the others had a fresh chance to shine. The nine-month recording session for "Behind the Mask" yielded 13 songs and found vocalist Stevie Nicks, keyboardist Christine McVie, Burnette, and Vito sharing the songwriting duties. (Bassist John McVie completes the lineup.)
"Most of the songs I wrote were written in the studio," said the Philadelphia native. "Blues rock is what I particularly like, and it was a matter of adapting some of the things I do to achieve a group sound.
"When I'd come up with something that the older members would say sounded 'Mac-ie,' I knew I had it."
While "Behind the Mask" has moments of lush pop instrumentation _ a holdover from Buckingham's production days _ there are excursions into gritty blues-based rock ("Stand on the Rock") and rockabilly ("When the Sun Goes Down"). And those sojourns, which harken back to 1970 when Fleetwood Mac began as a blues-based outfit, are courtesy of the more roots-rock orientation of Vito and Burnette.
"Writing in the studio was a good experience," said Vito. "There was a real openness and honesty, and the songs, which were created pretty much as things happened, I think reflect that."
It was the opportunity to make artistic contributions that led Vito to consider a spot in the sometimes volatile Fleetwood Mac lineup.
"I had spent the major portion of my career working for other people," said Vito, who graduated from Kutztown State College in Pennsylvania and then got his professional start with Delaney & Bonnie and Friends. "The chance to have creative freedom and to see things built as a result of my contributions was a dream come true."
But didn't he have even the tiniest of reservations? After all, Fleetwood Mac's history reads like a soap opera.
For starters, founding member and guitarist Peter Green quit the band in 1970, a month before the group was to begin an American tour.
Then there was the mid-tour defection in 1971 of guitarist Jeremy Spencer, who left the band for the Children of God cult. Spencer's replacement, Bob Welch, quit. Another guitarist, Danny Kirwan, was fired.
Tensions within the group reached a boiling point during the making of the blockbuster album "Rumours." Those sessions were marked by personal turmoil _ Fleetwood's divorce, the breakups of Christine and John McVie, Nicks and Buckingham.
And there were the group's share of problems with drugs and alcohol that sent both Nicks and John McVie in search of treatment.
"I knew all about the band's history, but that's what it is _ history," said Vito, who is married and has a 6-year-old son. "As far as I'm concerned, this is a proving ground for me, and so far, things have gone very smoothly."
But that could all change next month with the release of Fleetwood's autobiography, "Fleetwood: My Life and Adventures in Fleetwood Mac." Written with Stephen Davis, author of the controversial Led Zeppelin biography "Hammer of the Gods," the autobiography, Fleetwood has said, will tell "the truth" about the group.
Fleetwood has refused to let his bandmates take a prepublication look at his book, and, according to Vito, all the "tight-lipped" Fleetwood has said is "there's some personal stuff in there."
"Who knows what will happen, but I think the turbulence that seems to surround this band is part of its allure," said Vito, laughing. "They always seem to be flirting at the edge of the precipice.
"But they always seem to endure. As for me, I want to stay with the band until it drops or they throw me out."