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Goldmine Magazine (11/21/1997), Fleetwood Mac-- Never Break The Chain < Fleetwood Mac < Main Page

Goldmine Magazine (11/21/1997), Fleetwood Mac-- Never Break The Chain
Penguin

FLEETWOOD MAC
Never Break the Chain
by Amy Hanson
Goldmine Magazine #452, November 21, 1997

They are the biggest band in the world, midway through the fastest selling tour of the year, playing selections from one of the best selling albums of the decade. Yet talking to drummer and founder member Mick Fleetwood, you cannot escape from the feeling that if his phone had just rung a few months earlier, he would currently be powering a very different reincarnation of Fleetwood Mac indeed.

"Peter Green phoned me up like two weeks before we set out on this tour and said, 'I'm doing a tour in Europe and I want you to come over and play drams....' and I went 'oh, fuck!' it was mis-timed... I'm doing what I'm doing. But one day, even if it is literally a day, the blessing is that I know I'll get to play with Peter again. And I couldn't have said that three years ago. ".

Peter Green. His name echoes through the corridors of Lime, across oceans, across generations, across too many songs to count. Thirty years ago, almost to the month, Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac took their first tentative steps onto the live, stage, at Britain's annual National jazz And Blues festival, and proceeded to blow the world away. And through a multitude of lineup changes, through the lean years of the early-mid Seventies, and even amidst the magic of the Rumours-mongering quintet which made the original band's achievements seem small, still Green's spirit hangs silently in the shadows, as if to say, "yes, that's, it exactly. Keep going."

Which is precisely what Fleetwood Mac has done;, and still do. Reunited for an MTV special which in turn spawned both a new album, The Dance, and a massive American tour, Christine McVie, Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood are as familiar to their fans as a lover's touch, musical icons for an adoring public. But there are other names, too: Danny Kirwan, Jeremy Spencer, Bob Weston, Bob Welch. Dave Walker... this is a haunted band, one in which the past walks hand-in hand with the present and future alike. And it is the culminated vision that these people collected which has allowed Fleetwood Mac to survive and grow.

In strictly historical terms, there is but one Fleetwood Mac. Musically, though, there are three: the Blues band which birthed them; the Modern superstars created when Nicks and Buckingham first arrived, and the five year drifter which divided the two. Three very different bands, three very different audiences, and three very different sets of expectations.

But these three seemingly disparate eras really are indelibly linked. Each is vitally, magically, important to the band as a whole, and they are connected by that magic. That, and the ghosts.

Fleetwood Mac was always Peter Green's band; it was modesty alone which demanded he name it after the drummer he had, and the bassist he wanted. John McVie was still gainfully employed with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers when Green and Fleetwood debuted their dream, but even their original bassist, Bob Brunning' knew it was only a matter of weeks before he was ousted. McVie finally moved over in September, 1967, and today, he and Fleetwood remain the linchpins around which the band has continued to function.

"Without John McVie playing with me, this band would not exist," Mick Fleetwood states unequivocally. "The music and the musicality of Fleetwood Mac would be a totally different character. The character which John and I create by playing together is a major, major part of what Fleetwood Mac is."

And an intrinsic part of that character, though-he left the field long ago, is Green, the brilliant young guitarist who recognized Mick Fleetwood as. an equally brilliant young drummer. "He saw what I had a long time ago, and it was not what people normally see, because I'm not horribly technical. It's just all emotive. I'm an emotional player, and he read that and made me really strong. But that's what it all about, bands.... It's feeling. I don't want to play with some guys just sitting there, being clever. On the premise that I'm a good drummer, I have a lot of musical smarts that I directed entirely to emotions. and that's how I play. When people say 'you look like you're really enjoying it,' I am! My heart, my smile, my everything, is in those moments when you're playing with someone."

With guitarist Jeremy Spencer filling in the gaps between Green's so-expressive liquidity, and the mighty Fleetwood/McVie rhythm section, the original Mac line-up would survive unscathed for the next three years; indeed, following the addition of a third guitarist, the teenaged Danny Kirwan in August, 1968, Fleetwood Mac was outselling every band in Britain, the Beatles included. So, when Green quit in May, 1970, few people gave them any chance of survival whatsoever.

With just a hint of reluctance, Fleetwood agrees.

"When Peter was there, no matter what happened, he was the head honcho. Just because he was that incredible. And so powerful."

His departure left the remaining frontline, Spencer and Kirwan, at a complete loss: "they felt so stripped of the security that Peter had given to them, and to the band. For what ever reason, they especially felt very naked. The band was in so much need of help. So we asked Chris to join.".

"Chris," of course, was Christine McVie, bassist john's wife and, in .1970, the proud holder of Melody Maker's prestigious "Female Vocalist Of The Year" award. Following a stint in Stan Webb's Chicken Shack, the erstwhile Christine Perfect's recently launched solo career had already spawned a massive hit, with a beautiful rendering of Etta James' "I'd Rather Go Blind," but within a year, she'd had enough.

"I quit," she later explained, "and returned to life as a housewife."

Three months later, Fleetwood Mac asked her to join.

"When-we asked Chris to join the band, we really needed help," Fleetwood recollects. "And she really helped that situation, and made us into a whole band again, by bringing in her own very specific talent. This band didn't start with five people, but if you look at the history of Fleetwood Mac, the good, powerful parts where we really, I think, have shone, are often, if not exclusively, when we've had three singer/songwriters in the band. With Jeremy, Danny and Chris, we were then back to that. We had three people functioning in. our front line on an equal standing' "

Despite Ms. McVie's reassuring presence, the band now lurched into almost half a decade of uncertainty, hosting a revolving door of musicians around what was the core trio of Fleetwood and the Macs. Kirwan and Spencer were both gone within two years, and only American guitarist Bob Welch brought any additional stability to the band. He joined in 1971, following Spencer's departure, remaining a solid fixture until 1974 - when he left, and the title of the group's latest, ninth, album suddenly seemed frighteningly appropriate: Heroes Are Hard To Find. Particularly guitar heroes.

Reduced to a three piece, once again Fleetwood Mac were left holding the ball on shaky ground, Even- with the McVie/Fleetwood bond still firmly in place, it was either push on or quit, although Fleetwood insists , we weren't thinking that at the time."

He explains, "I think there are so many eras in Fleetwood Mac, and they all sort of blended. When Bob Welch left, we were basically thinking 'what do we do next to enable us to carry on?' Which is really a part of the history in total. One of the umbilicals that goes through the whole history of this band is that that's been the work ethic. it's never been '-oh we're breaking up' it's always been, 'well, who's next?'"

Whoever it was would certainly have their work cut out for them.

An unannounced group hiatus the previous year had seen their erstwhile manager piece together an utterly spurious Fleetwood Mac. line up, purportedly to fulfill obligations which the real band had left outstanding. The ploy failed, commercially and critically; now it was winding it's way through the law courts, but U.S. promoters burned by the bogus band were now unwilling to re-book the real one, and while Fleetwood Mac's label, Warners, had renewed contracts, it was with considerable trepidation.

Commercially, meanwhile,- the group was all but stagnant: album after album, sales bottomed out at around 250,000 copies; single after single flopped; airplay was confined to a clutch of "safe" neighbor-hoods. Fleetwood Mac was going nowhere, and the only real question was, how much longer could they keep doing so?

in the end, of course, these questions would never require an answer. Welch quit, and in his place came the duo who would help take Fleetwood Mac into an entirely new era, cultivate a new type of fan, and catapult the band to the top of the charts, and the middle of hearts across the globe.

Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks were busy with their own agendas when their path first crossed with Fleetwood Mac's in 1974. The two had met at Menlo-Atherton High School in San Francisco in 1967, where Nicks was a senior; Buckingham a junior. With fellow classmates Javier Pacheco and Calvin Roper, Buckingham and Nicks formed The Fritz Rabyne Memorial Band, and even after Nicks moved on to San

Jose State, the band continued, with Nicks driving down from school to gig with the others.

'Buckingham graduated, and the band now better known under the abbreviated name of Fritz - went professional, sliding neatly into the non-stop San Francisco scene which was flourishing at the time. They apparently opened for most of the big names. local and national, but according to Nicks, the most important was Janis Joplin.

"We opened for her in Santa Clara. She walked on stage, and for an hour and a half my chin was on the floor. 'You couldn't have pried me away with a million dollar check. I was absolutely glued to her, and that is where I learned a lot of what I do an stage. It wasn't that I wanted to be. like her, because I didn't. But I said, 'if ever I am a performer of any value, I want to be able to create the same kind of feeling that's going on between her and the audience."

Fritz would break up in 1971 but the Nicks-Buckingham team was going strong, and the two continued to write songs. The early culmination of this partnership was the formation of Buckingham-Nicks.

Still a sonic product. of the San Francisco scene, Buckingham and Nicks secured a one record deal with Anthem (a local label handled by Polydor), and the services of producer Keith Olsen, at Sound City in Los Angeles. Work began on their self-titled debut album in early 1973.

More acoustic than rock, and with raw enthusiasm taking the place of studio polish, Keith Olsen slapped on a tape of the Buckingham Nicks album, lie intended simply to demonstrate the produ6tioii and sound of his studio's work. But iliac was all Fleetwood needed to hear. In every way, he knew immediately that Fleetwood Mac had found exactly what they had been looking for.

Looking back, he explains, "it was a very right feeling, and their music spoke in a way that obviously, initially, I noticed. Then I took that information to John and Chris, as to what I thought would be our- next move to continue the band."

Fleetwood Mac were looking only for a guitarist, "but realizing that Lindsey and Stevie came as a songwriting team was all I needed to know because I liked what I was hearing, and they created that, as opposed to having it produced around them. It was a great feeling."

Buckingham's guitar style struck a particular chord with Fleetwood. While lie is the first to admit that he adores the band's past, as a musician, lie was constantly looking to move forward, searching only for whatever would click with the band, and add to the existing talent., with little regard for precedent. That is why when Peter Green left, they never replaced him with an imitator; it was far more exciting to go somewhere else instead, and that is the doctrine which sustains Fleetwood Mac to this day.

The Buckingham Nicks team certainly fit this bill. Always working from his initial gut instinct, Fleetwood says, "it was just lucky, certainly, that they had a product they had made. The Buckingham Nicks album spoke for itself and it was very apparent, certainly to my ears, that these people were really talented and Lindsey was truly a great, very different guitar player to what I had been used to in terms of his background."

What was especially interesting, he continues, was "Lindsey's sense of melody , and economy. Although he's a very proficient player, he enjoys the one note approach very often, not always, but he his a real sense of that and that's something that struck home with me."

"Mick called us right after Bob Welch left," Stevie Nicks affirms. "He never said 'do you want to audition,' or 'do you want to come over and we'll get to, know each other,' or anything. Right from the beginning, it was 'do you want to join?"'

A couple of days later, the five musicians got together for the first time, meeting for a Mexican meal, "and it was 'rehearsals start next week. See you there.'" The next thing she knew, we were rehearsing, and two weeks later, recording."

Lindsey and Stevie were flabbergasted by Fleetwood's invitation to join the band. Even more astonishingly, although they knew that .the band had an illustrious history, they hadn't actually heard anything Fleetwood Mac had recorded. Nicks remembers catching them on TV one evening, and seeing Christine perform "Show Me A Smile" (from 1971',- Future Games), but aside from that, they were completely in the dark.

Nicks continues, "this friend of ours was really into Fleetwood Mac, and he told us about seeing them at Hinterland, and how they'd driven away in big black Cadillac limousines. So there I was in my waitresses' outfit and white nurses' shoes, going 'oh my God!' and imagining those limos. I think ,hat was the only time I've ever been really . awestruck about this whole thing, seeing that picture in my head."

Immediately after the meal, the duo headed out and bought up every Fleetwood. Mac album they could find, then sat down and listened to all of them straight through: English Rose, the blues-drenched compilation of the band's first U.K. albums; Then Play On, Peter Green's mystical, but so aptly named swansong; Kiln House, the almost folk inflected sound of the newly shorn band getting it together in the country; Future Games and Bare Trees, With Bob Welch's signature "Sentimental Lady" positively aching for recognition-, Penguin and Mystery To Me, with another Welch classic, "Hypnotized," and Heroes Are Hard To Find.

It was a matter, Nicks insists, of the two of them discovering not only what they could bring to the band, but also what Fleetwood Mac could do for their own style and direction.

Obviously they liked what they heard.

Fleetwood continues, "we went into a brief rehearsal. We hadn't played a note together, yet we had full commitment that they were in the band. We rehearsed for about two weeks. We rehearsed in ICM's basement, which was our agency, and went straight from there to make our next album, Fleetwood Mac."

With those brief rehearsals gelling the band, of course, it was a very natural progression to the studio. Fleetwood Mac would be the beginning of a compositional style that would endure throughout the next two decades.

Every Fleetwood Mac album is driven by distinctive styles that the band has blended together. Songs belong inherently to Nicks, Buckingham, Christine MCVIC Or to the band as an ensemble ' but over them all; there is the pervasive sound of the band itself.

Even so, it swiftly became apparent that all three principle writers had' very different methods of working. According to Fleetwood, "Christine's songs were usually more formed than some of Stevie's, but Stevie and Lindsey had always had a work situation where Lindsey would musically put her songs together, take what she had done and rearrange it. And yet my sense of it is that the survivability of the essence of Stevie's songs is usually so strong that Lindsey has the smarts to realize what that essence is, and often stays with that essence.

"He has an incredible knack, which is part of their magic and what they brought to the band. lie just knows how to interpret her, without taking something that's precious to her away. And her songs are extremely precious, sometimes almost to the point of she can't let go of them. Especially her words.

"But that's how this band is. Everyone's got an opinion. Certainly Stevie had an onward going relationship with I.indsey, where she respected and trusted what Lindsey would do. That was their partnership. Lindsey and Christine had a different relationship, because theirs' was much more of a musical one, because she's a player."

Where, then, does Fleetwood himself come into this mix?

"I came in like a big lump of glue. I was, and am, one hellishly healthy sounding board; one that has very strong opinions, and feels very often flattered with always being consulted. I usually get 'what do you think, Mick?' and I'll come in with the old vibemaster and I'll say, 'you know what? That's the take for me,' or 'that's the way that vocal sounds great.' Or, 'I love that guitar part.' It's somewhat vicarious, but sometimes, it's even more specific than I realize. So that's where I come in. Right from the beginning. Right to the end. I will always be there to let people know. And it's all done from the gut. Totally from the feeling. I will always react to what my feelings are. That's my relationship with my fellow players. -Always was and always will be. It's- a real thing."

The band were fresh and feeding on the excitement of new beginnings. Stevie and 1-indsey,s San Francisco sound was punched up immeasurably by the driving perfection of the Fleetwood/,\4cVie rhythm section, and Christine McVie's masterful piano arrangements and vocal harmonies. Conversely, the three core Macs were surrounded by Buckingham's rocking-to-achingly soothing guitar, and that one-of-A-kind voice from Nicks.

From the soaring punch in "Monday Morning," through to the haunting "Landslide" and the reprise of "Crystal", Fleetwood Mac set a pace which would not be eclipsed until they themselves deigned to do it themselves, with the release of Rumours. @et though it remains a wonderful album a e way through, there is one song that struck especially hard, and left a world begging for more... Quite simply, Nicks' "Rhiannon" defined an entire generation of listeners. It was the song of the year, and perhaps somewhat bittersweetly, it shot Nicks to the very forefront of the band. That swirling, whirling gypsy child with scarves trailing was the image that stuck in 1975, and one which Christine McVie would marvel over for years to come.

"'Rhiannon' created a huge impact on stage, with little Stevie floating around in her black chiffon and top hat - people got really excited about it."

And yet, although "Rhiannon" exists, for many fans, as the redefining moment in Fleetwood Mac's history, the song itself only made it to #11 on the U.S. charts and never even cracked the charts in the U.K..

While many cite the song as the beginning of mystic, magical composition,, for the band, Nicks was only stamping her name upon a supernatural element which had long been current within Fleetwood Mac's musical make-up, as far back as "Black Magic Woman" and "Green Manalishi," from the Peter Green era. More recently still, the phenomenal "Hypnotized" had opened even further the door which Nicks burst through in 1975.

At the same time, however, the true power of "Rhiannon" has never been unleashed upon the record buying public. Caught live on the group's 1975 tour, it entirely new lyrical hook, and ends with Nicks' vocal and Buckingham's guitar literally dueling for supremacy. Simply listening to it is an emotional drain, and one can only regret that by the time Fleetwood Mac came to release an official live album, in 1979, sheer familiarity had dulled the naive exuberance of Nicks' earliest performances.

Making Fleetwood Mac was an immensely wonderful experience for the band, although Fleetwood and Nicks both vividly recall the awful moment when they suddenly realized that they had lost the finished masters! All that work, all that effort - the group tore the studio apart, finally coming across the tapes amidst a pile of tapes which had been put aside to be destroyed!

In all, Fleetwood Mac would spawn three hit singles ' while the album itself reached #1 on the U.S. chart. Christine McVie's "Over My Head" was first, jumping in on December 13, 1975, and coining in to rest at #7. It was Fleetwood Mac's first ever U.S. Top 40 hit.

The song's success surprised everybody, its composer in particular.

"It was the last track we kept while we were recording], and we really didn't know what we were going to do with it. All it had was a vocal, a dobro guitar and a drum track."

Later, she added a Vox continental, while Buckingham came up with a guitar motif, but still, "it was the last track we ever thought would be a single.'

Of course, this song, too, carries the sweet spirits of earlier Mac days. 'Its chorus slides perfectly into the melody of "Albatross," a 1968 Peter Green composition that McVie herself greatly admired.

"Rhiannon" followed in April, 1976, and "Say You Love Me" slid into the charts at #11 in July as radios across the county ate the band up, slamming songs into heavy rotation and never letting them go. A quick perusal of the radio dial today reveals that not much has changed since then.

Speaking at the time, Christine McVie summed it up best.

"We have a situation now that's a little bit different... we have run across a very unique formula, that happens to be commercial, while retaining the quality of the [different] Fleetwood Macs. And it happened without our doing anything that was sacrilegious to our tastes."

Armed with what they knew was a good album, the band set out on a tour to reintroduce themselves to the world, aware that this time out, they appealed to both the old school diehards and to new fans. The divide which would later become apparent in the band's audience had yet to manifest itself; instead, there would be something for everyone on this first tour.

Nicks remembers, "one of the big things was that we went right out on the road. We played constantly, and everywhere, places like Casper, Wyoming and Normal, Illinois. And people were so wonderful and gave us such good vibes."

Indeed, the audiences were astonishingly receptive, no mean feat for a band who really had changed their core sound. And although n hit what others thought of them, the positive response could only have boosted the great wave which they suddenly found themselves riding, in part because the band had only the eleven songs from their album to play, they pulled some old Fleetwood Mac and Buckingham Nicks favorites to add to the set. Bob Welch's "Hypnotized," Danny Kirwan's "Station Man," "Spare Me A Little" (from Bare Trees) and "Why" (from Mystery To Me) were all retained in the group's hour long show, while both "Don't Let Me Down Again" (from Buckingham Nicks) and "Oh Well" (from Then Play On) would survive as live staples until as late as the Tusk tour, with Buckingham keeping the spirit of the songs alive even as he added his own unique flair to the proceedings. In fact, live versions of both "Oh Well" and "Green Manalishi" really do emphasize Buckingham's ability to retain the spirit of that old blues band, while powering the new pop group to its peak.

But it was the new songs that garnered the loudest applause. Night after night, Nicks' poignant "Landslide" would bring a caterwauling crowd to its knees, enveloping the venue in such complete silence that, -listening to live recordings of the s6ng, -one could almost believe she was performing to an empty room.

And if -there was any resistance from the diehard blues fans, Fleetwood insists he never heard it.

"You always get, 'oh it's not like the old days of playing the blues'. We had a fair amount from people I talked to. Suddenly there were two girls in the band... real different. But I think that the new audience that we attained was such a whole wave of new audience that any negativity that might have been, we just really weren't aware of."

As the new year dawned, coming in off a balls-out tour, and a string of successful singles, Fleetwood Mac returned to the writing board to prepare a follow up. Unfortunately, things would never move as smoothly as they had in the past.

The recipe which would end with Rumours is almost depressingly familiar today Stevie was breaking up with Lindsey, Christine and John were divorcing, Mick and his first wife were separating, and it all went haywire from there, helped along by liberal doses of libations and cocaine. It was the stuff of tattle tale tabloid dreams, and of course the media would make the most of it. But there was actually a hell of a lot of good stuff going on beyond, as Fleetwood himself puts it, "the smut."

Recording was tough. Compared to the three months it took to lay down Fleetwood Mac, this new album would end up taking a year, as the songs laid bare their composers' almost painfully autobiographical emotions. The band members' private life inevitably carried over into the studio, too; clipped voices. and facetiously civil tones looming over the actual creative process. And if this weren't enough, the recording studio was home to a temperamental tape recorder which threatened to cat the takes, rather than record them!

Everyone was shaken, frustrated, and half insane with the effort, although Fleetwood remembers Nicks struggling harder than anyone to prevail in light of the circumstances.

"She did her first take of 'Gold Dust Woman' in a fully lit studio, and as take followed take, she began withdrawing into herself. So we dimmed the lights, brought her a chair, a supply of tissues, a Vicks inhaler, a box of lozenges for her sore throat, and a bottle of mineral water. And on the eighth take, at four in the morning, she sang the lyric straight through to perfection."

Perhaps that is why Rumours. was so damned good. But could it have gone the other way? No-one seems to remember the chronology of events, which songs were written in answer to others, or even whether or not malice aforethought played a part in the process. Nevertheless, Rumours can be read as the unfolding diary of a string of acrimonious break-ups, all taking place just as the band was poised to really take off. it could have been so easy for the disintegrating personal side to undermine the music, but Fleetwood is quick to deny that ever seemed likely.

"No. But were we fragile! I was pretty clued in to what was happening, and the driving energy that we were all involved in was so strong that I have no recollection of ever sitting down with any one member of this band (to discuss breaking up], and I think I would have known about it if that had been in the air. I was somewhat the dad of the band, and would know what was going on. It was crucifyingly difficult at certain points, but there was such a bond musically, and we were so engrossed in what we were doing, realizing that we had been given an opportunity, as individuals and as a band, that may only come once in a lifetime. And to throw it away would have been a sin. And that's how we looked at it. And we got round all the other stuff... the bedroom stuff."

Which must have been difficult during the recording, with all these people in the studio and nowhere to go. One can only imagine the horror. Indeed, "Go Your Own Way," "I Don't Want To Know" and "Songbird" virtually breathe on their own, with the little demons circling round like vultures.

And then, in the midst of the madness, "The Chain" crashes through like a self-repairing, and ultimately, self-fulfilling, mantra. With lyrics by Nicks, and an opening riff which recalls the beginning of Buckingham Nicks "'Lola, My Love", "The Chain' is credited to the whole band, and would itself become the intangible thread that wove itself into the very fabric of Fleetwood Mac, allowing them to group and regroup over the next twenty years.

Released in the spring of 1977, Rumours would remain on the U.S.. charts for 134 weeks, 31 of those at the golden #I. Britain, too, was now back. in love with Fleetwood Mac, having all but ignored the band since the golden age of the blues, almost a decade before. Fleetwood and the McVies' homeland would make up for lost time with a vengeance,, keeping Rumours on the U.K. charts for a staggering 443 weeks, a total which only Meatloaf's Bat Out Of Hell has eclipsed. To put this feat into even weirder perspective, Rumours alone has spent longer on the U.K. chart than the rest of Fleetwood Mac's catalog put together!

Back in the U.S., while Rumours went platinum within a month of release, all four singles culled from the album would go on to break the top ten: "Go Your Own Way" (#10) "Dreams" (#I)" "Don't Stop" (#3) and "You Make Loving Fun" (#9), Simultaneously, Fleetwood Mac and Buckingham Nicks' entire back catalog was given a major overhaul, with both their older albums and selected singles being reissued to capitalize on the success of Rumours. Early material was repackaged onto greatest hits collections; Mick Fleetwood's pre-Mac stint with Shotgun Express was reissued; Christine McVie's 1969 solo album returned to the chart-, the entire music industry, it seemed, had embarked upon a feeding frenzy, all powered by the mighty Mac.

In March 1977, the band commenced a grueling seven month tour, beginning with a month in the United States. Breaks in between legs were scattered and often used to complete the various and sundry side projects which were always in action behind the scenes '- Nicks and Buckingham guested on new albums by California songwriter John Stewart and Warren Zevon; Fleetwood, Buckingham and Christine McVie appeared on Bob Welch's French Kiss solo debut. In light of all the recent upheavals and the paces the band were putting themselves through, only a superhuman could keep it together, although Fleetwood is quick to point out, "there were good times."

"It was just the experience of having such a profound awareness that. people were digging what we were -doing, and giving us so much feedback that it was so undeniable. Every day. Everywhere we went. It was all people reaching out and feeding us this huge amount of energy, that we feasted off. How could you not go on ?"

The changes on the road were quite significant. Fleetwood Mac had gone from playing, as Fleetwood puts it, "colleges and small 1500 seaters," as well as "some festivals, second on the bill, or third or fourth or whatever. on the bill," to a full-on large venue and stadium assault.

They scoured the United States, and then it was back to England for their first tour with the new line up, an outing which was surely a gratifying experience for the McVies and Fleetwood. They had left England without much fanfare, and were returning just under four years later, as giants.

Fleetwood remembers, "It was just part of the gigsters' life, you know. We weren't playing tiny places, but we were playing Hammersmith Odeon type places, 2,000 seaters. I think, really, it was such a celebration of us coming home and we were certainly lucky.

"The celebration was, especially for the English contingent, that we were going back, having left England, having had the original Fleetwood Mac be such a success in the '60s. A phenomenal success, not in the States, but all over Europe and especially in England. To come home and sort of say, 'well, we're back and we're different. But it's still Fleetwood Mac'.

"Rumours was a huge album in Europe, just as big as it was [in the U.S.] all over the world. It certainly wasn't like going back and thinking 'whoops, we're going back to tiny venues.' They were all fairly substantial places. But it was a very schizophrenic experience, because so many people remembered the Peter Green days, and for good reason. And now, whatever amount of time had lapsed, and they were confronted with 'it's Fleetwood Mac, but it's not Fleetwood Mac.'"

Indeed, "it's not Fleetwood Mac" were Fleetwood Mac, and they were the biggest band in the world in 1976-1977. As the tour ground on, over continents and time zones, the rush of on-stage adrenaline was both complemented And complicated as friendships and working relationships were defined, then undermined by the upheavals that were occurring regularly. But it was never the truly gruesome bloodbath that outsiders like to recreate.

Fleetwood himself reflects on the tour as an intense time of bonding.

'I was probably, certainly not oblivious, but I was spared because I wasn't working with someone that I had had a serious relationship with. I think maybe some other ]ads and lasses might react slightly differently in terms of other members of the band. It seemed to me that I was really in there with everyone, and I have to say that there were good times, and there was bonding during those days.

'Stevie and Christine sort of drifted off into different worlds there. Nothing bad, it was just that their lifestyles were so different. But what they had, especially during those days, they bonded as ladies. just to get them through these not good times.

"I remember John and I spent a lot of time together as we generally feel comfortable doing anyhow. And I think socially, Lindsey, mainly because he's such a private person anyhow, probably tended to be a little bit on his own. Looking back on it, if I'd been more aware, I would have done more reaching out than I did to him. It was a strange situation.'

The tour over, the band would only break temporarily before commencing, in May 1978, on their next album, the double whopper, Tusk, -a set which Fleetwood credits with keeping the band together. The group had already been through the mill; its massive success notwithstanding, beginning work on Rumours so soon after coming off the Fleetwood Mac tour had been a dreadful mistake, and yet here they were doing it all over again.

But just as the common goal of completing Rumours had ensured Fleetwood Mac remained together at a time when each member of the band had some;. very real,. powerful, reasons for not wanting to meet with another, so this new project - which swiftly developed into the absolute antithesis of its predecessor -' would serve an even greater purpose. It would prove that Fleetwood Mac didn't have to remain stagnant to retain credibility

Today, it is very fashionable to describe Tusk as Lindsey Buckingham's pet project, and indeed, it may have started out that way By the Lime it was over, however, it was very much a Fleetwood Mac album, and perhaps surprisingly -7 very much in keeping with the end of the Peter Green era recordings, a point which Mick Fleetwood in particular relishes. just like Then Play 6n, it was to be, as Fleetwood sums up, "a statement of what Fleetwood Mac was all about, a sense of grandeur with intimacy. That was the vision that came together in the aural collage called Tusk."

Fleetwood recalls, "there was some, initially, some reaching out in terms of Lindsey having very specific desires. To me they were never problematic. But I think Lindsey almost felt they were more problematic than they really were, in terms of 'Can I try to play some drums...' I had done very similar things. I've had this with John and Peter Green, where whatever it takes is okay, as long as you're not suggesting that you make a solo album, and pretend it's Fleetwood Mac.

"I think that was the only shaky area, which was not shaky for very long. And musically and aesthetically in terms of what command it had, in terms of signposting, Tusk was a very prophetic album. it sort of hinted at what was going to happen. That everyone was eventually going to go and make their own albums. And we allowed ourselves to make a double package album that was unheard of, especially in those days when the whole record industry was about to die."

As far as Warners were concerned, indeed, 1978 certainly wasn't the year to try out a "progressive" double album named for a whopping great phallus - for that, Fleetwood laughs, is the meaning of the "tusk" of the title. What Warners wanted was another Rumours. But Of Course, the band, With Fleetwood (the band's manager since 1975) firmly in control, refused to give in to any industry pressure. Fleetwood admits that Warners reaction was "not good." But the band didn't care.

"Warners tried to persuade us not to do it, and we told them @forget it.' And in the long run, I'm sure they were very glad we did. Because that album, the fact we did make a double album, and the fact that the band came to terms with Lindsey reaching out into areas that were very cool, was very important.

"And in retrospect, [.Buckingham's at the moment. It was fantastic! That was the essence of how Peter Green ended up. He started out playing blues, and then made albums like Then Play On with really progressive things for those days. There was a lot of happenstance in terms of it being very similar, looking back on it, between Peter and Lindsey; creative nuts and bolts... the way they approached things."

And despite the band's initial reservations, they all realized how important it was not just to Buckingham, but to Fleetwood Mac, to make this record. Even Nicks came around, and that despite spending the actual sessions convinced she was trapped within a "big rumpled up ball of Tusk-ness" although she did threaten to quit when she found out what the title meant!

Instead, she turned in a clutch of her most powerful songs yet, with "Storms,' "Sara" and "Beautiful Child." Across all three, her voice resonated with emotion, following on the path she had started in Fleetwood Mac, but more confident now, and stronger. In the old days, she admits, she almost wrecked her untrained voice, trying to keep things going onstage every night. Now she knew precisely what she was doing, and how she would do it, and while she would, of course, lose some of the natural beauty of her natural tones, replacing it perhaps with a more studied approximation, the alternative would have been disastrous.

"Sara," in particular, was a masterpiece, and when Tusk was first released on CD, several years later, it seemed (and still seems) incredible that, with so many songs to choose from, it was "Sara" that Warners chose to "edit," so as to fit the two record set onto a single CD. Indeed, the outcry from fans was so great that when a Fleetwood Mac Greatest Hits album was mooted for release later in the decade, an unabridged "Sara", was among the first tracks shortlisted for inclusion. At least, that was the official story. A few conspiracy theorists, on the other hand, reckon they planned it that way all along.

At the time of Tusk's original release, of course, the most attention (good and bad) was lavished upon the album's title track, particularly after it was released as a fall, 1979, single, shortly ahead of the album. In terms of a major bands release schedule, there had never been anything like it before, a three minute percussion loop shot through with disconnected voices and chants, no discernible tune and absolutely no common ground with the hits of the recent past. And the song still stands today as one of the very, very few truly unique compositions ever to have been recorded.

"Tusk" started life as nothing more than a few bars which Buckingham and Fleetwood played as a sort of sound check before gigs; first, it was transformed (by longtime engineer and producer Richard Dashut) into a twenty second tape loop, which was then recorded from one track to another, before some overdubs were added. The resulting mass would become (he bones of the song.

After some thought, the brainstorm hit use a marching band to play "the riff," over which the rest of the song would be recorded. This was duty done live (except for John McVie, who had laid down his bass parts earlier) at Dodger Stadium, with the University of Southern California's marching band. And that, as the old saying goes, was that.

Nothing on the album could ever hope to compete with "Tusk"'s utterly alien landscaping, although Buckingham's blend of power pop mantras and proto-New Wave guitar picking certainly tried. Through "The Ledge", "That's All For Everyone" and the almost manic, "Not That Funny Is It?" came a glimmer of what would become standard musical stylings just a few short years hence.

Not to be outdone by her bandmates, Christine McVie also came out on LOP, with two beautiful compositions, "Never Make Me Cry" and "Brown Eyes." Even more importantly, however, the haunting latter also brought Peter Green back into the fold, as an uncredited guest guitarist.

Green and Fleetwood had kept in touch through the years (indeed, Green also appears on Penguin, contributing a brief, but readily recognizable, guitar to "Night Watch"), their bond rattled, but not broken by the many waters which had passed under the bridge since the guitarist first walked out on the band.

Fleetwood explains, "I love Peter, and he is really the reason why I'm here in terms of the musician. But it was strange, because Peter was no longer the Peter I remembered, really, because of his illness. Peter had an onward going struggle with paranoid schizophrenia, and it was a real illness. So he was sometimes there, and sometimes not.!'

Recent years had seen Green emerge from the private hell which had enveloped him, to relaunch a career 'which all but the most devoted fans had completely given up dreaming about. Under Fleetwood's own. management aegis, the guitarist traveled to L.A., and the drummer continues, "I saw Pete socially. He got married at my. house. But I was in a very different sort of world and quite honestly, it wasn't like the old days' I was, at that point, living in hope that he would snap out of it, but he never did until quite recently."

But Fleetwood got Green into the studio to lay down some guitar nonetheless.

"It was so brief, and it was bittersweet- It worried John, because he really didn't want to see him like that."

But Green was, at the time, well enough to contribute. and Fleetwood takes a moment to reminisce about his feelings at this undoubtedly trying time.

"You know, I've cried myself to sleep many a night listening to early Fleetwood N4ac and going, 'what happened to this guy?' Not that he wasn't in' Fleetwood Mac, but why isn't he playing, what happened? This is a fucking tragedy.' And could, I have done something, could I have done this... especially when I was drinking.

"I'd always get people in the hotel room Ion,tourl,4nd say 4now I want you to hear Peter Green. This is where it all came from.' I'd put on a record and I would always end up in tears,, listening. Because he was a great player."

"And those sorts of standards set a precedent through the years, where I certainly tried with the likes of my sensibilities, and Lindsey's guitar Playing, again very different to Peter, but he had something. he was making a statement. His style was very unique and that whole thing came from me having someone with such a profound effect that Peter had on me musically and personally. I never forgot that. I tried to keep that standard of [lag flying. The right sort of flag should be in flight and that's what I did through the years."

So Green was still moving through Fleetwood Mac some ten years on, in the guise of Lindsey Buckingham. And there are striking similarities between the visions of Green and Buckingham. In essence, Tusk is a logical progression along- a skewed path from Then Play On. Play the t 0 albums side by side, and the path becomes crystal clear.

A massive tour had been planned around Tusk, a year long, round-the-world-and back-again extravaganza which not only saw even more splintering of relationships within the band, it also provoked the departure of Richard Dashut, after five years working with the band. Tired and burned out, he just couldn't do it anymore, and as it turned out, neither could -the rest of the group. Nerves were frayed, and constant contact had taken their toll.

I The tour was the biggest the band had, ever undertaken, in terms of length and individual venues. Even in Britain, a country not then renowned for vast indoor gatherings, ticket demand was such that Fleetwood Mac found themselves playing what Fleetwood remembers as "funny factory sheds and things. I remember playing Birmingham Christine McVie's hometown, in some dreadful sounding place, covered in tin, and you know, it had 12,000, 15,000 people in there."

Amid all this, ever wilder rumors circulated that the band were breaking up. Every gig in every city saw some journalist ask that loaded question. The answer was always "no," but behind the scenes, matters were coming to a head.

Warners were still seething over the band's decision to issue a weird double album, instead of simply rewriting Rumours, and the sales figures backed them to the hilt: Rumours was still outselling its successor by five or six to one. The tour, too, had failed to turn the expected profit, and at a band meeting shortly after the tour ended, Mick Fleetwood was removed by the rest of the band (via their own individual representatives) as the group's overall manager.

It was this which toppled an already precarious situation. Fleetwood Mac were so huge that it was becoming more about managers, middlemen and go-betweens, and less about five people sitting down and getting on. It was clearly time for a break.

The band didn't break up, however. Rather, they chose to take a nine month hiatus, going their separate ways while each band member.(John McVie excepted) launched their own solo projects. That nine month break, however, would turn into three long years.

Early into the interim, in time for Christmas, 1980, Warners released Live, hoping to recoup some money from the four-million copy-selling "failure" that was Tusk, by releasing another double record set. Obviously the band had proved their point well, when they insisted that a double album would sell just fine!

Live contained performances culled front shows around the world during the Tusk tour. All the standard favorites were there, and this album has become, for many, the quintessential Mac album, showcasing as it does the unbelievable vibrancy and pure power of the band's live sets. To sweeten the deal,. several "new" songs were etched into the vin I grooves. "Fireflies" from Nicks, Christine McVie's pristine "One More Night," and "Don't Let Me Down Again" that familiar blast from the Buckingham Nicks past' The last, and a surprising addition, was a cover of Brain Wilson's "The Farmer's Daughter", credited with many thanks to the old Beach Boy

Meanwhile, the individual members began enjoying what would swiftly prove a very productive break. Fleetwood, for example, turned his full attention onto his interest in African rhythms (an African "talking drum" has long been part of his stage set up), by relocating to Ghana to record his The Visitor solo album - again with help from a passing Peter Green.

Nicks launched her own solo career, taking "Rhiannon" to the logical next level with Bella Donna, and a clutch of songs she had written - but been unable to fit into Fleetwood Mac - over the past four or, five years: According to Nicks herself, that album's biggest hit, "Leather And Lace," dates back to the Rumours period, and was originally demo-ed as a duet with Don Henley.

Lindsey, too, had been noodling down his own avenues, working on what would become Law And Order, and of course there is nothing like a few solo albums to set the hounds sniffing. Once again headlines screamed that Fleetwood Mac was dead during the early months of 1981. The band, how ever, were having none of it. They, reconvened in France in May, to begin work on Mirage.

Whereas Tusk reached back to the end of the Green era, ' Mirage was a, step back to recreate Rumours, perhaps to give the fans (and of course, the label accountants) what they thought they wanted.

"Yes, Mirage, in retrospect, was a little bit, of backtracking, where Lindsey came back into the-ranks of Fleetwood Mac creatively, rather than leading the rest of us on his own tangent. And was that album a mistake? No, because I don't think any album is a mistake. But I think, had we stuck to our guns, and Lindsey's guns a little bit more, we would have maybe taken it in a bit of a different route."

But there was more than a little pressure being exerted on the band members, an attempt to get them back to the sweet spot, and Mirage would fill that gap well. -

Although each member. brought songs to the studio, as usual, Fleetwood insisted that unlike Tusk, this time they work collectively, doing what they do best, with all five playing on every track. And the immediate response was good: Mirage went to #I. and all three singles - "Gypsy", "Hold Me", and "Love In Store" - would chart in the U.S., while the U.K. would put "Oh, Diane" in at a peak position of #15.

Again in the short term, the album sold better than its predecessor. But it. failed to hit the same chords that Rumours twanged, and at the end of the day, Mirage just didn't feel right at all.

Fleetwood admits, "after Rumours, Mirage was not by any means a failure... but it wasn't Rumours in terms of the dreaded ratio of success.

"We allowed, and probably Lindsey, if he were talking to you, would regretfully let on that he, against his better judgment, decided to really get into finding out what the band would do without any one person saying 'this is the root.' And that's what came out. There are some good things on that album, [Nicks'] 'Gypsy' is a great song. But there was a very slight element of saying, 'well, I wonder what we'd do if we were doing these songs in the same sort of musical frame of mind as Rumours? 'Just playing, that's how it was when we made Rumours. It was just a bunch of people playing. Whereas on Tusk, there were some real inroads creatively made and spearheaded by Lindsey, Mirage was back to business as usual."

But it wouldn't be back to business as usual for- the band after the record was released. The cracks were widening and for the first time, Fleetwood Ma I c would not tour in support of the record. instead they undertook a paltry eighteen show stint in the United States, culminating in the monstrous U.S. Festival in California. After that, the wind scattered everyone back to their own lives, and solo careers. it was an ill wind which Tattled Fleetwood to the quick.

"I felt sick when we stopped touring. I wanted to be on the move, touring until the cows came home. But the others were less enthusiastic. Christine had sessions for her own solo album scheduled ,and we'd have been lucky to get Stevie at all."

Again, the doomsayers were swift to pen the band's obituary, a task which was only made easier as the next three years placed the individual members Mac very firmly inside their respective solo careers. But the spirit that held them together was ever-present, and to insiders, it was inevitable that Fleetwood Mac would reform. Fleetwood himself credits Christine McVie with finally drawing the band back together.

Fifteen years had passed since McVie's last solo venture, the so-called Legendary Christine Perfect Album which was originally released before she joined Fleetwood Mac -and had finally charted in 1976. Now, Christine McVie had taken her into the Top 30, spawned a couple of hits, and placed her in a position of considerable power. She had even been asked to record Elvis Presley's "Can't Help Falling In Love" for the film A Fine Mess, and as the session beckoned, she called in Richard Dashut to produce her.

Dashut, meanwhile, had been working with Buckingham on his solo material, and one day, he casually mentioned that Buckingham might want to be involved, as Elvis was a performer near and dear to his heart.

As always seems to happen with this band, the jungle drums rumbled on, and soon, both Fleetwood and John McVie found themselves in the Studio, working on the song. And With four out of the five finding themselves having fun, the obvious choice was to call in the fifth, and make a new record.

But it would prove to be far from easy., Five members whose relationships are strained, plus five managers who only have their client's purse strings at heart, do not an easy reformation make.

Workwise, too, the situation was far from ideal. Buckingham was heavily ensconced in his own album, and Fleetwood remembers had to threaten to bring in a new guitarist before, he would commit to a new Fleetwood Mac project. Nicks, meanwhile, was touring heavily to support her own latest album, The Wild Heart, at the same time as undergoing enormous difficulty with drugs and alcohol. John McVie, too, was battling a drinking problem.

But the deal was finally cemented, and the, band returned to Dashut and Buckingham for production.

Buckingham brought songs from his solo project to the recording studio, and wrote "Mystified" and "You And I" with Christine McVie. Nicks literally flew in for a few days at, a time to add her parts, including the moving "Welcome To The Room, Sara" written about her recent stay at the Betty Ford Center. Slowly, and with much gnashing and pushing and pulling, Tango In The Night finally came together, and was released in the spying of 1987.

The album saw a string of singles, with "Big Love" and "Little Lies" coming into the top ten in the charts, simultaneously pulling the group into the MTV vortex. The music video moguls held record companies firmly in hand by the mid '80s, impressing upon everyone that if an album was cut, there had better some videos to back it up. Sales were driven less by radio and more by video, so Fleetwood Mac were duly dispatched to the front of the cameras. Bizarre images though they were, "Little Lies" and "Seven Wonders" went straight into heavy rotation at MTV, giving a plastic public what they wanted.

Fleetwood Mac had never been shy about releasing singles, and this album was no different. What was bizarre was the proliferation of strange, and strangely contemporary, remixes with which they saddled both "Little Lies" and "Big Love," none of which really seemed to fit the band's ideals. The marketplace, however, seemed to be lapping it all, up... and then the real blow came.

Tango was proving to be a highly successful album after such a long hiatus, and the inevitable topic of touring came up. Buckingham firmly refused to go on the road this time. He had pretty much affirmed that he was through with the band, going so far as to tell Creem magazine that he simply couldn't do what he wanted to do with Fleetwood Mac. It was a hurtful blow to the others, who may or may have not felt the same way, but didn't need to say it publicly.

Buckingham continued to waver on the subject of touring, and after a major band blowout, he walked out and essentially left the band. For good.

Looking back today, Fleetwood can understand his emotions.

"Lindsey is always looking to the future. I do, and I see vision, and God knows., I've been party to it. But I'm also an Irishman and ].'in sentimental. I'm proud Of the work I've been involved with in my duty with 'Fleetwood Mac. I don't have a problem in going, 'well,, it'd be sort of cool to do this and maybe we could put this back together and do this and do that.' But then you get Lindsey going, 'but, why?'."

And this time, nobody could answer him.

Reeling, the others decided to tour regardless, and promptly recruited singer/songwriter Billy Burnette (who had worked with both Fleetwood and Nicks in the past). But Fleetwood Mac still needed to fill Buckingham's lead guitar strings. Rick Vito bridged the gap perfectly. Well respected, Vito is a great blues fan and had cut his teeth on the old Fleetwood Mac blues albums in the '60s. lie was a perfect fit.

Despite its obvious potential, this newest incarnation of Fleetwood Mac would be brief. Having contributed a couple of new songs to the forthcoming Greatest Hits album, a -steady seller through 1988, the Burnette Vito line-up made its long playing debut on 1990',s Behind The Mask - which in turn proved a frustratingly slow seller. Even more damagingly this new album spawned but one top-40 single, Christine McVie's "Save Me" limping to #33, before falling into the same obscurity as the rest of the album. Yet at least one track from Behind The Mask, the epic "In The Back Of My Mind," ranks alongside any of the band's most adventurous (and successfully so) songs, and the album itself remains something of an overlooked gem.

Its failure, however, could riot sustain the band. In September, 1990, both Nicks and Christine McVie announced they would be leaving the band at the end of the current tour, a sold out show at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, CA. The appearance that same night of Lindsey Buckingham, on stage for an encore of "Landslide" and "Go Your Own Way," only added to the sense of finality. Reunited for one last time, the "classic" Fleetwood Mac was no more.

Fleetwood and McVie announced their intention to continue. By fall, 1991, however, Vito, too, had quit, and both Fleetwood and McVie were embroiled in-their own solo projects: McVie'--, wryly named Gotta Band, and Fleetwood's Zoo. Both would appear, to muted applause, in 1.992, and even a brief one off reunion at the request of President Clinton at his January,, 1993 inaugural ball couldn't bring Fleetwood Mac back together. Once again, the Buckingham-Nicks-Fleetwood-McVies team reunited onstage, to perform the President's adopted anthem "Don't Stop," but it, was only because when the president asks, one doesn't really say no.

Meanwhile, Fleetwood was also performing what many observers believed was essentially the last rites, compiling the four CD Fleetwood Mac retrospective, The Chain.

He explains, "I think one of the things I like is when... the Rolling Stones are a band that really reconfigures a lot of their old work. In all sorts of different packages, and different running orders of albums and songs, things from Between The Buttons put with Aftermath and whatever. Quite frankly, it's good marketing. They remarket their wears and tears, and I love all that. I'll always go and buy The Best Of The Byrds or Marvin Gaye's Greatest Hits. I'm a sucker for that, and I actually like it and think there is a real demand for that. That's just part of my onward going thing where I see that type of thing as a bigger Picture."

Fleetwood Mac, however, have never been adequately repackaged. True, their early blues albums have been mixed and matched ad nauseam, with the original lineup's first three records now available in so many permutations that it is sometimes hard to remember how they originally flowed. And of course, there was 1988s Greatest Hits album, concentrating on the post-1975 lineup 's most successful confections.

But never had anybody sat down and seriously attempted to establish an historical perspective on the band's entire career. That was the task which Fleetwood set himself, and in many ways, he succeeded. The Chain was a very interesting set, loaded with rarities and unreleased material, but it had its downside as well, as Fleetwood himself acknowledges. It was slanted far too heavily in favor of the post-1975 line-up, 'at the expense of all that had gone before.

"That box set was about the history of Fleetwood Mac," he agrees, "and to a certain extent, weights and balances sway a little too much attention to the band that I'm on the road with now. I like that box set more now than when I put it together. I put it more or less together with Ken Callait and Richard [Dashut], and the rest of the band really weren't that involved." Indeed, Stevie Nicks' only involvement appears to have been when she called up asking that Fleetwood drop her "Silver Springs" from the running order, so that she might include it on her own, forthcoming, solo best of.

He refused: Since the Rumours out-Lake first appeared on the b-side of "Go Your Own Way" back in .1977, demand for it to be included on album had grown immeasurably. For it to be omitted from this latest Fleetwood Mac project would, in Fleetwood's eyes, be tantamount to treason.

Rumors that a second box was imminent, bringing together the best of the band's post-Green/pre-Fleetwood Mac period, proved premature-. and while the band's blues era has remained well cataloged (in Britain, Castle/Essential brought most of it together in the three CD The Blues Years box), the only


Date: 1997-11-21         Number of views: 4466

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