St. Louis Post-Dispatch
By: Alan Sculley
MICK FLEETWOOD openly acknowledges that Fleetwood Mac is at a career crossroads as the band prepares for a summerlong tour with Crosby, Stills & Nash.
Singer/songwriter Stevie Nicks has left the band. Guitarist Lindsey Buckingham has decided not to return. Keyboardist Christine McVie is participating, but only in the studio and not on tour. Two new members, guitarist Dave Mason and singer Bekka Bramlett, are trying to find their niche alongside drummer Fleetwood, fellow founding member and bassist John McVie and guitarist Billy Burnette, a holdover from the most recent version of the group.
Is Fleetwood scared about how this lineup will be accepted, given the expectations that can come with a group of such chart-topping popularity?
Yes, he said bluntly. But he's also excited, and why wouldn't he be? He and McVie have been through the process of rebuilding Fleetwood Mac before - probably more times than they would care to admit.
"It's another major move. There's no doubt of it," Fleetwood said. "And we're of the mind - and I tend to say `we' because it is everyone, but certainly John and I talk about these sorts of things in depth - we just decided that we were going to meet it head-on. Let's just go for it and do it.
"That's the spirit of what we're doing now. There are no rules in terms of where it ends up. All we know is we're going to go out and do a great tour, play our hearts out, get off the tour, finish the album and that's it."
The long, winding saga of Fleetwood Mac began in 1967 when McVie, Fleetwood and guitarist Jeremy Spencer were recruited by guitarist and singer Peter Green to form the original Mac. The band, which featured a blues rock sound, enjoyed immediate success, especially in England, where the 1968 debut topped the charts.
By 1970, Green was no longer interested in the band and quit. The remaining members, who by this time included guitarist Danny Kirwan, soldiered on, bringing in Christine McVie to help fill the void left by Green. Over the next four years, the band recorded and toured frequently, but endured more upheaval.
Spencer abruptly disappeared, plucked off a Los Angeles street by the religious sect that he joined. Kirwan left after he had a stormy falling out with guitarist Bob Welch, who was hired to replace Spencer and was with the band from 1971 to '74. Welch went on to enjoy success as a solo artist during the late '70s.
Of the three original guitarists, Spencer has found peace in his post-Mac days with his religion, Fleetwood said, but Green has abandoned his music career and Kirwan has fallen on hard times.
"When Peter made that album called `The End of the Game,' it was the end of the game," Fleetwood said. "From that moment on, he ceased to perform in the world that you and I really choose to be in. He functions, but he functions on a level that makes him feel comfortable. He's very quiet. He does what he wants to do, enjoys his walking, enjoys listening to music, and that's about it. He doesn't play anymore, which is a real drag - one could say a tragedy because it's such a loss.
"Danny, from all accounts, is the worst off of all three of them . . . and there's nothing anyone can do. He's gone. He lives on the street, and that's what he does."
With Welch's departure, the band's survival instincts were once again tested. But Fleetwood and the McVies pushed on and located two new recruits - Buckingham and Nicks - who would change their fortunes forever.
That lineup lasted 12 years. It survived a divorce between the McVies and a split between Buckingham and Nicks, who had also been romantically involved, to create several hugely popular, artistically satisfying records, including "Fleetwood Mac" (1975), "Rumours" (the 1977 release that was No. 1 for 31 straight weeks), the 1979 double album "Tusk" ("the most important Fleetwood Mac album that was ever made," Fleetwood said) and "Tango in the Night" (1987).
Surviving the romantic splits, which were chronicled in telling detail in the lyrics of "Rumours," gave the lineup strength to match its unique musical chemistry.
"It (the `Rumours' period) taught us an incredible amount of acceptance that really put us in very good stead for our 12 odd years we were going to be together," Fleetwood said.
"And we were together. I mean, for eight of those years we were literally living in each other's pockets. If we weren't on the road, we were in the studio. When we were in the studio, the girls were living together and the guys were all in a house together.
"We went through so much emotional trauma during `Rumours' that really anything that came our way that could have been construed as a threat to the band breaking up looked so pale and shallow. We thought, well, we're still here after that. . . . It was an emotional training ground really."
But when Buckingham abruptly quit on the eve of the already booked "Tango in the Night" tour in 1987, the band faced a huge crisis. It was answered when Fleetwood recurited guitarists Burnette and Rick Vito to do the tour and the next album, "Behind the Mask."
"That album was classic Fleetwood Mac going into some absolute survival mode in a very, very successful way," Fleetwood said. "Rick and Billy came into Fleetwood Mac at literally a moment's notice. We rehearsed for six or seven weeks, and we went out and very successfully transcended a major problem in losing Lindsey Buckingham."
This brings us to today's Mac. Finding a new guitarist was a key. Mason, a friend of Fleetwood who in the early '80s had lived in a house on Fleetwood's expansive Malibu, Calif., property, became the choice almost by accident.
"They (the early '80s) were great days, but they were completely and utterly insane, a lot of drug abuse and drinking. It was not to be repeated at this point in my life," Fleetwood said. "Anyway, Dave was around heavily in those days. Wild and crazy times were had, and I got to know Dave really well."
Moving the story forward, Fleetwood continued: "I spent just under a year looking for a guitar player, and I mean really looking for a guitar player. It was the one time that I didn't have someone up my sleeve.
"So the end of the story was, Dave phoned me up, and I said I'm going bananas here (trying to find a guitarist). And I jokingly said, `I tell you what, Dave, I'm going to have to put you in the (bleeping) band if I don't find someone soon.' And immediately, he said seriously, `Mick, I would love to do it.' and we'd never really discussed it - ever - during our whole friendship."
By contrast, Bramlett, the daughter of the early '70s musical team Delaney & Bonnie, had long figured in the new Fleetwood Mac equation - even before Nicks officially bowed out. Bramlett had been part of Fleetwood's side band, The Zoo, and had impressed him not only with her bluesy singing voice but with her studio smarts and budding ability as a songwriter.
"She's excited, but she's fearful in that artistic sort of way," Fleetwood said. "She's thinking, `Oh, God, I hope they're going to like me,' because she is the girl out in the front and she is taking over for someone (Nicks) who is mega-mega, an aura that goes from here to Timbuktu.
"But she's thrilled. She was dressing up in Stevie clothes when she was a kid. It's pretty wild.
"But she's . . . vocally such a different kettle of fish from Stevie, it's not like there's any cloning going on here at all. She's a statement and a talent in her own right, and that's why we've got her there.
"We didn't want any ambiguity at all about (anyone) thinking we found someone who is sort of Stevie II. This is not Stevie II. Stevie's not to be touched."
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