US Airlines In Flight Magazine
Merging an afﬁnity for splendid and soaring melodies, a playful sensuality, and a musical undergirding built on equal parts across-the-pond blues and stateside decadence, Fleetwood Mac was arguably the quintessential pop band of the 1970s. Though the band had enjoyed some moderate success in the late ’60s and early ’70s, it was the arrival of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks in 1975 that gave the band a new sound, a new image, and Beatlesque chart success. During his tenure with Fleetwood Mac, Buckingham penned and produced some of the most resonant and hummable pop songs of the ’70s and ’80s, including “Go Your Own Way,” “Big Love,” “Tusk,” and “Don’t Stop.”
Today, Buckingham, who previously seemed a tortured virtuoso in a disposable pop landscape, emanates serenity, genuine gratitude, and no shortage of musical wit. Perhaps the new calm is because Buckingham has taken on the roles of husband (he married girlfriend Kristen Messner in 2000) and father (the youngest of his three children was born in 2004) over the last decade. Perhaps it’s that, after a 14-year delay, he’s just released his fourth solo album, the largely acoustic, deeply intimate Under the Skin. Regardless, Buckingham is an artist for the ages, always reaching and searching, never shying away from documenting his journey — and perhaps that of an entire generation — in memorable, personal tunes.
The success of Fleetwood Mac has given you the freedom to be more experimental in your solo career. But with fourteen years between solo albums, you’re like the Thomas Pynchon or Terence Malick of pop music. Why so long?
One is, I tend to work slowly. Beyond that, there’s a broader pattern that has to do with being in a mainstream group and wanting to be a member in good standing. In that situation, you’re always walking a tightrope of trying to meet your own needs and serving the needs of the collective. It’s hard for me to just say, “No, go away” to Fleetwood Mac. There were several times in those fourteen years where the [solo project] intention was there and the work was underway, but Fleetwood Mac came calling. We did a live album, an extensive tour, a studio album, and another round of shows. That’s my list of excuses. [Laughs.]
Between solo albums, in your ﬁfties, you also married for the ﬁrst time and became a father. How has starting a family later in life changed you?
Well, it answered an awful lot of questions that had been hanging out there for me for a long time. And of course, it brings up a lot of questions about the path that I had been on: What is that path? Why had I been doing that for so long? Was it a noble path, or not? I think it’s all a mixed bag.
This is the best time of my life, musically and in every other way, but everything that got me to where I am musically came from the past. Yet here I am in a brand-new situation, faced with the challenges of striking a new balance. I think Under the Skin is about searching for that balance. The Fleetwood Mac experience was living in a state of denial in a lot of ways, in order to get through some of that drama. With Under the Skin, I’m writing with a clarity and directness, in a very open, autobiographical way that I don’t think I’ve ever done before — even though a lot of people thought Mac albums like Rumours were entirely autobiographical. We never saw it that way until years later. It was like, “Oh, yeah. I guess that’s how I was feeling.”
A Fleetwood Mac show is as much about the music as a time machine as anything else, which is why you currently see an epidemic of bands reuniting.
There are rumors Fleetwood Mac will reunite next year.
[Laughs.] It’s a little hard to say, exactly. But I would be surprised if we weren’t sort of kicking around in rehearsals by, I don’t know, maybe the fall of 2008. We’ll see.
This year will witness the reunion of several major bands from the Fleetwood Mac era: Genesis, The Police, Van Halen, Eagles. Thirty years later, what do these bands, most of them fronted by Baby Boomers, mean in the history of rock and roll?
I think the legacy of bands that are doing what Fleetwood Mac was doing, and for as long as we were doing it, has not been written just yet. It’s still not clear yet what these bands really mean in the long run. The cliché is that rock ’n’ roll was always for people under thirty. The ridiculous saying “Never trust anyone over thirty” is so indicative of a perspective that the Baby Boomers had at the time, when everyone saw a sense of corruption and selling out and compromise coming into one’s life around that age…. Well, there may be some truth to that. [Laughs.] But it’s up to each one of us to deﬁne ourselves in our own ways. It is difﬁcult to do that. It’s certainly been difﬁcult for my generation to do that.
Is there artistic merit to these reunions, or is it merely a cash-in for bands and a time warp for fans?
People who come to a Fleetwood Mac show want to hear all the songs that will propel them back to the seventies. It’s as much about the music as a time machine as anything else, which is why you currently see an epidemic of bands reuniting. It’s not at all inappropriate for audiences to be granted that experience, or for bands to be able to honor their bodies of work in that way.
You’ve been at the frontline of the music business for over thirty years. How has the industry changed over time?
There are really two kinds of artists. There’s the band that, continually, from project to project, is looking for the right producer and the right situation to re-create what they became famous for, and they’re probably almost always disappointed. And then there are other artists who just do what they want to do. I think it’s always been like this. I went through a little of this with Warner Brothers Records while I was making Under the Skin, because they did want me to put out a quote-unquote “normal” album, with more rock tunes on it. But I don’t make Green Day records, you know? [Laughs.] It was very difﬁcult for me to get them to see they were missing the point. I think at this stage in the game I might have earned the right to make the records I want to make.
People sometimes forget that before Rumours sold tens of millions of copies, Fleetwood Mac had released a lot of albums that at best enjoyed only modest success. Would a band like Fleetwood Mac survive in today’s music industry?
Most of the albums in the band’s early years, before I joined, were non sequiturs — [there were] a lot of revolving band members, not a lot of consistency, not a lot of hits, but the band kept making music. And Mo Ostin, a legendary guy who was running Warner Brothers Records at the time, was strong or brave or crazy enough to go, “Well, we’re not making any money on this, and I have no idea what it all means or where it’s going, but I’m just going to keep them on the label. I think there’s something there.” Just on instinct, right? Then look what happened in 1975: Fleetwood Mac becomes one of the biggest bands in the world. In today’s climate, there’s very little room for instinct.
There’s not a lot of nurture for bands today, which is not to say there are not lots of good guys running labels, but not one of them is allowed to run a label on instinct or passion anymore. I think we may be missing a lot of great bands because of it. There never would have been a Fleetwood Mac [without it], I know that.
In between the Fleetwood Mac reunions and tours, a lot of the band’s music has been co-opted by various aspects of pop culture, most famously in 1992, when Bill Clinton adopted “Don’t Stop” as his inauguration theme song. How do you feel about your songs being “borrowed” in those ways?
The Bill Clinton thing was such an out-of-context thing. I didn’t feel all that great about going out to do that. It was just so bizarre. But in retrospect, I was ﬁne with supporting him, especially given what we have now. [Laughs.] If you don’t want to be overly snobby about it, you can say, “It’s great that the music has worked its way into the fabric of consciousness in such a way that somebody wants to interpret it for some other kind of agenda.” As long as it’s a worthy agenda. [Laughs.] There’s not too much you can do about that kind of thing. You can’t spend too much time worrying about it.
The song “Go Your Own Way” has also had many lives. In fact, you re-recorded it for the new album. How has that song changed for you over the years?
That song is such a live capper. It gets the audience involved in a big way at the end of a show. It’s a lot of fun, that song. But I still think about those lyrics. That was a very clear message to Stevie [Nicks], when I wrote that.
It’s very hard to be objective about your own work, or to get much of a sense of the ways it may work itself into the cultural fabric. I always go back to when I ﬁrst presented that song to the band — how well it was ﬁrst received; the acoustic guitar part, which was put on at the eleventh hour in the studio; about a major DJ in L.A. saying, “Gee, I don’t think I like that” because he couldn’t ﬁnd the beat. It’s an anthem. I guess it’s a song that can transcend its original meaning. And to some degree, when I think about the road that I’ve traveled, which has been on its own terms, it reﬂects the life I’ve lived, even though the verses are very speciﬁc about a relationship I once had. There’s a less painful quality to that song, with time. It’s become more uplifting or joyful for me through the years. It might be a celebration now, which it deﬁnitely was not at the time.
What makes a great pop song?
I don’t know what makes a good pop song. It’s very hard to put it down, to use a set of criteria. Sometimes I’ll disparage people from the record company who sit and listen to only thirty seconds of a song and pass judgment, but there is a truth to that. If [it’s] a good song, that is all you need to hear. It has you or it doesn’t, and a lot of it comes down to magic — it moves you or it doesn’t. And I just don’t know. It’s a mystery. [Laughs.] If I knew more, I’d write more hits.
Line-up changes are an inevitable part of any rock band’s existence. But arguably no major band weathered so many comings and goings while maintaining a steady musical output as Fleetwood Mac did from the time it formed in 1967 until the arrival of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks in 1975. Here’s a look at the musicians who helped shape Fleetwood Mac’s early sound, as well as the ones who helped the band transition from its blues-based roots into one of the most successful pop bands of all time.
Tour of Duty: 1967
The Story: When Fleetwood Mac was formed, Brunning was tabbed as bass player — with the understanding he would relinquish the job if John McVie ever left John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers. Mcvie did just that a few weeks after Fleetwood Mac played its first live concert, so Brunning moved on to British blues stalwarts Savoy Brown, where he recorded only one single before putting his performing career on the back burner in order to focus on teaching.
But he never gave up his love of the blues. Since 1968, he has been recording and playing on a part-time basis, mainly in The De Luxe Blues Band.
Tour of Duty: 1967–1970
The Story: If there had been no Peter Green, it’s unlikely there would have been a Fleetwood Mac. After receiving accolades as Eric Clapton’s replacement in John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, Green formed Fleetwood Mac in 1967; the lineup on the eponymous debut album included Green, Jeremy Spencer on slide guitar, Mick Fleetwood on drums, and John McVie on bass. (When guitarist Danny Kirwan joined the band after the release of its second album, Fleetwood Mac became one of the first “three-guitar attack” bands in the world.)
Green’s blues-infused guitar work defined the early Fleetwood Mac sound, but despite having founded the band and recruiting all the players, Green called it quits in 1970. The move was due in large part to his increasingly irrational behavior that even he admitted could be traced to his heavy use of LSD. Green began recording sporadically in the late 1970s, but was never able to consistently re-create the success of his early career. He did, however, appear for his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998 as a member of Fleetwood Mac. He even treated viewers to a performance of “Black Magic Woman” with Carlos Santana — a Green composition which appeared on Fleetwood Mac’s 1969 compilation album English Rose.
Tour of Duty: 1967–1971
The Story: Peter Green was searching for a second guitarist to give Fleetwood Mac a more fuller sound during live performances, and he found one in Jeremy Spencer. Spencer’s specialty was slide guitar: He was heavily influenced by Elmore James, a Mississippi bluesman dubbed “King of the Slide Guitar.” He also had a knack for mimicry and imitations, doing fairly convincing vocal takes of icons like Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly.
After Peter Green left the group, the band soldiered on with Spencer and Kirwan on guitars and McVie and Fleetwood manning the rhythm section. But during a U.S. tour in February, 1971, Spencer vanished on the day of a scheduled gig at Whiskey A Go Go in Hollywood; it was discovered a few days later he’d joined the highly controversial Children of God religious movement (some consider it a full-blown cult). Although Spencer recorded a few albums after joining the Children of God, now called The Family International, his decision resulted in an extended vacation from the rock ‘n’ roll mainstream. He was, however, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, and in 2006 he released Precious Little to favorable reviews.
Tour of Duty: 1968–1972
The Story: Danny Kirwan was just 18 years old when Peter Green asked him to become the third guitarist in Fleetwood Mac (mainly because Green felt slide guitarist Jeremy Spencer was not pulling his weight as a backing musician). With Kirwan’s arrival, Spencer took more of a sideline role. Green and Kirwan penned all the songs on 1969’s Then Play On, considered one of the best Fleetwood Mac albums of the Peter Green era.
Kirwan saw considerable changes in the Fleetwood Mac lineup during his tenure with the band, with Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer leaving the group and Bob Welch and Christine McVie joining it. The latter lineup released two albums (Future Games and Bare Trees) before Kirwan’s volatile temperament and prodigious alcohol consumption finally pushed things to a breaking point: After an argument with Welch over a guitar tuning, Kirwan rammed his head into a wall, smashed his guitar to bits, and refused to go onstage. As a result, in the summer of 1972 Kirwan became the first person to ever be fired from Fleetwood Mac.
After releasing three solo albums between 1975 and 1979, Kirwan vanished from the public eye and reportedly went through several years of homelessness before settling into a more stable lifestyle. He too was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Fleetwood Mac in 1998.
Tour of Duty: 1971–1974
The Story: When Jeremy Spencer went AWOL during Fleetwood Mac’s 1971 tour, the band pleaded with Peter Green to rejoin the group in order to finish up some tour dates, which Green agreed to do. But Green obviously wouldn’t reunite permanently with the group, so the band recruited California native Bob Welch to fill Spencer’s slot. With Welch’s arrival, the band began to move away from its bluesy roots and more into the realm of pop-rock.
In the three years he was with the band, Welch managed to record more albums (five) than any of his guitarist predecessors. He also achieved something no other Fleetwood Mac refugee had yet done: score major chart success after leaving the band. His 1977 album French Kiss yielded hits like “Sentimental Lady” (originally recorded on the Fleetwood Mac album Bare Trees) and “Ebony Eyes.”
Though Welch’s presence helped hold the band together during turbulent times, things apparently weren’t all sweetness and light: Welch sued the band in 1994, claiming he was shortchanged on royalties (an out-of-court settlement was eventually reached). His latest album was 2006’s His Fleetwood Mac Years and Beyond 2.
Tour of Duty: 1972–1973
The Story: Guitarist Bob Weston was on the road with R&B singer Long John Baldry when he met Fleetwood Mac and was asked to step in as a replacement for Danny Kirwan in 1972. He recorded two albums with the band, Penguin and Mystery to Me, both of which were released in 1973. Both albums performed moderately well (the former reached No. 49 on Billboard’s Pop Album chart, while the latter peaked at No. 67), and the group hit the road to support the releases. The tour, too, was going along swimmingly — until Mick Fleetwood found out that his wife, Jenny, was having an affair with Weston. (This wasn’t the only marital rift going on at the time: Christine McVie was having an affair with producer Martin Birch.) Not wanting to be the reason for the disruption of the tour, Fleetwood attempted to carry on with Weston still in the band, but by October of 1973 he simply couldn’t handle it anymore and Weston was summarily dismissed.
But the strangest part was yet to come. When Bob Welch called Fleetwood Mac’s manager Clifford Davis and explained that the tour would have to be cut short, Davis claimed to own the rights to the name “Fleetwood Mac” and hastily assembled a replacement band that would go down in history as “Fake Mac.” The ensuing lawsuit kept Fleetwood Mac out of action for nearly a year.
Weston went on to release three solo albums, the most recent being 1999’s There’s a Heaven.
Tour of Duty: 1972–1973
The Story: Bob Brunning, the first member to leave Fleetwood Mac, signed on with Savoy Brown after his departure; Dave Walker, on the other hand, joined Fleetwood Mac after recording three albums with Savoy Brown. And while Walker’s stint with Fleetwood Mac wasn’t as ephemeral as Brunning’s, it was still a mere blip in the band’s history.
Part of the reason Walker might have been tagged for vocal duties is that he hailed from Christine McVie’s hometown of Birmingham, England. What’s more, during his tenure with Savoy Brown he had worked with three members of her former band, Chicken Shack. But when the time came to record Penguin, it was clear that Walker was the odd man out. His contributions were minimal, and the one Walker-penned song on the album, “The Derelict,” was never properly finished in terms of production. During the recording of Mystery to Me, Walker was asked to leave the band.
Walker found himself back in the spotlight when he was asked to front Black Sabbath after Ozzy Osbourne left the band in 1977. Before the group could record new material with lyrics written by Walker, however, Ozzy rejoined the group and Walker was once again on his own. In 1986, he reunited with Savoy Brown, eventually recording three more albums with them.
He began living in Montana in the 1990s and was out of the limelight for over a decade. In 2004, Dave Walker and the Ambulators released Mostly Sonny: A Tribute to Sonny Boy Williamson, to positive user reviews.
— Steven Poole