By Craig McLean
May 27th, 2017
Turning her back on Fleetwood Mac. Teaming up with Chrissie Hynde. And ditching drugs with a little help from Prince. The rock icon confronts all those rumours
Now this is a treat. It’s Saturday night in a cavernous rehearsal facility in the San Fernando Valley, over the hills from Hollywood, and I’m enjoying a private concert from rock ’n’ roll’s greatest woman – a living, breathing, dancing, sunglasses-indoors legend. Ahead of an American tour, Stevie Nicks is running through a selection of hits from her multi-million-selling career as a solo artist and as frontwoman with Fleetwood Mac.
Rhiannon, Gold Dust Woman, Stand Back, The Wild Heart, Edge Of Seventeen: these are some of the best-loved songs of the past 40 years. And the woman who wrote them – more used to wowing arenas – is standing a few feet away, singing them to me, bashing a tambourine as if her life depended on it, swirling in a vision of black scarves and drapes.
During a break, I sit down with Nicks and, as she cradles her beloved terrier Lily, she talks. And talks. At the age of 69, this warm, witty woman remains as irrepressible as ever. As is usual in the world of Fleetwood Mac, there’s a lot to discuss. One topic is her upcoming US shows with fellow icon Chrissie Hynde, in support of Nicks’ 24 Karat Gold album. Another is rumours of a Fleetwood Mac tour – a tour that’s possibly a farewell one.
But more pressing is the imminent release of Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie. It’s ostensibly a duo album from Mac guitarist Buckingham and keyboard player/singer McVie. In the set-up and billing, it feels like a successor to Buckingham Nicks. This legendary ‘lost’ 1973 album was made by Stevie and Lindsey – then a couple – before the Californians joined a mouldering English blues band led by drummer Mick Fleetwood and assisted by bass player John McVie.
Their duo act didn’t last, and neither did their relationship. But Nicks’ and Buckingham’s songwriting contribution – not to mention their split, as famously documented in their songs on 1977’s 40-million-selling album Rumours – helped rocket-power Fleetwood Mac to Seventies rock’s mega-league.
When we speak, Nicks hasn’t heard the Buckingham/McVie album. ‘I was gone when they were doing it,’ she says. ‘I was in Nashville making 24 Karat Gold. And when they were finishing it, I was on this last tour. I’m sure it’s pretty great, because why wouldn’t it be?’
John McVie (Christine’s ex-husband) and Mick Fleetwood also play on the album. Which begs the question: if Nicks had contributed, would it have been a Fleetwood Mac album? The band haven’t made an album since 2003’s Say You Will, so it feels like time…
‘It probably would have been, but I had just given three years to Fleetwood Mac [for the last tour] and I wanted two years off. And they decided to go into the studio and I said: “I’m not going. But you guys can do whatever you want.”’
She understands why Christine was keen to make the album. The English keyboard player rejoined Fleetwood Mac in 2014 after a decade-and-a-half’s retirement in Kent.
‘Christine had been gone for 16 years and she had [only] done one tour and she needed to work. She needed to stand in front of those keyboards and write songs and play. And that’s why Fleetwood Mac will probably go back out next year and do a farewell tour,’ Nicks reveals. ‘Because Chris really wants to. Because she was gone for so long.’
For her part, Nicks can’t conceive of retiring. In that regard, her current partner is the perfect musical compadre. Both Nicks and Hynde have been through the sex and drugs and rock ’n’ roll wars. Tragically, The Pretenders’ frontwoman lost two band mates to drugs, while Nicks has had her own well-publicised battles with addiction in the Seventies and Eighties. She’s also had her share of intense love affairs: with Buckingham, with Fleetwood, and also with Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh and producer-turned-Apple-exec Jimmy Iovine.
These days, though, she’s contentedly single, surrounded by a wide circle of musician friends and various godchildren. Nicks’ homes in Los Angeles – one on the beach in Venice and one in the nearby hills – are retreats where she can indulge her love of writing poetry, reading the Twilight novels and watching Game Of Thrones.
That said: while both Nicks and ardent vegetarian Hynde, 65, are now both the epitome of clean and serene, they’re also capable of kicking up an onstage storm.
‘We became really good friends,’ says Nicks. ‘She calls me the Elizabeth Taylor of rock ’n’ roll. Because I always arrive in [hair] rollers with my big Elizabeth Taylor sunglasses, and my hair’s usually wrapped because it was cold when we first went out on tour.
‘But on stage, we don’t feel old. And hopefully we don’t look old! When we feel it’s not cool any more, we’ll change our shows. We’ll do more intimate shows and we’ll do more ballads. We’ll never be age-inappropriate.’
As for her ‘day-job’ band, their shows remain as huge, hits-filled and entertaining as ever. ‘When we did the last Fleetwood Mac show, on my birthday,’ Nicks recalls, referring to the band’s gig at London’s O2 in May 2015, ‘it was the nicest birthday I’d had in ten years. Harry Styles brought back a cake. Mick [Fleetwood] has kind of adopted him. There are just women in Mick’s family and Harry is that tall, lanky musical son he always wanted, so they keep in touch.’
Indeed, so do Styles and Nicks. A few weeks after our meeting, she joins the visibly awestruck 23-year-old onstage for three songs at LA’s Troubadour. Even the hottest 20-something in pop has his fanboy moments.
No doubt Nicks’ UK fans, celebrity and otherwise, will be out in force at London’s Hyde Park in July. As part of the British Summer Time concerts, she’s playing with headliners Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers. She counts Petty as her lifelong musical brother, and she pops up several times in the Florida rocker’s recent authorised biography, Petty. And the affection between the pair goes both ways.
‘There was a point when Tom thought I was probably not going to make it,’ says Nicks. ‘He said, “I started to expect I would get a phone call to say that Stevie had died from a drugs overdose”.’
Nicks has always been wholly honest about her years abusing drugs, notably cocaine. But she’s come out the other side, not just intact but shining. The same, tragically, can’t be said for her friend Prince. The pair collaborated on Nicks’ 1983 solo album The Wild Heart, and the two remained close.
‘He was as against drugs as anybody I’ve ever known. But what happened with him was that from the very beginning, he was doing insane things like jumping off six-foot risers in little Argentinian heels – and smashing down into the ground.’
Prince was reported to have died from an accidental overdose of the prescription painkiller Fentanyl.
‘He thought I absolutely was going to die of a drugs overdose. This guy gave me a lecture on over-the-counter cough medicine!’ she exclaims. ‘That’s when I was totally a drug addict and he was straight as an arrow. He’d bring me cough medicine when I was sick and then I’d ask for another spoon of it, and he’d go, “I didn’t come here to start you on a new drug!” I’m like, “Come on, really, please, seriously?” ’Cos I’ve done way worse.’
That, however, is a long way behind her. Now Nicks gets all her highs playing shows. ‘When I go up on that stage, that arena is my own personal house of love. And I’m going up there to tell these funny stories and to make people pump their fists in the air. I want to bring joy to these people.’
The same applies to Fleetwood Mac. Nicks ‘of course’ will take part in the band tour she mentioned earlier. But will it really be a farewell trek? ‘Well, we’re not young. The thing is, I’m probably still going to be performing long after next year. But as for everybody else, I don’t know. We’ll be skating into our seventies.’
For her part, performing is what keeps Nicks youthful and rocking – and with an energy and enthusiasm artists half her age would kill for. ‘Totally!’ she says. ‘It’s the love of my life.’