Bummer News: Fleetwood Mac Tells Lindsey Buckingham To Go His Own Way

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*Picture taken from the Rumors record sleeve and is probably copyrighted

I know there’s nothing to say, someone’s taken my place…” Fleetwood Mac, “Second Hand News” composed by Lindsey Buckingham

“I heard the news today, oh boy,” that Lindsey Buckingham, lead guitarist, songwriter, producer and vocalist for Fleetwood Mac was fired by the band in early April. He’s apparently being replaced by guitarist and former Heartbreaker Mike Campbell who played on some of Stevie Nicks’ solo albums and has a connection with her, which is nice I guess. I’m glad Mike has found a job, he’s too talented to sit at home. Also named as a replacement for Buckingham was Neil Finn of Crowded House fame. He sings and plays a little guitar. This isn’t the first time Buckingham has left Fleetwood Mac. He quit in 1987 right before the tour in support of Tango In The Night. At that time he was replaced by Rick Vito (guitarist) and Billy Burnette (vocals/guitar). When he quit in ’87 I remember my friend Stormin’, who was as dejected by the news as I was, saying, “Not only did the fucker quit, the band made him look good by replacing him with not one guy but two.” It appears they’ve done the same thing again… Stormin’s wisdom rings true today.

I am bummed to hear this news. In the immortal words of Rodney King, “Can’t we all get along?” Joe Strummer always said, “never underestimate the chemistry of those particular (five) people in a room…” Lindsey was so much more than a guitarist/vocalist in the Mac. He did more to shape the sound of Fleetwood Mac than anybody else. Like any great player he seemed to elevate the folks around him. I remember when he left the first time. He said after breaking up with Stevie Nicks, his job was to come in and produce her songs, to make them better, and it wasn’t something he was particularly inclined to do after their acrimonious split. Oh, well. Tom Petty once said that only Buckingham can get Nicks’ songs to sound the way she wants them to. Many people think of Fleetwood Mac as being “mellow.” I prefer to think of them the way Buckingham does… that they were more melodic than most bands, but they still rocked. Hell, even my college roommate Matthew, whose entire record collection at the time consisted solely of heavy metal records (I’d never seen that much Kiss) had a few Fleetwood Mac albums.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised by the news. Even in the photos above, from the Rumours record sleeve, he’s standing apart from the band in half the pics. Of course, the same could be said for Mick Fleetwood, who as drummer has been one of the few constants in the band, so I might be reading into this. Lindsey always comes across in interviews as somewhat arrogant (which is probably earned) and pissy (probably not earned). I have to keep reminding myself, that this is a band who have had as many line-up changes as Yes. In the mid 70’s there was even a “fake” Fleetwood Mac out on tour. Lawsuits were filed. If you think about it, this has been a band whose music is largely about love, heartbreak and breaking up… and they’re a band that has kind of been perpetually breaking up their entire career.

The band was originally formed in the late 1960s by former John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers’ guitarist Peter Green. I’m kind of hopeful that the inclusion of Mike Campbell in the new line-up means they might actually return to some of those older blues tracks on the upcoming tour. It’d be a great way to spotlight Campbell’s virtuoso guitar work. Green only lasted in the band around three years before he left due to mental illness. It’s said he has schizophrenia. Later, one of the other guitarists in the band, Jeremy Spencer left to go out and get a magazine and never came back which sounds like an uncle of mine. They found out a few days later he’d joined a religious cult. You can’t make this shit up. They had to fire another guitarist, Danny Kirwan because of alcoholism. If you’re in a band with John McVie and you drink so much you get fired, you’re drinking too much. And this is a site half-named for Kentucky whiskey. Bob Welch, who’d help steer them into some small bit of mainstream popularity with songs like “Sentimental Lady” and “Hypnotized” left to pursue a solo career. Keyboardist Christine Perfect had to marry John McVie just to get into the band…

It was after all that turmoil, while the band was looking for a new producer, a new studio to record in and a new guitarist that producer Keith Olsen played them the Buckingham Nicks album. They immediately tried to hire Buckingham as their new guitarist/vocalist and he agreed on the condition they include his then girlfriend Stevie Nicks in the band. The rest, as they say, is history. The Fleetwood Mac album from 1975 was the Mac’s biggest seller to date. The follow up, 1977’s Rumours, their masterpiece, is one of the biggest selling albums of all time. It was so amazing they relegated one of the best tracks, “Silver Springs” to a b-side. The chemistry of Buckingham, Nicks, John and Christine McVie, with Mick Fleetwood was undeniable, lightning-in-a-bottle. Along with the Eagles they defined the late-70s California sound.

During those heady days, the two romantic relationships in the band, the McVie’s and Buckingham/Nicks broke up. Drummer Mick Fleetwood ended up getting divorced from his wife and had an affair with Nicks. Ah, the ’70s. I’ve heard Fleetwood Mac’s music described as the recording of an orgy, but I’ve never been to an orgy and can’t really say. Surprisingly, all of that romantic turmoil didn’t break up the band. What almost broke up the band was the pressure to repeat the success of Rumours. 

Heavily influenced by what was happening in punk rock, and perhaps as a way to confound the expectations, Buckingham took control of the recording of the follow-up, the double LP Tusk. He recorded some of the tracks at home in his bathroom, he liked the echo. It was a sprawling experimental mess and I love it. It sold four million copies, which is pretty good for a double-LP, but when compared to their previous success it was considered a failure. Mick Fleetwood drove out to Buckingham’s house and said, “Well, I guess you blew it.” I know the 70’s were a crazy, druggy time, but how many bands had the brass balls to release a lead single featuring a marching band (“Tusk”). Nicks’ and Christine McVie’s songs were more traditionally “Mac-ish” but I love all the left turns Buckingham took with his songs on Tusk.

After that everybody, including Fleetwood, decamped to do solo albums. Lindsey’s first solo album, Law And Order continued the experimental side he showed on Tusk and was recorded in a matter of days. Stevie Nicks’ solo work had the most success. They finally reconvened in 1982 for the more pedestrian Mirage. That album was seen as a “play-it-safe” move for them but it was a huge success, selling three million copies (which was less than Tusk, but expectations had finally come down). After that everybody went back to their solo careers. I thought that was it for the Mac at the time. They were victims of their own success. Buckingham was particularly unhappy with Mirage, he felt they’d played it too safe. He didn’t want that to be the last statement of that incarnation of the band. He pulled everybody back together for 1987’s Tango In The Night but bailed before the tour, as mentioned above.

Fleetwood Mac petered out after that… It was’t until 1997’s live record, The Dance, that the five members from their heyday got back together. Alas, it was short-lived when Christine McVie bowed out due to an intense fear of flying. She retired to the English countryside to garden. The band continued as a foursome and released the strong, but overlooked and overly long Say You Will in 2003. Christine McVie rejoined the band in 2014 with a bag full of new songs to record but neither she or Lindsey could coax Stevie to come into the studio with them… She said being in a room for a year, arguing with these people didn’t sound like much fun. Stevie preferred to focus on her solo career. Finally, tired of waiting for her to come around, Buckingham and McVie released a new album as a duo but John McVie and Fleetwood were the rhythm section. (Reviewed here, LP Review: Lindsey Buckingham & Christine McVie; By Any Other Name, Still Fleetwood Mac).

And so now, this month, they’ve fired Buckingham. They got an award from MusiCares just a few months ago and he was with them. I guess that’s Fleetwood Mac for you… here today, fired tomorrow. Rumor has it they were disagreeing on the details of the new tour – Mick Fleetwood wanted to revisit some of their older stuff and some of the Buckingham Nicks tracks, versus doing a “greatest hits” tour. I’m sure the story will eventually emerge. I guess now they’re going to tour with these new guys. I’m excited to see how they utilize Mike Campbell but I’m a little thrown by the Neil Finn part of the equation. I don’t know much about Crowded House, they’re outside my musical experience. I can’t see them ever recording in this incarnation especially considering Stevie’s attitude toward recording. While I’m sad to be writing this mini-obit for this incarnation of the band, thank God it isn’t an actual obit for one of the members.

If we’ve learned anything from Fleetwood Mac’s long and tumultuous history, there’s a good chance we’ll see Buckingham patch things up with the band in a few years and return to the fold. At least I hope so…

Cheers!

 

 

 

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