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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LP Review: Lindsey Buckingham & Christine McVie; By Any Other Name, Still Fleetwood Mac

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Well, at least this time I spelled Lindsey Buckingham’s first name correctly, with an “e” and not an “a,” with my apologies to Mr. Buckingham for screwing that spelling up in my review of the first single…

Ah, Fleetwood Mac… In the last half of the 70s, they were huge. It’s impossible to overstate this… Their music was everywhere. I can remember in the summer, as a kid, before I could drive, my mother who was eager to get us out of the house so she could dip into the cooking sherry and lay on the couch, would take us to the local swimming pool and drop us off. We’d spend all day splashing around in the pool, playing games, going off the diving board and throwing our Nerf football around. I can remember the whistles going off for the hourly “Adult Swim.” We’d jump out of the cold, clear water and flop down on the warm cement, lips practically blue from the cold water. As I lay there, warming in the sun like a sea lion I can remember hearing Fleetwood Mac. “Dreams” was almost always piping over the speakers and the rhythmic drums seem to match my heartbeat. Or you’d hear the bizarre guitar signature of “Go Your Own Way.” “Over My Head” was another tune I can remember hearing at the pool quite a bit. It’s weird how my memories are all tied to songs and music.

We all loved Fleetwood Mac. One of my early college roommates, Matthew, showed up to college with his crate of records. His collection was all metal and hard rock: Kiss, Van Halen, Led Zeppelin, some Pink Floyd (which wasn’t metal, but Matthew was an herbal enthusiast). And of course, he had a couple of Fleetwood Mac albums. Hell, I even had Steve Nicks’ fine first two solo albums. Ah, Stevie, I like to think of her as the Mistress of a Generation.

Other than Yes, I can’t think of a band who’ve had more lineup changes than Fleetwood Mac. Even before the Buckingham-Nicks era, they went through a string of guitarist, from founding member and former John Mayall guitarist Peter Green, to Bob Welch, Danny Kirwan and Jeremy Spencer. Christine McVie, who’s maiden name was Christine Perfect, whose been a stalwart in the band, wasn’t even an original member. She had to marry the bass player just to join. It wasn’t until everybody except Mick Fleetwood (drums), John McVie (bass) and Christine McVie (vocals/keyboards) were left that the Mac had to recruit the dynamic duo of Lindsey Buckingham (guitar/vocals) and Stevie Nicks (vocals/Wiccan imagery). Buckingham and Nicks brought an interesting chemistry to the band and they just clicked.

What was really intriguing about Fleetwood Mac during their golden era, was they had three talented singers and songwriters. Christine McVie wrote sometimes saccharine love songs, but Buckingham tended to push her into edgier material. Buckingham was ever the experimentalist. Some might say the Mac was a mellower band but I heard Lindsey say one time, “we weren’t mellow so much as melodic.” Under all his experimentalism Lindsey was a closet Beach Boys circa ‘Pet Sounds’ fan and a similar vocal harmonizing came into play in Fleetwood Mac. Then you had Stevie Nicks who brought a spacey, witchcrafty, hippy vibe to the whole affair. The push and pull of all these writers/singers was anchored by the solid rhythm section Fleetwood and McVie provided.

The success of ‘Rumors’ followed by Lindsey’s left turn on ‘Tusk,’ an album I still love to this day, put more strain on the band than even the break up of the main romantic relationships within the band and Lindsey decided to split in 1987 after ‘Tango In the Night.’ The three writers had all started solo careers by then, Steve Nicks being the most successful. The Nicks/Christine McVie version of the band brought in 2 guitarists just to replace Lindsey and recorded the awful ‘Behind The Mask.’ Eventually everybody left. It wasn’t until 1997’s live record, ‘The Dance’ that the golden-era line up reunited. The reunion was short lived when, due to massive fear of flying, Christine McVie retired to the English country side to garden. The band carried on with Buckingham and Nicks at the helm and recorded the oft overlooked LP, ‘Say You Will,’ which, while flawed, was still a great record. It was a tad overly long. And I would say, they missed Christine McVie  as a counterpoint to Buckingham and Nicks.

A few years ago, cured of her fear of flying, Christine McVie rejoined the band. They did a number of concert gigs and things looked like they might be rolling. Buckingham, McVie and the rest of the band except Stevie went into the studio. It seems Christine was sitting on a huge stockpile of songs. Gardening wasn’t the only thing she was doing out there in rural England. Buckingham always seems to have a surplus of songs. The band recorded an album’s worth of material but try as they may, they couldn’t get Stevie back in the studio. She wants to focus on her solo career. Nicks is under the deluded impression she’s going to recapture her early 80s massive popularity. She’s stated she didn’t think she’d ever record any new music with Fleetwood Mac again, which is career limiting. She says being in the studio isn’t any fun anymore. Sigh…

Buckingham and McVie decided, what the hell, we’ll release what we’ve got. Careful not to alienate Nicks, instead of calling this a Fleetwood Mac album, they are calling it Buckingham-McVie, but make no mistake this is a Fleetwood Mac album, just without Stevie. I hope Stevie comes to her senses and comes back. Her longstanding love/hate relationship with Buckingham may be a factor here. Tom Petty has said he’s tried to produce Stevie Nicks records but he never knows where she’s coming from. He went on to say, the only person who really gets what Stevie wants to do in the studio is Lindsey Buckingham. It’s like me and the Rock Chick, we finish each other’s sentences. And likely, if she left me for say, Joe Walsh, I could probably still finish her sentences. Although I doubt I’d produce her records… if she made records, but I digress.

I like this new Buckingham-McVie record. I’ve always liked the chemistry between those two. It isn’t fraught with the emotionally damaging baggage that Buckingham and Nicks have. The vocal harmonies, the beautiful guitar work is all still here. I would describe this as a great beginning of this incarnation of the band, but there are flaws here. “Love Is Here To Stay” is one of those Buckingham acoustic guitar workouts, where he speed plays his acoustic guitar and harmonizes over it. I don’t think anybody else in the band is even on the track… it should have remained a solo Buckingham song. On McVie’s end, “Game of Pretend” is so saccharine as to be diabetes inducing. It’s really cringe-worthy. It starts off well enough with just Christine and a piano, which I dig, but then they crank up the schmaltz.

Those two songs aside, there is a lot to like here. The more I’ve heard of “In My World,” the first single, the more I like it. The guitar solo that ends the album on the atmospheric “Carnival Begin” is spectacular as is the song itself. “Feel About You” is one of those quintessential poppy, catchy Christine McVie songs. It stays in your head. The opening track, “Sleeping Around the Corner” is a tune that was a bonus track on Buckingham’s last solo record, which feels like cheating, but this version is far superior and it’s obvious he reworked the track quite a bit for this incarnation. Lindsey has a tradition of reworking older tracks – “Don’t Let Me Down Again” was a Buckingham-Nicks LP track that he repurposed for the Mac 1980 live LP. “Bleed To Love Her” is another track he pulled from the live ‘The Dance’ for ‘Say You Will.’ Sometimes a tune just isn’t done right the first time.

“Lay Down For Free” is a great Lindsey track. It’s another from the catchy-as-hell category. Christine McVie, who loves to write love songs, has a great one with “Red Sun.” She sings about being in a sunny place, watching the sun go down over the water while missing someone special. I think we’ve all been there. Fleetwood Mac at their best always sang about emotions that we can all relate to. I would have liked to have heard a little more aggressive drumming from Mick Fleetwood, but then again, I’ve always dug the drums, and his drumming in particular. I was hoping for a real rocking tune, like “World Turning,” the first track Christine and Buckingham ever wrote, but the closest they come is “Too Far Gone” which rides along on a great, almost Stones-y Buckingham riff. It is the one song they uncage Fleetwood’s drumming. There are several percussive breaks in the tune. It’s the most upbeat thing here. It’ll be a fun song to hear live.

While I like this LP, at 10 songs, it certainly leaves room for two or three great Nicks tracks. I think this might have been a true classic record if Nicks had showed up. As it stands it’s not a great Fleetwood Mac album but it’s certainly a really good one. It reminds me of the oft maligned 1982 album, ‘Mirage.’ I hear echoes of “Hold Me” in some of McVie’s tracks. And for the most part Buckingham doesn’t get too far out there on the experimental side, much like ‘Mirage.’ Yes, ‘Mirage’ was an LP where these guys mostly played it safe, but damn if it doesn’t have some great songs.

If you dig Fleetwood Mac, or if you’re weird like me and you dig solo Buckingham albums, you will like this album. If your record collection is all metal, and you have one or two Mac albums, you’ll likely dig this album too. If you don’t dig the Mac, I’d probably warn you off this one. These are master songwriters practicing their craft, and that is always enjoyable. In fact, that’s how I’d describe this album – not life changing but damn enjoyable. This could be the start of a whole new Buckingham/C. McVie era in the band, and I think that would be very interesting indeed. I would say, come back Stevie, you can make it through a studio session with Lindsey. He probably still completes your sentences…

Cheers!