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Captain of the Fleetwoods

Fri, Jun. 25, 2004  
By Brad Kava, Mercury News
If Fleetwood Mac were starting out today, it might not get a chance  to make more than one album, says guitarist Lindsey Buckingham, who  will perform in the band's shows Saturday in Concord and Tuesday at  HP Pavilion.
"I feel sorry for bands starting out today. I wish them a lot of  luck,'' says Buckingham from a tour stop in New York. He says few of  the new groups have strong advocates at record labels who will give  them opportunity to grow and develop.
"Fleetwood Mac is a prime example of how important a record company  executive can be,'' he continues, noting that it's best to have  executives on the other side of the desk who are artists themselves.  "We had Mo Ostin'' -- Warner Bros. Records chief from the 1970s to  the 1990s -- ``who obviously sensed, intuited through all the turmoil  and changes, that there was something there to hang onto'' in  Fleetwood Mac.
Buckingham is one of the most interesting and pleasant interviewees  in the annals of rock, sort of the American David Bowie.
He has fought in the trenches and lived a Rolling Stone/People  magazine life. He is witty and intelligent. Some 35 years of  performing have deepened his perspective on the music business. But  unlike so many who get caught up in the dramas, he channels his  strongest passions into writing and playing music.
You can hear that passion in the twists and turns he puts into every  
vocal and Silly Putty guitar solo that keep Fleetwood Mac in the  
arena league long after many of its contemporaries have gone to the  
county-fair circuit.
When you look at the history of this band, named for drummer Mick  Fleetwood and bass player John McVie, it becomes clear that the group  has defied the practices of today's music execs, who pay more attention to the bottom line and to justifying their actions in  shareholder reports than to their ears and artistic instincts.
Fleetwood Mac started as a blues band in 1967, having spun off from  the Bluesbreakers, John Mayall's performing school of the blues,  which also helped groom Eric Clapton, Mick Taylor and Jimmy Page. Led by guitarist and songwriter Peter Green, Fleetwood Mac played a  psychedelic brand of blues, including "Black Magic Woman'' (which  later became a huge hit for Santana).
After the 1970 departure of Green, who was suffering from drug abuse  and emotional problems, Fleetwood Mac handed the reins, at various  times, to Danny Kirwin, Bob Welch and Christine Perfect (who later  married McVie). The sound softened; the albums bore little  resemblance to the band's earlier style but, remarkably, still  contained hits.
While auditioning some engineers in 1975, Fleetwood and McVie signed  up Buckingham and Stevie Nicks after hearing their duo debut album.  The couple had gotten together in San Jose. They honed their chops as  an opening act for almost every rocker passing through town.
Buckingham's pop song craft and Nicks' husky, sexy voice took  Fleetwood Mac to another level, producing two of the biggest hits of  the '70s -- ``Fleetwood Mac'' (1975) and ``Rumours'' (1977).
After that, the band was rife with turmoil, surviving the split of  two marriages, a heap of drug abuse and, most recently, the departure  of Christine McVie. The core quartet still delivers shows that  capture moments of magic from the past 30 years, with Buckingham's  hard-driving, over-the-top guitar toughening up the rockers and Nicks  out front on the ballads.
One of the questions Buckingham, 53, now faces, in the midst of a  tour that has continued 18 months (a year longer than he figured), is  whether he can finally finish the solo album he started nine years  ago.
His biggest changes over that period have been getting married and  becoming a father to three children, ranging in age from 8 weeks to 6  years. Can the man whose best works seemed to be wrung from inner  struggle and pain (``I'm So Afraid,'' ``Go Insane,'' ``Trouble,''  "Tusk,'' "Go Your Own Way'') create good music when he's happy?
"After I didn't write for two or three years, I did wonder about  that,'' says the South Bay native. ``I used to be a proponent of the  adage that children are death to the artist. But in the last six or  eight months, suddenly out of the blue a whole bunch of material has  passed through me. It's very reassuring, and I think I'm somehow  getting in touch with getting the message and lyric to work in a way  that I haven't been able to do before.''
Which is great for the many fans who consider Buckingham to be a  musical descendant of Beach Boys genius Brian Wilson in his prime.
"They are happy songs,'' says Buckingham of his latest works. ``I'm  not talking `Sugar, Sugar.' They have slightly more overview of the  good and the bad and how they relate.''
Those who have heard the recent Fleetwood Mac shows say Buckingham is  performing with a youthful fire. "It's kind of funny. There's a whole new audience out there,''  Buckingham notes. ``We're playing in front of 13- and 14-year-old  girls, and I'm like a 54-year-old freak.''
But, he adds, ``I'm at the top of my game. All those years we were  successful, but it wasn't that much fun. It was more negative than  positive. Now it's all come back around. I feel like I have so much  more to add to this band.''

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