Fleetwood Mac Opens Up
About Reissues and the Old Days
By Chris Nickson
Discoveries, October 2004
They were, if not the worst of times, then certainly not the best.
In 1974 Fleetwood Mac were surviving. The band's basic trio of
drummer Mick Fleetwood, bassist John McVie, and his wife, keyboard
player/singer Christine McVie, had been augmented by guitarist,
singer and songwriter Bob Welch for quite a long time. Their albums
sold reasonably, if not spectacularly, they were playing the college
circuit in the U.S., and getting over legal troubles.
While taking a break from touring behind their most recent album,
"Heroes Are Hard to Find," Mick Fleetwood began looking for a studio
to use for their next album.
"I met a guy who was repping a studio, trying to flog off studio
time," he recalls. "I knew him vaguely, and met him in the
supermarket. He said, 'Are you doing anything now?' I said, No,
'dropped the shopping, and literally jumped in his car. We went to
Studio City in the Valley. I went to look at the studio, I forget
which room number. An engineer named Keith Olsen was working there.
He offered to play me something he'd recorded in the studio, and by
pure happenstance he played the "Buckingham-Nicks" album, which was
recorded in that room, as if to demo the room. And that's how I
initially heard Lindsay's guitar playing. I heard "Crystal" and a
couple of other things, and went on my merry way."
But in typical Mac fashion, a crisis was looming.
"About a month or so later, Bob Welch, at rather short notice, quit.
It wasn't a total surprise, although it was in the fact that it
happened very quickly and he hadn't mentioned anything. I think he
was frustrated with the band's lack of success. Within hours, if not
sooner, I'd phoned Studio City, and talked to Keith. I asked who
he'd played me. It was that literal, and that's how this thing
At that point Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks were a pair of
unknowns. They'd met in the late '60s in a San Francisco-based band,
Fritz, where Nicks sang and Buckingham played bass. When that outfit
broke up in 1971 they got together, professionally and personally,
and moved to Los Angeles searching for the big time.
It proved to be elusive. The album they made went nowhere (except,
curiously, in Alabama, where it was a local hit). Buckingham was
touring with Don Everly's band, and Nicks was waitressing. But they
continued to write, and to believe something would happen. They just
hadn't expected that something to be Fleetwood Mac. And they never
expected to be asked to join without even an audition.
"We didn't play a note and they'd been told they were members of
Fleetwood Mac, which was pretty trusting," Fleetwood Mac laughs. "I
felt very confident and I made that decision in my own mind, then
conferred with John and Christine. They pretty much followed my
lead. I think they had good sense, they liked what they heard. The
only request was Christine, who said, 'Let me at least meet her.'
There's nothing worse than two women who don't get along. But that
was that, really."
What was certainly useful was the fact they were both put on an
initial salary of $200 a week.
"In those days we didn't earn very much money. They had to pay rent.
We had an album budget. So we put them on salary, paid up their rent
and stuff. Me and Bob had been in charge of the band up to that
point. We had budget money, survival money planned out for us to be
in the States anyhow, so they came in as newcomers to the not very
well oiled corporation. It was a short space of time, then everyone
The band at that point was simply getting by, although Fleetwood
noted that "we did an Australian tour recently, and I read an
interview with Stevie, her memory that she'd joined a big band,
because they had nothing. They had heard of Fleetwood Mac, and we
had albums out. She'd somewhat unbelievably forgotten that when she
joined we were still driving our own station wagons to gigs. What
she remembers is the limousines, which is testimony to poetic
memories of something that probably was quite grand to her."
Those limo days were still in the future, however. What they had to
do first was make their next album -- and see if the chemistry
Fleetwood believed could be there actually existed.
"We went into rehearsals to make the album." We'd already been set
to make an album with Bob Welch, so everything was sort of on
schedule, except it wasn't with Bob. We rehearsed at ICM. Tom Ross,
our agent, gave us the basement of the old ICM building. It was very
apparent that there was cohesion, and the vibe was great. There were
these two people who were, at that point, seemingly very happy
together, and we made this music."
It fact, Fleetwood could tell there was real magic. The songs were
different, and the personalities, voices, and styles gelled
perfectly. In retrospect it's easy to think of the mid-'70s
Fleetwood Mac typifying the period, but in fact their albums,
especially Fleetwood Mac and Rumours, molded the sound of America
then. Initially, however, their label wasn't convinced that what
they were making was anything more than another Fleetwood Mac album,
a Chevy among records.
"Warner Brothers is where we were. They always put our albums out --
we used to joke that we paid their east wing light bill or
something. We were just a band that had been around a while and we'd
definitely gone through changes, but they, to their credit, were
still there, they didn't rip up the contract. What did strike me,
because I was managing the band, was that something really special
was happening while we were making that album. I do remember having
a couple of brandies and going out to see Mo Ostin, basically to say
'If you don't believe in the music the way I do, because this is
really special, I want you to let us go.' It was unbelievably naive,
but quite truthful -- and quite charming, looking back on it, that I
had the balls to do that. I don't remember getting an answer. What
it did I'll never know, but Mo Ostin was a loyal, truthful chap who
took an interest in what was going on. We weren't dropped, and they
didn't let us go. I'm hoping what I did opened something up."
With the sense that they had something unique, Fleetwood began to
make plans -- all of which went against established theory.
"I wanted to take the band out on the road before the album came
out, [but] Warner Brothers said that would be the kiss of death. I
said that we needed to do it, so when we did go out with the album,
we'd have played onstage together, and I wanted to know these people
can do what I think they can. We went out, and people had no idea
who Stevie and Lindsey were. We had no new record. We played some of
their stuff, and the rest of it was "Station Man," "Hypnotized,"
things Bob had done, and older material. It was pretty bleak for
Stevie and Lindsey, but they did it willingly and did it well. It
was very apparent that the audience received them with open arms,
and that told me we were a complete unit."
Throughout the summer of 1975 they were on the road, opening for
Loggins and Messina and the Guess Who, headlining their own shows.
What first began to break them through to the U.S. big time was the
release of the first single from Fleetwood Mac, "Over My Head,"
which had been mixed for radio (in mono), by Deke Richards, who'd
done many Motown radio mixes. It began climbing the charts, and Mac
stayed relentlessly on the road to capitalize on its own growing
They'd begun playing new material, and the song which won the
greatest response from the crowds was one written by Nicks.
"Rhiannon," introduced simply as "This is a song about a Welsh
witch" seemed to capture the imagination of audiences around the
country. It helped define Nicks, but also came close to ruining her
"There were years, before she did voice exercising and learning to
sing slightly differently, when she started to damage her throat.
She used to belt it out. It epitomized the whole thing that was
going on -- the garb, and what she is really to this day."
By the end of 1975 Fleetwood Mac had already gone gold, on its way
to the top of the charts. It took the band to new heights, turning
them into major stars. But along the way it took a toll on the
personal lives of the musicians. John and Christine McVie split up,
and so did Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. What they'd all
worked for had arrived in a huge fashion, but with it came the
"The album had pop music written on it somewhere, certainly. But
always, even in the Peter Green days, there's always been a
believable, slightly dark side to this band, which I think is still
there -- the "Oh Daddy"'s of the time. It wasn't all hooks. None of
it was planned, but I think it became something that made us be a
band that did hang in there and have a believable thread, but yet
did have this in everyone's living room type of thing musically. On
top of that there was this soap opera where people got involved with
the characters. We probably spoke about it too much.
Again to this day I think people think they know us. There have been
times, certainly for Lindsey, when he got browned off not reading
about the music, but about the bedroom."
It was in that atmosphere that the band went to the Record Plant in
Sausalito to begin work on a follow-up disc. With great things
anticipated, it was awkward, as many of the song they were set to do
concerned the just-ended relationships -- with all the protagonists
in the room.
"It wasn't always easy," Fleetwood says with understatement. "As
lousy as some of it was, and I was stuck in the middle of it all, I
think it finally is a testimony. The bottom line is that these are
people who have been incredibly, deeply in love with each other. And
they're not just disgruntled bandmates -- there are bands that are
famous for loathing each other, and they have an ethic of how to get
through it. We didn't have that: the love-hate, hate-love thing was
really that. It was an emotional connection, not a bunch of lads or
people who became connected through music and then business. They
were connected as people, as lovers, as partners. So it was
believable, and when we do walk onstage now with an element of
balance and humor, we co-exist pretty damned well. There's so much
there that no matter how rough it does get -- and from time to time,
it still gets rough -- the reality is that I don't worry about it
too much. Lindsey's married with three children, Stevie has her
life, and it's a wild scene, but it's tempered where it has been an
incredible journey, and as of this moment, that's where I think
it'll stay. If for some reason we didn't make another album it
wouldn't be because of that."
Success has also brought excess. Cocaine was in vogue, and the band
succumbed to temptation; as Fleetwood notes, "I don't think the
infusion of certain amounts of white substance necessarily helped
the decisions. In truth, we were pretty out of it in many ways."
But they were also plagued by a number of genuine technical
problems. There was the piano that wouldn't tune. And then "there
was a tape machine we called Jaws that chewed up one of the masters
we'd been working on for about a year. Ken Caillat, our
producer/engineer, did some editing, and he managed to dupe up and
splice things back in about three times. We used to have someone
standing near the machine to press the dead button." That would have
been bad enough, but it was far from the end. In the studio, doing
endless overdubs and retakes, "we ran the tapes so much through the
lengthy period we were recording that we ran the high end off. In
those days you couldn't Pro Tool another copy out. Ken managed to
makes copies before it got worse, as we hadn't finished the album.
He went to A&M and got two machines. He couldn't sync them up, so he
physically, with a variant speed, using the cymbals, made a perfect
copy. And that's supposedly one of the better-sounding albums ever
made! We took off the drums, and preserved them. We had to re-do
some things, but it was a whole comedy of errors. After working so
long on something, and being under the influence of certain things,
I became a safety buff. We made these copies, which was unheard of
then, and they all laughed of me, and we'd send masters to Phoenix
and keep them in bank vaults. The album does hold up as a great
piece of work from the songs to the recording."
Even as they were making the new album, whose working title was
Yesterday's Gone (after a Christine McVie song), Fleetwood Mac
finished its climb to the top of the charts, replacing Frampton
Comes Alive. "Rhiannon" was issued as a single, leaping to the top
of the charts, and confirming Mac as one of the leading acts of the
day. Fleetwood Mac ended up selling some four million copies, a huge
figure for the period, and Warners was hoping for another cash cow
with its successor. But there was no hiding the tensions in the
studio, and the label "heard rumors about what going on while we
were making the album, and I think they were waiting to get a phone
call saying , 'It's over." I'd tell them we were going to get it
done, and they left us pretty much alone. Because I truly never saw
any writing on the wall that meant this could disintegrate, because
everyone was really committed. I know Lindsey at one point pulled me
aside and said, 'I don't know if I can do this,' because he was
going through a lot of emotional pain, and it was hard to just be
there for Stevie as a musical companion. I remember saying, 'You
know what, Linds? This whole band isall about compromise. If this is
completely not acceptable, that you see nothing here apart from
being permanently miserable with no hope, then you should probably
shouldn't be doing it. But if you can somehow create some line
through this, then we can get through it.' Everyone was very
focused. Lindsey's love for the musical process, from my
observation, and the window of opportunity -- which was considerable
-- that he knew was there, helped him hang in there and do what he
felt he'd been sent to do. And that's probably why the band didn't
break up. It was in many ways contingent on Lindsey, because he was
the one who was suffering. I think Stevie was suffering, but she'd
made her decision, and that was to have a disconnect with Lindsey.
And he handled it really well, considering the pain he was in."
Rumours, as the new record was finally named, arrived in stores in
February 1977, preceded by the single "Go Your Own Way." The album's
initial shipment was 800,000 copies, the first time Warners had
pressed so many at one time. By spring Mac were back on the road,
promoting the disc, and living the lavish superstar lifestyle that
would become their hallmark in the late '70s, a symbol of the
excesses of the music business.
"I don't think any of us got completely ga-ga over it," Fleetwood
speculates. "Me and John, emotionally, we'd been really successful,
had the number one hits in Europe. Christine had had some of it on
her solo thing. I think it served as we've been up, we've been down,
it's come, it's gone, we're back, and that became almost a mantra to
this day. We're not a very skillfully run corporation, but we seem
to survive. The transition was somewhat tempered. It certainly
wasn't a problem to be enjoying comforts. But we didn't quite
realize how successful we were, which was sort of charming. We were
probably making enough money not to be driving around in two station
wagons, and the equipment went ahead.
"Then we started living a life. The Stones and Led Zepplin were the
bands that set the precedent of the excesses of the good life on the
road. I think we just joined the ranks of that, I don't think we
outdid anyone, although the romanticizing of Fleetwood Mac's history
tends to put us almost at the top of the list. We lived in that
bubble, we toured in a world within a world for many, many years.
Everyone was part of the family. We treated everyone who worked with
us incredibly well -- our road crew had their own limos. We had
everyone on medical. We were probably a bunch of fools, to tell the
truth. We weren't really aware -- including myself -- since was
managing the affairs. We tried to save money on a couple of tours
and everyone complained. It was like being in the Roaring '20s."
By late spring Rumours was selling some 800,000 copies every week,
claiming the number one spot without any challenge, while it went
double platinum in the U.K. It would go on to sell a total of 20
million copies, making it the biggest-selling album in history -- at
least until Michael Jackson came along with Thriller a few years
later. There were Grammys, American Music Awards. Mac were at the
very top of the tree.
Success brought its own pressures, and there was no let-up in the
cycle of record and tour. No sooner were they off the road than they
were back in the studio to start work on the next album.
But the winds of change had started to blow around them. Punk and
New Wave had graduated from the streets and into the charts, at
least in a diluted fashion. The ideas they brought and focused,
about cutting back music to the bone, made a big impact on Lindsey
Buckingham, who'd become the group's main songwriter. And he wanted
to take the band away from style they'd established to something
leaner and much rawer.
"I think Lindsey's sensibilities...he was listening to the Clash. I
was just relieved some bands were doing that, but we didn't sound
like that. But he thought, 'Why can't you do that?' and he
identified with what he thought were some of the musical emotive
processes that were maybe not going in, but his picture was that
there shouldn't be certain boundaries. And that became a context for
Lindsey to see the way we made that album. He was to the fore of it.
You can't just make a solo album and put it on a Fleetwood Mac
album; that just wouldn't be right. And there was some of that,
which I think John, and myself a little bit, thought 'well, is he
coming in to the studio?' Lindsey and I spent a couple of days
sitting around talking about whether he was going to leave or
whether we were going to make an album he'd be happy making, and
have some room to breathe in his own world and experiment without
upsetting everyone. And we did end up with that album. We also ended
up totally open to the process of what Lindsey was doing. We built
the studio to make the album. I think there was some fright and fear
in Lindsey's world -- what if I can't do this, and if I can't I'm
not going to be happy. I think he felt that there was some wall he
had to get through before this was given the all clear. I remember
saying to him, 'you just have to make sure it feels like the band.'
That and Then Play On are my favorite albums, actually. I really
like Tusk, I think it sounds great. If you listen to the 5.1 things
that were mixed out of that album, there's some pretty cool shit
Fleetwood may have loved it, but the record company wasn't quite as
overjoyed, in part because they were scared of this new sound. Mac
had become an automatic income generator, a healthy plus on the
bottom line, and this could scare away the fans. Not only that,
"they weren't thrilled that we were doing a double album because the
whole record business was collapsing. They thought that it was total
suicide, and they tried very hard to persuade us not to do it.
Again, to their credit, while I'm sure they could have just said
'You're not going to do this,' they didn't. Maybe we suffered
because of it, maybe we didn't. I look at is as, if we hadn't made
that album we wouldn't have had a band anyhow. It didn't sell
zillions of copies, but it wasn't a failure. It was much more
expensive than a single album. I think it sold about five million
albums, which was a step backwards for us. I think Lindsey took a
lot of flak in his own world for that, which wasn't necessary."
Of course, Tusk did have its own excesses, such as the title cut,
where 112 members of the University of Southern California Marching
Band were recorded in Dodger Stadium. But in general terms it was
astonishing in its focus, an artistic success that moved the band
out of their South California comfort and into a more dangerous
In order to win over fans, and also push the record in the face of a
high ($16) price tag, Warners was aggressive with its marketing
strategies. One of their ideas, however, was a misfire from the word
go: They gave the album to the Westwood One radio network, which
aired it in its entirety, in sequence, giving everyone with a
cassette recorder the chance to own it for nothing.
"That was ridiculous, and that was Warner Brothers' fault. I said,
'I don't think you should be doing this,' and they said, 'Oh no,
it's all part of a new thing, friendly to radio.' But there are
people with tape machines out there. And they played the whole
album! I should have stopped it. But they'd convinced me it was part
of a new, cutting-edge marketing thing. Who knows how much damage it
did? To me it was like a milestone of stupidity, and rolling the
dice unnecessarily. But the album survives, and it's getting more of
a classical thing to it, the way people relate to that album. I
would have loved to have the Best of Tusk, our choice songs on a
single album, and maybe one day we will."
The tour for Tusk was bigger and longer than ever, taking a year (in
two legs) to go around the world.
"It was a long time," Fleetwood agrees. "We'd been on the road or in
the studio for about 10 years. We were living life high on the hog
and we were getting a bit frazzled. We did need a rest when that
came to an end, and we got that. I think Stevie and Lindsey were
getting some pull from people around them. Stevie managed to juggle
a solo career and Fleetwood Mac for years, which was a huge stress.
I don't know how she did it. But she honored being in the band. I
think there were several months in Lindsey's mind as to when he was
going to bail, which turned out to be after we made Tango in the
Night. He wanted out before it sucked him in, into a world he has no
real respect for. We all had a nice life, including him. But he's
happy if he has a pair of jeans, a pair of sneakers, as long as his
car works. Therefore he didn't have the distractions. I enjoyed the
life, Stevie enjoyed the life, Christine enjoyed the life. John was
a bit more like Lindsey, not quite so lunatic. We had a ball until
it got too much for anybody to handle."
Fleetwood himself used the break to travel to Ghana, working with
local musicians to make The Visitor, which included a very different
version of Tusk's "Walk a Thin Line."
"The sound on it holds up, and I still enjoy it." We recorded it on
two Stevens 16-track [machines]. They were made by a very eccentric
chap. They're all sealed, and they're probably one of the
better-sound tape recorders ever made. They survived Africa. That
album was a lot of fun."
Other members, too, worked on solo projects, and after the release
of the inevitable Fleetwood Mac Live, regrouped for Tango in the
Night, which proved to be the swan song for that line-up. By then
they were already sliding from their peak. As the '70s became the
'80s, with MTV and a rash of younger bands getting huge, Mac's reign
had come to an end.
More recently the classic '70s personnel have regrouped, first for
an MTV Unplugged performance, which became a tour and then 1997's
The Dance album, which contained some new material among the golden
oldies. They followed, albeit some six years later, with Say You
Will, 18 songs that worked well, although Christine McVie only
contributed keyboards, not vocals [Christine sings backup on at
least two songs, Bleed to Love Her and Steal Your Heart Away--SLN
editor], and no longer tours. It worked better than it should have,
really, and much of the credit lay with Buckingham.
"Lindsey seems huge amounts of vision with unrelenting focus. He'll
stick on something until he gets an answer about how we'll do
something. It's sometimes awkward, and it's sometimes tiring, you
can't believe someone's that intense. The payoff in the ranks of
Fleetwood Mac is that we have someone like that. He doesn't win all
the battles, but he'll fight for something he believes in. And when
you look back, you thank the Lory he actually did."
All of which begs the question -- can Fleetwood Mac go on forever,
like the Stones?
"I see an end," Fleetwood says. "Certainly if there's one more
decision by anybody, this would never be tried again, unless we all
said let's do it again. Right now there's a band with no intention
of stopping. The touring reconnected [us] in a way none of us ever
expected, and it's been fun. We are able to do that, and sensibly we
can't say we'll go away for five years, we'll all get too long in
the tooth. Stevie wants to do some poetry, art, children's books.
She has plans for days that aren't here yet, but are probably going
to loom in her world five years from now. I would think the Stones
have said that hundreds of times! I would think that in five years
this band won't be going out on the road for a year. Would we be
able to make an album and do something to promote it? It's hard to
say. Touring now is so much easier because we're a lot more
consistent, we go to sleep at night. I would love to make another
album, although I'm not sure that's going to happen in a timely
fashion. I know Lindsey wants to do it. I think Stevie has some
trepidations as to whether she wants to spend a year or so in the
studio, then do the touring. But we'll see. I think if we could get
it done quickly, but we don't trust ourselves. I'd love to think we
could do an album in eight months, but it's always a year and a
half. I see this band being active for at least another five years,
The reissues of Fleetwood Mac, Rumours, and Tusk (the last two both
add an entire CD of bonus material) showcase a band coming into its
strength and quickly finding its prime. For those who were around at
the time, much of the music is heavily familiar -- a reminder of the
time when you couldn't switch on the radio without hearing the
group. But it's material that's stood the test of time well, and the
demos, outtakes, and alternate versions offer an excellent insight
into the creative processes (not to mention the tensions) of what
was really the era's superstar pop band.
This article was originally posted on
http://www.stevie-nicks.info And is
re-posted with permission