Zoë Howe has penned a timely and
unsparing biography of the Fleetwood Mac singer and songwriter
The story of how Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks,
dropped by their record label after a debut album that bombed, joined down on
their luck British blues band Fleetwood Mac and conquered the world is the
stuff of rock and roll legend.
In 1974 drummer Mick Fleetwood was scouting for a recording studio
for the next album by a group that had already lost guitarists Peter Green and
Danny Kirwan. At Sound City in Los Angeles, he was impressed when he heard
Buckingham Nicks’ songs being worked on for a second album that they hoped would salvage their career. When Fleetwood Mac’s then lead guitarist, Bob Welch,
announced that he too was quitting the band, Fleetwood realised he’d not only
found a great studio sound but a replacement guitarist too. But, as Zoë Howe
records in her compelling biography of Nicks, he was told by record producer
Keith Olsen: ‘Lyndsey and Steve are kind of a set. You’re going to have to take
That was 31 December 1974, and by July 1975 the new line-up
of the band had released the eponymous album that was to mark the turning point
in their fortunes. Among songs that are instantly recognisable the instant you
hear them cued up on the radio was Nicks’ Rhiannon, a song about a white witch.
She only later realised the connection to Welsh myth in the Mabinogion.
The speed and economy with which that album was recorded is
in stark counterpoint to the tortured creation of the follow-up at the Record
Plant in Sausolito, where tellingly the Eagles were recording Hotel California
in a neighbouring studio. By the account here, it really did become a place you
could leave but never escape.
‘A bunch of rumours’
What bass player John McVie christened by noting that it sounded
‘like a bunch of rumours’ charted, as their songs had always done, the
turbulent relationship of Buckingham and Nicks. But now singer and pianist
Christine McVie found herself reflecting on the breakdown of her marriage to McVie, which had brought her into the band in the first place, and her attraction to lighting
director Curry Grant as recorded in You Make Loving Fun.
When Rumours was released I was an undergraduate student at
Leicester University, growing my hair and listening to Yes and Bowie and
Supertramp, but also beginning to hear the first releases of the Clash, the
Damned, the Jam and, soon after, the Tom Robinson Band and Blondie. Yet I look
back now and realise that there was much more confected anger in much of punk
rock than in Lindsay Buckingham’s snarling putdown of Stevie in the track Go
Your Own Way, with the line ‘shacking up’s all you want to do’.
While politics moves on, and the sloganeering of some
records now sounds dated, the personal always strikes chords with the listener.
That’s probably why so many bands of that era have been forgotten, while the
Mac can still sell out stadiums (and may also explain the similar longevity of
But Nicks, this book reminds us, also managed to develop a parallel
career that eclipsed Buckingham’s own solo efforts, despite his claim to have
polished many of Nicks’ rough diamonds into platinum-earning songs.
It all kicked of with Bella Donna, produced by Jimmy Iovine
and boasting Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around, a rock duet with Tom Petty that
proved how well their voices were matched.
But there were also hints in her three-chord tricks and the
way she marshalled her female backing vocalists that Nicks had a country
sensibility, a way of reaching to the roots of ordinary people’s emotions that
would create for her loyal following.
And as well as the well-known affairs with Eagles Don Henley
and Joe Walsh her work with Fleetwood Mac and in her own right brought her
musical relationships with Dave Stewart, Rupert Hine, Sheryl Crow and Bob
Dylan, to name a few.
The true fans would stick with Nicks through the lean years,
when drugs took their toll and the music suffered. But the story here is also
of how she pulled back from the brink.
Tickets have just gone on sale for a Fleetwood Mac tour that
will bring the mid-70s line-up to the UK in May and June next year. If you want
to know why they sold out so quickly, this book is as good a place as any to
start to understand what was going on behind the lines of music and, as the
index records too, the lines of cocaine that could so easily have turned this
story of a brilliant career into another paen to wasted youth.
Stevie Nicks: visions,
dreams & rumours by Zoe Howe is published by Omnibus Press at £19.95 in