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Boston Globe (MA), June 26, 1992

Section: LIVING


Steve Morse, Globe Staff

Going solo. It's a dream and a curse in pop music. You might leave a successful "brand-name" band for creative, financial or mental health reasons, only to find new pressures and the scary feeling of starting over with less name recognition, yet more to prove. For every solo act that's made it -- Bobby Brown after leaving New Edition, Robert Plant after Led Zeppelin -- there are dozens who have crashed and burned.

A quick quiz:

- Fleetwood Mac sold millions of records, but how many people know of Lindsey Buckingham, the spark behind their 21-million-selling "Rumours" album?

- C & C Music Factory won MTV's best new group award last year, but how many folks recognize lead rapper Freedom Williams?

- The Eagles sold 15 million copies of their "Hotel California" album in 1976, but how many know former singer Glenn Frey? They may know ex-Eagle Don Henley, but he's one of the lucky solo acts who have made the transition.

It's with a mixture of hope and chutzpah that these and other gone solo acts, such as Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart (both ex-Eurythmics), are again knocking at the marketplace door. Buckingham, Frey and Lennox all have persuasive new albums, while rapper Williams, who just left C & C Music Factory because he felt financially cheated (he's filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the producers), has a new album next month on his aptly named Knock 'Em Out of the Box label.

"You have to go where your heart is -- and my heart was no longer with C & C Music Factory," says Williams, who starred on the group's Top 5 hits "Gonna Make You Sweat" and "Things That Make You Go Hmmmm."

"I couldn't make another album under the conditions I was in," he adds from New York. "It's like a marriage. If you have to be married to someone you don't want to be with anymore, it's only going to get worse."

"I think at a certain point we really had just had enough," echoes Lennox, the former Eurythmics singer whose soulful new album, "Diva," marks her departure from longtime partner (and former boyfriend) Dave Stewart.

Ex-Fleetwood Mac braintrust Buckingham is similarly blunt about his exit. "Leaving Fleetwood Mac was a survival move, because I couldn't function in that situation anymore," he says from Los Angeles. "I think they understood that. It was a drag.

"There was a lot of craziness, so you had to often settle for what you could get; and that was not something that I felt comfortable with," Buckingham adds. "There's always compromise involved in a group. And that's fine, but at some point to me, it just wasn't buyable anymore. It wasn't a situation where I felt I could be very creative for myself or for anyone else."

Buckingham left Fleetwood Mac five years ago. The official reason was that he was "tired of the road." He's since been holed up in his home studio, finally emerging with the challenging "Out of the Cradle," a solo disc on which he plays most of the instruments. The album has the pop exuberance of his bigger hits with Fleetwood Mac (among them the Top 10 songs "Go Your Own Way" and "Big Love"), but also the experimental edges of his favorite Mac album, "Tusk."

In fact, Buckingham now admits he started to withdraw from the band after "Tusk," the 1979 follow-up to the hot-selling "Rumours." The pressure to produce another "Rumours" took its toll, while he also notes how bureaucratic the band had become, with lawyers and managers hanging on at every turn. Not to mention the tabloid sensationalism that later climaxed in a book by Mac drummer Mick Fleetwood (entitled "Fleetwood"), in which he suggests Buckingham once slapped co-singer (and former girlfriend) Stevie Nicks.

"I think everyone in the band was disappointed in Mick for coming out with something that trashy," says Buckingham. "The last time I saw Stevie, she came up to me apologizing for Mick writing that I'd slapped her, which never happened. Things like that were a product of Mick sitting around late at night with a writer for months, gabbing away about what he thought happened in situations, and maybe not taking much responsibility for the editing of it. . . . It was not a class act."

A more experienced solo explorer is Glenn Frey, who's been on his own for a decade. He sang many of the Eagles' top hits ("Take It Easy," "Peaceful Easy Feeling," "Lyin' Eyes," "Heartache Tonight") before the group called it quits.

"The Eagles taught me many things, but I was also without a life," Frey says from his home in Aspen. "I couldn't even take a vacation without asking three or four people if it was all right. . . . The Eagles had become a beast, a monster that had to be fed. I found myself making a lot of money, but the band had become a 24-hour-a-day job."

Because of that, Frey wasn't keen on a megabucks reunion tour proposed last year. "I'd get together with the guys to do one show if it was really important, but not nine months of touring," he says. "I have a wife and daughter now, and I'm involved in the community in Aspen."

Every few years, Frey resurfaces with a solo hit. There was "The Heat Is On" from the "Beverly Hills Cop" soundtrack in 1985. And there's been "Smuggler's Blues," "You Belong to the City" and "True Love." But none of it has been easy.

"You start back at zero when you go solo," Frey says. "When I think about it, the failure rate of people coming out of successful bands is very high. I knew there would be certain risks. But the bonus was that I could go at my own pace. Sure, I'd like to sell multiplatinum albums again like I did with the Eagles, rather than the gold records I sell now, but I wouldn't trade it for the sanity I've gotten. I measure success a lot differently now than record sales."

Having left his Eagles base of Los Angeles, Frey lives year-round in Aspen, where he also bought the house next door (from singer Jimmy Buffett) and built a studio in Buffett's old office. There, Frey recorded his new album, "Strange Weather," the first socially conscious disc of his career. A solid effort that marks his finest work since the Eagles, it surprises with barbed songs about Ronald Reagan's legacy of greed in "He Took Advantage" and "I've Got Mine."

"I'm an easygoing person, but like a lot of Americans, I've just been pushed too far," Frey says, admitting that some of his new consciousness was spurred by former Eagles partner Don Henley, who remains a friend.

"One thing I admire about Henley's work is that he takes on subject matter that's important to him, but he also makes entertaining music with good chord progressions. That's what I tried to do with the new album," says Frey.

"I'm really starting to enjoy my solo career," he concludes. "And I'm not going to stop. If this new album doesn't work out, I'm going right back in the studio to do another. Maybe experience breeds confidence after all."