Circus -- December 31, 1981

No More Dreaming for Stevie Nicks

by Stan Hyman

Stevie Nicks, Fleetwood Mac's wisp of a lady singer, isn't just one of the boys anymore. With the release of her first solo LP Bella Donna (Modern), she overcame the three biggest obstacles that stood in her professional path: the frustration of writing songs that got lost in the shuffle, the long, grinding tours with the band, and the cramping need to mold even her most commercial material to fit the Fleetwood formula.

Without benefit of the presence of any other Mac bandmembers, Bella Donna topped the charts just weeks after its summer release. Stevie's hit single, a duet with Tom Petty called, "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around," was holding firm at #4 as late as mid-fall. But the solo emergence of Nicks, 33, was the rock event of August.

"I did the album," Nicks says in a gravelly voice, "because I wanted to make sure that I could still do something for myself. I was really kind of stunned," she continues, pointing to the record's rapid chart ascension. "I never let myself believe that the best thing is going to happen."

There was a time when Nicks doubted whether success would occur at all. "I don't have a great voice," she says candidly. "But," Nicks defends, "I do have a voice that makes people stop and listen."

Daughter of A general Brewing executive, Stephanie Nicks was reared in Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, Utah and California. Her grandfather, Aaron Jess Nicks, was "a country singer who wrote music his whole life," Stevie recalls. It was "A.J." who instilled his granddaughter with an unbridled love for folk and country songs; she wrote her first, "I've Loved and I've Lost," when she was 16.

Following stints with two late '60s folk-rock bands, Changing Times and Fritz, Nicks's singing came to a temporary halt. With no record deal and few gigs, Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham abandoned Fritz; Nicks served burgers in Beverly Hills and cleaned house for a record producer until the two managed to sign as a duo with Polydor. But even that venture turned sour. The excitement of cutting a first album was dampened, she claims, because the record company failed to promote the record successfully.

Drummer Mick Fleetwood heard some cuts from Buckingham/Nicks in '75, and, impressed, asked the duo to join Fleetwood Mac. "It's a good thing that happened right then," says Nicks. "Without Mick's offer, I think we would have had some really terrible problems. We were nothing, with no money, and suddenly we were making two hundred dollars a week each. I moved into a more expensive apartment. Lindsey moved in with me two weeks later. We'd been trying to break up, off and on, for years.

Although the strain of working in the same group took its toll on Nicks's relationship with Buckingham (they broke up for good in 1976), her songwriting began to bloom. She wrote Fleetwood hits that included "Rhiannon," "Dreams" and "Sara."

But along with glamour came new problems. After completing Tusk and its year-long world tour last year, Nicks knew she was burning herself out.

"I was really in terrible shape; I was so tired and so sung out. I was so 'Rhiannon'-ed out that I thought, 'If I have to stand on stage for two and a half hours and do that set one more time, I'll go nuts.' I had some of the new songs and many more you haven't heard, and it was sad to see them never played. I figured doing Bella Donna would keep me sane."

With Bella Donna, Nicks got the chance to do things her way, adding more than a touch of the country style A.J. had taught her. "When I give a country song to Fleetwood Mac," moans Stevie, "they take it apart and put it back together. Nobody knows it was a c&w tune." Both "Leather and Lace" and "How Still My Love" from the new LP sound as close to Nashville as they do to a California rock style. Yet both melodies are reminiscent of Nick's Fleetwood Mac songs "Landslide" and "Dreams."

"My songs are really just continuations of one another," Stevie confesses. "I can sit down and play a medley of 'Dreams,' 'Sara,' 'Outside the Rain,' 'How Still My Love' and 'Edge of Seventeen.' They're all little pieces. I don't try to change my songwriting that much. I don't care if it sounds like another 'Dreams' or not. I just try to make it more personal each time. But I want people to believe me when I sing. If they don't, then there's no reason for writing those really personal things down."

Nicks credits former boyfriend Paul Fishkin, co-owner of Modern Records, and her producer/lover Jimmy Iovine with motivating the freedom in her songwriting as well as affording her the opportunity to record Bella Donna with "the perfect people" : Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the Eagles' Don Henley and the cream of the California studio crop.

"Paul Fishkin and I believed in her," stresses Danny Goldberg, former Circus Magazine editor and, with Fishkin, a partner in Modern Records. "We both risked our careers on her, but we all had a dream." Countering the argument that Nicks sometimes comes across as an airy-fairy princess more concerned with her makeup and costumes than her pitch, Goldberg snaps, "Stevie's the real thing. She gets her motivation from the heart."

A concert tour of Bella Donna was tentatively scheduled to begin around Thanksgiving and continue till year's end. Though Tom Petty won't appear, album-mates Russ Kunkel, Waddy Wachtel, Don Felder and Henley were expected to be aboard. Nicks, however, isn't planning to repeat a schedule as grueling as that of the Tusk tour. "We'll do just a couple of shows here [Los Angeles] and maybe a couple of shows in New York," she says languidly. "That way they'll stay fresh, and nobody will die from touring. I'd be recording all year 'round if I could. But as long as I know I can go in and knock out ten songs every once in a while, I won't be a nervous wreck. It's that little bit of an outlet from Fleetwood Mac that makes it all O.K."

(Additional material by Richard Hogan.)

Thanks to Tracey Garner for the submission (and formatting!).