Rock Guitarist Volume 2, 1977

by Dan Forte

Interview with Lindsey Buckingham

A year and half ago, Lindsey Buckingham succeeded in doing what countless struggling guitarists hope for each day of their lives. And, ironically, he pulled it off without so much as an audition. From "starving in L.A." as one half of an obscure duo with one LP which most record distributors didn't know existed, Lindsey was given the lead guitar seat with Fleetwood Mac, an established group with an eight-year history and more than ten albums to its credit.

From its inception in 1967 as a four-man homage to Chicago blues, Fleetwood Mac has included several talented lead guitarists, often in impressive double- and triple-threat combinations. The original Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac included three alumni of John Mayall's Bluesbreakers - drummer Mick Fleetwood, bassist John McVie, and guitarist/leader Peter Green - along with Elmore James- inspired slide guitarist Jeremy Spencer. At a time when the British blues revival was at its peak, Fleetwood Mac was topping the bill.

In the years that followed, the band underwent album-by-album changes in personnel and style, with the namesake rhythm section of Fleetwood and McVie the only survivors. Danny Kirwan was added ad third lead guitarist; Green (who has yet to return to an active career in music) quit because of personal problems; pianist-vocalist Christine Perfect married McVie and joined the group shortly before Spencer left to live with a religious cult in L.A.; Bob Welch, the band's first American member, shared the guitar spot with Kirwan (who also eventually split); during an interim vacation from performing 'live' the quartet's then-manager put together a bogus "Fleetwood Mac" with no past or present members; Welch then formed the power trio Paris.

Enter Buckingham/Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, born in Palo Alto, California, in 1949, received most of his early guitar training in the acoustic folk idiom.

While in college, he and his partner, singer/composer Stevie Nicks, formed a rock band called Fritz, and Lindsey was assigned to the Fender bass. The two survived that group and set out as a duo, which produced one much-overlooked LP, Buckingham/Nicks (Polydor, 5058).

With their addition, this chapter of Fleetwood Mac has proved to be the most winning combination thus far. Their LP Fleetwood Mac (Reprise, 2225) climbed steadily upward, produced three hit singles ("Over my head", "Rhiannon", and "Say you love me"), and reached Record World's Number One spot last July after fifty weeks on the charts! This was followed by the just-released Rumours.

Though the composing and vocal talents of Fleetwood Mac often overshadow the respective instrumental abilities of its members, Lindsey's creativity as a lead guitarist has become increasingly defined and is now in the forefront of their 'live' presentation.

RG: how did you get started on guitar?

LB: I started playing guitar first of all when I was about eight, because my older brother used to bring home all the Elvis records, Buddy Holly, the old Everly Brothers, Jerry Lee Lewis. Then I got into folk stuff and acoustic fingerpicking. When I got into rock and roll again I couldn't play screaming lead, which is why they put me on bass in Fritz. I never took guitar lessons; I don't read music.

RG: how did your technique change, switching from folk to lead?

LB: That's the funny thing - I still don't use a flatpick. I always use my fingers onstage; I kind of thrash out the lead with my fingernails. I don't use any picks at all, just the bare meat. My fingernails take quite a pummeling sometimes, but it's just something you get used to - I've got a lot of calluses on the ends of my fingers. The only time I ever used fingerpicks was for bluegrass banjo, but I never used a flatpick for anything.

RG: what folk guitarists did you listen to early on?

LB: Oh, guitarists, per se, I don't know. I listened to stuff like The Kingston Trio and Ian And Sylvia , which didn't highlight any really hot guitar. (John Herald played guitar with Ian And Sylvia.) I listened to Chet Atkins a little bit. The Travis, three-finger picking pattern got me into what I'm doing now.

RG: what rock guitarists did you later get into?

LB: I guess Eric Clapton and that whole thing - but at the time I wasn't into playing that stuff much. Peter Green, oddly enough, had a little influence on me, because Then Play On (Reprise, 6368) was released around that time. I really liked his style of playing where a few notes man a lot - even one note.

RG: how did you happen to join this group?

LB: About two months before we ended up cutting Fleetwood Mac, Mick was looking for a studio to use. Someone haphazardly turned him into this place in San Fernando Valley called Sound City. So he talked to (engineer) Keith Olsen out there, and Keith put on "Frozen Love" from the Buckingham/Nicks album to show him what the studio sounded like and what his work was like. He wasn't trying to showcase us, because Bob Welch was already in the band at that time. A week later Welch decided to leave the group, and Mick just acted intuitively and called up Keith to get in touch with us. We rehearsed for about two weeks and then just cut the LP.

RG: in what way were you influenced by the guitarists that preceded you in Fleetwood Mac?

LB: There was never any conscious effort to try to fit into their styles other than, say, doing their songs onstage. But even so, I didn't listen to those records and try to copy what was on them. We just started playing, and that was what came out. I've never felt any need to try to fit into anyone else's shoes. I just do what I do, whatever. Maybe one of the reasons Fleetwood Mac has been able to survive for so long is that they've been able to change.

RG: where did you learn your chord background?

LB: I've just been doing it a long time, just hearing things and picking them out by ear. Years ago I used to play along with records. But I never really got into a disciplined approach. It's always been an enjoyment thing for me, still is. It never occurred to me to run any drills. Like, playing fast is one of those things I never tried to do. I don't want to play really speedy, because I'd rather play simply. For about a year and a half down in L.A. I got turned on to country music and just how hard it is to play a few notes gracefully and evenly. I'm more speedy on the fingerpicking than anything else. There's a song we do called "World Turning" that's definitely got some chops.

RG: do you use any open tunings?

LB: "Over my head" is played in a D tuning. On "World Turning" I tune the low E down to D. On the record there are two guitars on there - one electric and one dobro.

RG: what guitars do you own?

LB: Onstage I play a (stock) Les Paul Custom, one of those twentieth anniversary models. Before I joined the band I'd been playing a Stratocaster (which I love dearly), but for some reason it didn't sound quite full enough 'live'. I still use a Stratocaster more in the studio than the Gibson, but the Les Paul seems to be a very good, basic, solid stage guitar with a lot of output and fullness. I'm really happy with it. I keep a Strat tuned to open D onstage for "Over my Head". And Rick Turner form Alembic put his little Stratoblaster in it. For "Landslide" my acoustic is an Ovation onstage, although I used a Martin D-18 on the recording. The Ovation's got a built-in pickup; it's great. It doesn't really sound like an acoustic guitar, but it works so much better 'live' than to mike a real acoustic.

RG: what other equipment do you have?

LB: For amplifiers I used to use HiWatts, but they all of a sudden somehow became real dirty-sounding. So I got Marshall 100-watts, and they seem to have a lot of bite. I use these tape recorder guts for fuzz. When I got out of Fritz and started doing lead, I bought a Sony 630 tape recorder deck for demo tapes. Then I got an Ampeg 4-track and started using the Sony 2-track for slap echo and effects like that with the preamp output of the deck into an amp. It's just an amazing fuzz device. Since then I've taken the guts out of the preamp and put them in a little box, and that's what I use both onstage and in the studio. I also use a Roland Space Echo and a Cry Baby wahwah sometimes. My strings are Ernie Ball Regular Slinky, whatever set has an .010 on the top and a .046 or something on the bottom.

RG: do you record with the Marshalls at high volume?

LB: It depends on the song. Sometimes you can even go direct (into the control board) and get a great guitar sound, especially with the Stratoblaster thing. A lot of times I use smaller amps in the studio. I have an old Gibson; I don't even know the model, but it's about twenty years old, and it's got one 15" in it and an open back. It sounds amazing turned all the way up.

RG: do you think you'd be playing differently if you had studied music formally?

LB: I'm sure I would be. At the same time, though, I feel there are certain styles I do which aren't totally solidified yet and are different maybe because of the lack of knowledge. I have a friend who's studying classical music, and we discuss the rules of the classical music - which are very interesting, and I plan to learn more about them. But at the same time I know people who have taken a lot of musical classes, and all that knowledge just works against them. I'm just enjoying what I'm doing, as long as I can still be open for learning more. I feel good about the way it's gone for me as far as guitar is concerned.

Thanks to Mari for posting this to The Ledge and to Anusha for sending it to us.