Los Angeles Times, Sunday, June 21, 1987


by Robert Hilburn

LEAVE Mick Fleetwood's cliff-side home in Malibu at 11:30 most mornings and you can make it to the driveway of Lindsey Buckingham's modern, single-story house in Bel-Air by noon. Travel east on Sunset Boulevard, past the Beverly Hills Hotel and the lavishly landscaped estates of Coldwater Canyon, until you're at Christine McVie's two-story English manor. Figure 10 minutes.

Head east again on Sunset, beyond the Roxy and Tower Records, and a turn up the hill puts you at Stevie Nicks' split-level pad with its postcard view of the city. Fifteen minutes tops. Then it's just a quick trip across Laurel Canyon to John McVie's modest Spanish-style dwelling in North Hollywood. The whole trip: well under 90 minutes.

It sounds like it would be easy to get the five members of Fleetwood Mac together to make a record, but for most of the last five years, Warner Bros. Records executives wished that it were only that simple.

As time dragged on, there was widespread speculation throughout the record industry that the Big Mac had finally disintegrated amid personal problems and conflicting career objectives. And there were tensions, band members acknowledged in separate interviews.

But Fleetwood Mac proved the skeptics wrong, rebounding in April with "Tango in the Night," an album that was greeted with strong reviews and encouraging sales. It is already in the Top 10 in the United States, Canada, England, Australia and West Germany. Promoters around the country are eager for a tour. Yet "Tango in the Night" may be the Big Mac's last hurrah.

Buckingham, acknowledged by all parties to be the chief architect of the band's highly seductive sound, has been thinking for years about stepping out of Fleetwood Mac to concentrate on his promising solo career. The timing may finally be right.

"I would not have wanted to leave the group on the ambiguous note that (the 1982 album) 'Mirage' sounded," Buckingham said. "There were lots of things left hanging out on limbs . . . finances, emotions. I think there was also some pride at stake. "This band has done some remarkable things and 'Mirage' was no way for it to say goodbye. I think we had something to prove and we did it in the new album. So, it now feels like the time."

You could have got some handsome odds around town in recent years if you were willing to bet Fleetwood Mac would never see the Top 10 again. After its "Rumours" album in 1977 established the band as one of the most successful rock acts ever, the quintet has had its share of lumps in the '80s. MICK Fleetwood, "fired" as the group's manager after the 1979 "Tusk" tour, went through bankruptcy. John McVie spent two years drinking his boredom away on the Caribbean island of St. Thomas. Nicks' hectic schedule led to a chemical dependency that resulted in a visit last year to the Betty Ford Center. Lindsey Buckingham agonized over his role in the band.

But Fleetwood rejects the idea that these problems were major. He points to the earlier trials of the Big Mac, including the tempestuous "Rumours" recording sessions.

John and Christine McVie, longtime members of the band, as well as Buckingham and Nicks, who had joined just before the "Fleetwood Mac" album in 1975, both ended long-term relationships. The McVies were married and Buckingham and Nicks had lived together for four years. That resulted in extraordinary tensions in the studio.

Looking back on the months of recording, Fleetwood said: "That was an amazing time for all of us. I was going through a hell, too (a divorce), but I was spared the studio thing. . . . So I have to be a little amused now when all our managers get together and act like there's some really difficult problem. If you want to talk about problems, we are the masters of it.

"Comparing most of the things that come up now to what we've gone through over the years is like telling a war veteran that you just broke your ankle crossing the street. That's no big deal to the war veteran. He's seen people's heads flying off."

With most bands, there is a single spokesman who conveys an idyllic picture of life within the group. With Fleetwood Mac, however, there are five distinct personalities who often see things differently. Each has enjoyed the spoils of success long enough to acquire the independence to speak his or her mind freely. This spirit is also reflected in their interaction. Each member has a separate manager and a separate set of priorities -- one reason it took five years to get "Tango in the Night" on the shelves.

Drummer Fleetwood, an imposing 6-foot-6 Englishman, co- founded the group in England in 1967 as a blues-accented unit and, with soft-spoken bassist John McVie, has kept it afloat all these years. He comes across as the elder statesman of the band, one who sees occasional skirmishes within the group as the normal actions of any "family." Of the five, he appears to worry most about the group's long-range plans.

Buckingham has evolved into the band's musical leader. The guitarist agonizes the most over the quality and freshness of the band's work, but seems to subscribe least to the idea of keeping the "family" together at all costs. The reason the group isn't already on tour to promote the LP is that Buckingham insists on completing his solo album. Indeed, he's not sold on the idea of touring again at all.

"It's hard to explain our relationship sometimes," Buckingham said. "There is a strong, almost psychic bond, but we are not even really friends (in the sense) that we spend a lot of time together. Mostly, we are a group of individuals who happen to sort of play well together. We aren't even all in the studio at the same time. The only time we are a real band is on stage."

John McVie and Christine McVie, the band's two other English members, tend to be less outspoken than the others. They enjoy their lives away from the band and seem generally content to allow others -- namely Fleetwood and Buckingham -- be the catalysts.

About the members' relationship, John McVie said: "It's true we don't spend a lot of time together, but I do think of us as a family. It's like two brothers and two sisters grow up and live in the same town, but that doesn't mean you have to be in everybody's front room. You still love them. You feel connected."

Stevie Nicks, a Phoenix native who was raised in Southern California, tends to be the most passionate during interviews. Though heavily involved in her own solo career, she feels a deep commitment to Fleetwood Mac and is quick to scold outsiders who suggest that the group had fallen apart in recent years.

"I think our real fans pretty much understand what is going on," she said. "It's the industry that gets confused. . . . All that talk about 'Fleetwood Mac is going to break up or has broken up.'

"Sometimes I wish the industry would just go away and leave us alone. We haven't broken up yet. Our worst album ('Mirage') wasn't exactly a complete bomb. It still sold millions of records."

How long does it take five musicians to make an album?

That may sound like the outline of a new joke, but the answer is part of the frustrating story behind "Tango in the Night." No one in the band meant it to take that long but, then, no one apparently seemed too troubled as the months dragged on.

Interviewed separately, all five members agreed that the group never came close to calling it quits. They simply felt a long break was in order after the "Mirage" tour in 1982 -- at least a year. This would give the members time to relax and, if they wanted, to do solo albums. Everyone except John McVie, it turned out, did make a solo LP.

"We all expected to get back together, but no one ever set a date when we would get back together and the time just slipped by," explained Christine McVie. "I was busy redecorating my house, fixing up the garden, being around my dogs. It was the first time I ever had to (indulge) the domestic side of me.

"During that time, I was also writing songs with different people and doing odd things here and there. After a couple of years, I started wondering about the next album, but everyone else seemed busy, so I did a solo album of my own and fell in love."

Buckingham was working on his third solo LP in the fall of 1985 when pressures began to mount for another Fleetwood Mac album. At first, he planned to continue working on his solo album with co-producer Richard Dashut and let an outside engineer-producer oversee the Fleetwood Mac sessions. But that plan didn't last long. After a few weeks, Buckingham put aside the solo project and began producing (with Dashut) the Fleetwood Mac album. They set up shop in Buckingham's garage studio and began looking for a focus for the album, sometimes joined by one or two members of the band.

Buckingham, 37, loves making records, so it was only natural that he built a studio at his house -- and that he suggests that the interview be conducted there. The boyish singer-guitarist is more comfortable making records than talking about them, and he sits in a straight- backed chair like a man preparing to give a deposition. He knows there are lots of touchy areas in the Fleetwood Mac story and he wants to be diplomatic.

Buckingham and Nicks, who made a promising 1973 album together on Polydor Records, did not leap at the invitation to join the group 12 years ago. Buckingham has strong musical views and he knew that joining any band would mean a certain compromise. Fleetwood Mac had enjoyed only modest commercial and critical success in this country, but the first album after the Buckingham and Nicks addition scored highly on both counts. "Fleetwood Mac" sold more than 4 million copies in 1975, soaring to No. 3 on the charts. Though the prolific Nicks attracted the most attention as the band moved to stardom, Buckingham was more instrumental in defining the group's new pop-rock style, a role that increased with each record. "Rumours" was the blockbuster, a marvelously seductive record about the disintegration of relationships that sold an amazing 12 million copies in the United States alone, one of the half-dozen biggest sellers ever.

Despite the success, Buckingham felt uneasy.

"I liked 'Rumours,' but to me there was some point where the focus became the sales, not the music," he said during the interview. "There is a lot of pressure to top yourself . . . to come up with a 'Rumours II,' and that seemed like a trap. "So I went to Mick and said we've got to break out of this mold that is slowly closing in on us . . . and that's what the 'Tusk' album was about. I set up a little studio in the maid's quarters at my old house and began experimenting."

"Tusk," released in 1979, was highlighted by all sorts of quirky, unexpected rhythms that gained rave reviews for daring by a mainstream band. And the double album sold well: more than 4 million copies. Still, it wasn't "Rumours II" and some in the industry looked on it as a disappointment. "It was a rebellious thing to do in retrospect," Buckingham said. "I wasn't being a team player and you can hear that on the record. If you pull my songs off, they sound like a first solo album. You've got these tracks by various members, which run toward the more conservative side, and you've got all (my) stuff that sounds real abrasive.

"The drag was I would bring that stuff in and people would really take to it and then a year later, when it turned out it wasn't going to be 'Rumours II' in terms of sales, I think Mick and people started saying, 'Well, you blew it.' " Fleetwood, sitting in a conference room at his manager's office here, is concerned about the "Tusk" affair.

"You know, I think 'Tusk' was the most important album Fleetwood Mac ever made, because it was a steppingstone to where the band is now," Fleetwood said, always eager to put the group's actions in perspective. "Lindsey is far more involved in going through the agonies of (second-guessing) stuff," Fleetwood said. "It's just the nature of his personality . . . worrying and questioning. . . . If we had the five of us doing what Lindsey does, the tension would be so great that it would be like an H-bomb. "

"I did talk to him about how I thought his tracks could have gotten more (radio exposure) if he had made a few changes in them, but I was never trying to (scold) him. I was just trying to help him. When I went to Africa (to record a solo album), I did one of Lindsay's songs because I thought they were great songs."

Fleetwood pauses. "Look," he finally says, "if you do one thing in this article, explain to him that is how I felt about it."

Stevie Nicks agrees with Fleetwood that no one blamed Buckingham for the failure of "Tusk" to keep pace commercially with "Rumours."

Sitting in the living room of her West Hollywood house, she said: "We all knew in our hearts we were going to get a lot of flak, but it wasn't Lindsey pulling us somewhere we didn't want to go. If anybody had hated it that much, somebody would have stood up and said, 'Stop.'"

The band's best-known member, Nicks has, in her own words, a certain "airy-fairy" image brought about by her sometimes mystical themes and a tendency on stage to twirl around in trance-like fashion.

"I am about as fragile as a bull," she said forcefully.

Nicks, 38, blames her active pace for the chemical dependency that led her to check in last spring to the Betty Ford Center in Palm Springs.

"I figured that if I wanted to continue going like an absolute maniac that I wouldn't be able to do that for a whole lot longer . . . that it would eventually hurt my music. I had planned to do it for a long time, but I wanted to wait until I'd have a break from touring and recording. I didn't feel I was strong enough to go to Betty Ford for a month in the middle of a tour because anybody in the world will tell you that if you are going to do something that serious, you shouldn't be stupid and turn around and go right back on stage in front of 75,000 people, where you are going to be terribly nervous and probably want to go back to whatever it was you gave up."

Thanks to Les for posting this to the Ledge and to Anusha for formatting and sending it to us.