The Pioneer Press, Saturday, June 30, 1990



by Greg Kot, Chicago Tribune

The joke goes that Lindsey Buckingham was such an integral part of Fleetwood Mac that it took two guitarists to replace him.

But Mick Fleetwood, the band's namesake and drummer of 23 years, doesn't see it that way. Buckingham's replacements, Rick Vito and Billy Burnette, were longtime acquaintances whose personalities and talents meshed immediately.

"It was almost predetermined that they would join after Lindsey left," Fleetwood says. "They turned what could have been a catastrophic event into a smooth transition."

Vito and Burnette proved their worth as guitarists during a 1987-88 world tour, then contributed heavily as songwriters to "Behind the Mask" (Warner), Fleetwood Mac's first album in three years.

The two guitarists are the newest faces in a band with a history of lineup changes. Fleetwood and bassist John McVie are the only holdovers from the original 1967 lineup.

But the stakes were never higher than in 1987, when Buckingham, the quintet's producer, guitarist and sole male vocalist, announced he was quitting just as the band was making plans for a worldwide tour. During Buckingham's 12-year
tenure, Fleetwood Mac went from being a cult act to a superstar attraction with five consecutive multiplatinum albums. Their string of successes included one of the most popular albums of all time, "Rumours," which sold 20 million copies
after its 1977 release.

Buckingham's role had expanded from that of singer, songwriter and guitarist in 1975 to include duties as producer, arranger and, some would say, auteur, by the time of "Tusk," a sprawling, two-disc studio epic released in 1979.

Soon after, Mac stopped touring and Buckingham, Christine McVie, Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood became involved in solo projects. Even their much-anticipated reunion for the "Tango in the Night" album in 1987 proved fleeting.

Buckingham gathered his band mates after the album's release, and then, as Fleetwood puts it, "the lard hit the fan."

Even though the band already had booked tour dates, Buckingham said he was staying home. "It was traumatic," Fleetwood says. "We were all in a state of shock for a very short period of time."

"In retrospect, I realize that I had misjudged how much he didn't want to go on the road," he says. "I'm glad, however, that he had the guts to face four people who had been such a big part of his life for 12 years and say, `I cannot do this.' Because the tour would've been hell for him and for everyone else."

But at the time, such philosophizing was the furthest thing from the minds of the remaining members. There was some bitterness and harsh words, "but I never once thought we were finished," Fleetwood insists.

"I felt it was important not to cancel the tour, and I thought straightaway of Billy Burnette as someone who could step in and do the job."

Fleetwood and Burnette had played together sporadically for eight years, including a stint in the Zoo, a four-piece side project put together by the drummer in between Mac sessions.

"I knew Billy as an able songwriter and front man, and a fine rhythm guitar player, but not a lead guitarist. That's where Rick Vito came in. I met him at a session with Billy years ago and his track record (Bob Seger, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt) spoke for itself."

Burnette and Vito "auditioned" for all of 45 minutes and were welcomed into the fold.

"We didn't try to clone Lindsey," Fleetwood says. "We made it clear from the start that their purpose was to project their styles and personalities."

The band eased the transition for the newcomers by dropping all but one of Buckingham's compositions from the concert repertoire.

"We play `Go Your Own Way' as sort of a tribute to Lindsey and that's it," says Fleetwood, who says the band and Buckingham remain friends.

But the biggest test for the new lineup came when it entered the studio last year to begin work on "Behind the Mask."

It was in the studio that Buckingham cast the longest shadow, with his baroque sense of pop songcraft, heavily influenced by the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson during his "Pet Sounds" heyday.

"We officially handed him the production reins for `Mirage' (1982), but he took over long before that," Fleetwood says. "He was very much studio-oriented. He craved that situation and we let him do it.

"I remember Stevie would come in with a few chords, a story and a melody line, and I would play over it for about 18 minutes. It'd be great, but it was nothing you could put on an album. Lindsey would come in and sculpt that into a pop song. That's how `Sara' (a Top 10 single in 1979) came about."

But increasingly, Buckingham "no longer wanted to compromise," Fleetwood says. "And being in a band is all about healthy compromise."

With "Behind the Mask," studio democracy returned.

"We reverted to how things used to be in the old days," the drummer says.

The nine-month session yielded 13 songs, with Christine McVie, Nicks, Burnette and Vito splitting the writing.

McVie in particular "blossomed" during the sessions, Fleetwood said, and her dusky alto is the highlight of the otherwise unremarkable album on cuts such as "Skies the Limit" and "Save Me."

But though the album doesn't approach the artistic peaks achieved during the Buckingham era, it represents the return of Fleetwood Mac as a working band for the first time in nearly a decade.

"I look at this band's history in terms of moments," Fleetwood says. "The first moment was the band with (guitarist and founder) Peter Green in 1967, which had such a special power. That's my barometer for everything since then.

"The second moment was when Lindsey and Stevie joined in 1975. That was instantly a situation where I realized that something very right was happening. They brought a whole new energy and chemistry to the band.

"And the third moment was when Lindsey left. We had been sitting around for years not doing too much, and Fleetwood Mac had started to drift apart. But his departure brought about a real commitment by the rest of us to what we're doing."

After coping with personal bankruptcy while the future of his band was in doubt, Fleetwood sounds more than a little relieved to be back on the road.

"I'm a drummer so I can't play songs by myself in my living room," he says. "I need a band.

"In a way, making this album was like going to the psychiatrist, because you always leave the office with a smile on your face. This is the happiest I've been in a long, long time."

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