Q Magazine No 72, September 1992
by Mat Snow

Transcribed by Julie Kedward

Your money or your wife!

It was a real-life adult farce: drinks and shrinks, drugs and deceit, marital breakdowns and "lifestyle-problems", lies and lunacy. Then Lindsey Buckingham quit Fleetwood Mac. "It was tough telling them," he assures Mat Snow. "Not a happy day."

FOR LINDSEY BUCKINGHAM, AUGUST 7, 1987 was the first day of the rest of his life. Fleetwood Mac, the band he had joined 12 years beforehand, had just released Tango In The Night, their first album since '82. It was well on its way to selling over eight million copies, and the next obvious step was to get the touring machinery in gear. That, however, was easier said than done.

Drummer Mick Fleetwood had been "relieved of his managerial duties" after the '79-'80 tour to promote the album Tusk failed to yield the profits hoped for despite vast attendances, and so each of the five band members was represented by a separate manager who in turn employed the services of a small army of lawyers. In '84, Mick Fleetwood had been declared bankrupt to the tune of eight million dollars, although the story that most of it had gone up his nose was dismissed as an exaggeration. Stevie Nicks, meanwhile, though a highly successful solo artist, was beset by "lifestyle problems" that limited her attendance on the 11-month Tango sessions to just 10 days, according to her former boyfriend Lindsey Buckingham (she had also had an affair with Fleetwood). Her modest contribution had to be puffed up in the studio with elaborate overdubbing "to make her appear like she was on more songs than she was." As for John and Christine McVie, the relationships that had followed their own marital break-up were far from stable; the latter had disastrously dated Beach Boy Dennis Wilson, while the former had spent years nursing a drink problem of his own.

For the relatively moderate Buckingham, this "family" atmosphere had taken its toll. After '79's eccentric double album Tusk failed to mimic anything like the 25 million sales of its predecessor, Rumours, Buckingham felt pressurised to restrain his experimental inclinations, and two hastily recorded solo albums offered insufficient outlet for his more adventurous ideas. And when this painstaking singer, guitarist and morning person did go into the studio, the other band members' lifestyles required they start the working day around seven in the evening. "A lot of times we'd walk out into the sunlight. I hated that. But with Fleetwood Mac, when in Rome, you know?" he smiles wanly.

Despite it all, Buckingham remained determined that if he was to make another album with the band, he would do the job right. "You can have all this fracturing in the band and crap going on around the business side, but when you get into the studio, that's like being in church," Lindsey Buckingham pronounces, and thus he sacrificed to Tango In The Night, the songs Big Love, Caroline and Family Man, which had been already completed for his projected third solo album.

Lindsey Buckingham had done his bit for Fleetwood Mac, but touring was where he drew the line. "Sure, there was a little vacillation," agrees the trim 44-year-old, a relaxed Californian air disguising jet-lag and perhaps the faint quiver of underlying tension. "They tried to twist my arm to play the tour. Four against one. Being the one who picked the raw material and fashioned it in the studio for what they call 'the Fleetwood Mac sound', I think they felt a little fear of losing that whole element. So I don't blame them for any tactics they might have used. It was natural. I was trying to be a nice guy but I really didn't want to do the tour. I said no, then I said, Oh, OK. They said, Good, let's all go out to dinner and have fun. I didn't even show up at the restaurant - that's how close I was to not doing it even though I'd said OK.

"Then I sat around for a few more weeks, and talked to a lot of people about it - even a psychologist, that's how torn up I was - and I finally said I could not do it. It wasn't just the touring. I had to jump this bridge and take a little responsibility for my own happiness and creativity, because it's a little bit overdue.

"It was tough telling them; not a happy day."

Not a happy day indeed, as Mick Fleetwood recounts the events of August 7, '87 in his memoirs Fleetwood: My Life And Adventures With Fleetwood Mac (written with Stephen Davis, author of the sensationalist Led Zeppelin book, Hammer Of The Gods). As the lofty drummer tells it, when, during the band meeting called to discuss Buckingham's decision to quit the tour, Stevie Nicks remonstrated with her former boyfriend, he yelled "Get this bitch out of my way. And fuck the lot of you!" Further robust exchanges followed, Fleetwood writes, culminating in Buckingham slapping Nicks and bending her "backwards over the hood of his car," before being restrained by two of the band's several managers and finally storming off with the words, "You're a bunch of selfish bastards."

Five years later, Lindsey Buckingham proffers his own version.

"That never happened! Three months after the book was out they were on the road, and I sat in for the last two West Coast shows on Go Your Own Way. I hadn't seen Stevie for a long time and she came up to me and apologised to me for Mick having written that. I didn't address it at the time, I didn't think there was a need to dignify anything in the book - I haven't read it, but I did skim it. I had a difficult time with what I saw. Although there were some nice things, Mick's slant on some of what happened was pretty tough. If you were to ask any of the members in the band, I think you'll find they were all a little hurt by things like that that never happened, a lot of inaccuracies, the general trashy level. What I saw of it, anyway.

"I think you've got to realise that Mick was little bit bitter about me leaving anyway," the nervily laid-back musician continues. "But if Mick and I see each other, there's nothing wrong. The chemistry is there - that's what the band was all about in the first place. In Mick's defence, part of it might be him not taking enough responsibility for the editing. Probably the general way that Mick told the story to the writer was a lot of late nights free-associating.

"What can you say?" Lindsey Buckingham sighs. "That's showbiz ."

THE SCION OF A PROSPEROUS NORTHERN CALIFORNIAN coffee family, Lindsey Buckingham was influenced by Elvis's guitarist Scotty Moore, bluegrass banjo, local folkies The Kingston Trio, "then jumped into the more ethereal side of lead blues playing. I never had lessons, I don't read music either. It's all from the gut." He started off playing bass for a local band called Fritz. The singer was also from a well-to-do family: her name, Stevie Nicks. From '67 to '71 they pounded the Bay Area circuit to little acclaim and less money in those hippy-dippy days.

"I didn't immerse myself in the culture as much as some people did. Everyone grew their hair out and started smoking pot. If you went up to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco and hung around with some of those people, it was pretty exotic and little scary sometimes. Quite frankly, a lot of those groups were pretty lousy musicians. But they had the vibe; they were probably doing drugs and had some kind of vision."

When it was clear that Fritz would never score a recording contract, Buckingham and Nicks split from the band. "Obviously Stevie had a voice, and these record industry people in LA were interested in that, and we sang great two-part harmonies, so they saw the two of us making sense together. That common ground drew us together romantically."

At first, things looked good. Inspired by the early multi-tracking experiments of guitarist Les Paul, Buckingham bought an Ampex four-track tape recorder, and worked on his songs for a year, preparing "to reconnect with LA." In '73, the Buckingham Nicks album came out, but flopped. "We were quite poor. We used to bounce cheques to buy breakfast. Our record company thought we should be writing novelty songs like Jim Stafford's Spiders And Snakes, the hit du jour, and our managers were trying to get us to play the steakhouse circuit, the ticket to oblivion." But Buckingham Nicks suddenly found pockets of popularity in college towns in the East and South, and though unarrestable in LA, they could headline to 6,000 fans in Birmingham, Alabama. "Right then Mick Fleetwood happened to hear the Buckingham Nicks album, and asked us to join Fleetwood Mac. It wasn't a real obvious decision. It was maybe a light at the end of the tunnel. There was as much or more at stake for them."

If Buckingham Nicks had hardly set America alight, then the unstable former British blues-rock band called Fleetwood Mac were selling just enough records, reckons Mick Fleetwood, "to pay Warner Bros' light bill." Yet these two unpromising acts combined for instant commercial combustion, the second album of their marriage being the 25 million-selling Rumours. Legend has it that the making of '77's biggest album was a combination of a wife-swapping party, a marathon encounter group and a prolonged coke binge.

"No, nothing like that," Lindsey Buckingham pooh-poohs. "No wife-swapping. One of the things that gave the group this tension was you had these two couples who were 75 per cent of the way to being broken up, and the group just accelerated what was happening anyway. Stevie and I and John and Christine broke up in the middle of Rumours. We were doing something important; we had the tiger by the tail and you had to categorise your emotions to make that work. On the road you're seeing them every day and sometimes it was hard to rise above that. You try to be adult about it: these things happen - let's make the music. Things get patched over, but I couldn't totally get myself healed about Stevie until I left the band. In the meantime, you keep putting Band-Aids on it."

And the cocaine?

"The '70s in general were anything goes. I didn't particularly care for it, but if you were making records you had to," he sniffs, "function on a certain level. Music through chemistry, hahaha! I was moderate in most areas, though we all did our share. Cocaine is far too expensive. You could blow an entire fortune on that stuff and I couldn't see myself doing that. In the '70s you would be snickering, like you were in on a joke."

For Tusk, his favourite Mac album, Lindsey Buckingham began seriously exploring the possibilities of the studio. Nine years later, he worked briefly with one of pop's all-time studio greats, Brian Wilson.

"He was doing his solo record, Love And Mercy, and Eugene Landy (Wilson's controversial therapist and producer) called me up. Brian came up to my house with a song which was very catchy, but about exercising," laughs Buckingham. "You don't wanna do that, I said, so we rewrote it. It was a very unsettling situation. If Landy wasn't there, he'd have these two little surf Nazis who would not let Brian out of their sight. I know Landy did him a lot of good in the beginning with his radical techniques, but in my opinion there was a role reversal where Landy glommed onto Brian as his ticket to a glamorous world. Brian was not happy, and there was no way he'd grow into a full adult in this situation. Musically, Landy was keeping him doing this 'Baby, let's ride to heaven in my car' kinda stuff, when he really should have been getting into something a little more experimental, or adult at least. That was a little heartbreaking to watch."

In the absence of Brian Wilson making another Pet Sounds or Smile, we have Lindsey Buckingham's third solo album, Out Of The Cradle. Airy and full of tiny surprises, richly layered and varied in mood, this almost entirely self-played and quite brilliant record matches the best of Fleetwood Mac's sophisticated Californian pop. In the band, he was required to provide the rockers by way of contrast to the softer songs in which Christine McVie and Stevie Nicks specialised. Now, at last, Lindsey Buckingham can give vent to his "more sensitive side" - the sensibility of having valued something, cherished it and not felt bitter about it.

"I think I've grown a lot in the last three years, just as a person and in terms of my creative tools. My guitar-playing is at the top of its game," Lindsey Buckingham confesses in toe-curling Californian mode. "The whole atmosphere around this album is of optimism, but bittersweet about leaving one situation and moving on, feeling good about it and yet kinda scared," breezes the maestro earnestly. "It took a little time for the dust to settle ."

Thanks to Julie Kedward for transcribing this article and sending it to us.