When Stevie Nicks first rediscovered the demo tapes she had made in the Seventies and decided to record fresh versions for her new solo album, 24 Karat Gold – Songs From the Vault, she also happened on a box of Polaroids she'd taken while...
The only thing about Fleetwood Mac that hasn't changed since the band formed in 1967 is the rhythm section of Mick Fleetwood and John "Mac" McVie — fitting, since the band is named after those two. Through the Seventies, the band's personnel and style shifted with nearly every recording as Fleetwood Mac metamorphosed from a traditionalist British blues band to the maker of one of the best-selling pop albums ever, Rumours, then kept on for decades after that — to varying degrees of success.
Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac was formed by ex–John Mayall's Bluesbreakers Green, McVie, and Fleetwood along with Elmore James enthusiast Jeremy Spencer. McVie had been a charter member of the Bluesbreakers in 1963, Fleetwood had joined in 1965, and Green had replaced Eric Clapton in 1966. With its repertoire of blues classics and Green's blues-style originals, the group's debut at the British Jazz and Blues Festival in August 1967 netted it a record contract. Fleetwood Mac was popular in Britain immediately, and its debut album stayed near the top of the British chart for 13 months. The quartet had hits in the U.K. through 1970, including "Black Magic Woman" and the instrumental "Albatross" (which was Number One in 1968 and reached Number Four when rereleased in 1973). America, however, largely ignored Fleetwood Mac: its first U.S. tour had the group third-billed behind Jethro Tull and Joe Cocker, neither of whom was as popular in Britain.
Green and Spencer recorded Fleetwood Mac in Chicago with Willie Dixon, Otis Spann, and other blues patriarchs in 1969 (the LP wasn't released until 1971), yet the group was already moving away from the all-blues format. In May 1970 Green abruptly left the group to follow his ascetic religious beliefs. He stayed out of the music business until the mid-Seventies, when he made two solo LPs. His departure put an end to Fleetwood Mac's blues leanings. Danny Kirwan and Christine Perfect moved the band toward leaner, more melodic rock. Perfect, who had sung with Spencer Davis in folk and jazz outfits before joining British blues-rockers Chicken Shack in 1968, had performed uncredited on parts of Then Play On, but contractual obligations to Chicken Shack kept her from joining Fleetwood Mac officially until 1971. By then she had married McVie.
Early in 1971, Spencer disappeared in L.A. and turned up as a member of a religious cult, the Children of God (later the title of a Spencer solo effort). Fleetwood Mac went through a confused period. Bob Welch joined, supplementing Kirwan's and Christine McVie's songwriting. Next Kirwan was fired and replaced by Bob Weston and Dave Walker, both of whom soon departed. Manager Clifford Davis then formed a group around Weston and Walker, called it Fleetwood Mac, and sent it on a U.S. tour. An injunction filed by the real Fleetwood Mac forced the bogus band to desist (they then formed the group Stretch), but protracted legal complications kept Fleetwood Mac from touring for most of 1974. From then until around the time of the Tusk tour in 1979-80, the band managed itself, with Mick Fleetwood taking most of the responsibility.
The group relocated to California in 1974. After Welch left to form the power trio Paris in 1975, Fleetwood Mac finally found its best-selling lineup. Producer Keith Olsen played an album he'd engineered, Buckingham-Nicks (Polydor), for Fleetwood and the McVies as a demo for his studio; Fleetwood Mac hired not only Olsen but the duo of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, who had played together in the Bay Area acid-rock group Fritz from 1968 until 1972, before recording with Olsen. Fleetwood Mac now had three songwriters, Buckingham's studio craft, and an onstage focal point in Nicks, who became a late-Seventies sex symbol as Fleetwood Mac (Number One, 1975) racked up 5 million in sales. The McVies divorced in 1976, and Buckingham and Nicks separated soon after, but the tensions of the two years between albums helped shape the songs on Rumours (Number One, 1977), which would sell over 17 million copies, win the Grammy for Album of the Year, and spawn the 1977 hits "Go Your Own Way" (Number 10), "Dreams" (Number One), "Don't Stop" (Number Three), and "You Make Loving Fun" (Number Nine).
After touring the biggest venues around the world—with Nicks, who was prone to throat nodes, always in danger of losing her voice—Fleetwood Mac took another two years and approximately $1 million to make Tusk (Number Four, 1979), an ambitious, frequently experimental project that couldn't match its predecessors' popularity, although it still turned a modest profit and spun off a couple of hits: "Tusk" (Number Eight, 1979) and "Sara" (Number Seven, 1979). Buckingham and Mac engineer Richard Dashut also produced hit singles for John Stewart and Bob Welch. As with many bands that have overspent in the studio, Fleetwood Mac's next effort was a live double album, Live (Number 14, 1980).
In 1980 Fleetwood and Dashut visited Ghana to record The Visitor with African musicians, and Nicks began work on her first solo LP, Bella Donna, which hit Number One and went quadruple platinum with three Top 20 singles: "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" (a duet with Tom Petty), "Leather and Lace" (a duet with Don Henley), and "Edge of Seventeen (Just Like the White Winged Dove)." Late 1981 saw the release of Buckingham's solo LP, Law and Order (Number 32, 1981) and his Top 10 single "Trouble."
Fleetwood Mac's first collection of new material in three years, Mirage (Number One), was less overtly experimental and featured the 1982 hit singles "Hold Me" (written by Christine McVie about her relationship with Beach Boy Dennis Wilson) (Number Four), "Gypsy" (Number 12), and "Love in Store" (Number 22). The following year Nicks released her second solo effort, The Wild Heart, which contained "Stand Back" (Number Five). Unlike Buckingham's critically lauded but only moderately popular solo releases, Nicks' were hugely popular, with her third release, Rock a Little, charting at Number 12. In 1984, Christine McVie released two hit singles, "Got a Hold on Me" (Number 10) and "Love Will Show Us How" (Number 30), and Buckingham released his critically acclaimed Go Insane.
Under the stress of several factors — among them each member having his or her own management team, Buckingham's increasing authority in the studio, Nicks' ascent to solo stardom and chemical dependency (treated during a 1987 stint at the Betty Ford Clinic), and Fleetwood's bankruptcy — the group took a hiatus, not coming back together again until 1985, when it began work on Tango in the Night.
Long dissatisfied with his position in the group, Buckingham officially left after deciding not to tour with it to support the album. His replacements, Billy Burnette, who was a member of Fleetwood's informal side group Zoo, and Rick Vito, toured instead. While the group was at work on Tango, Nicks was also recording, working, and touring behind Rock a Little. Released in the spring in 1987, Tango quickly moved into the Top 10, bolstered by the Top 20 hits "Little Lies," "Seven Wonders," and "Everywhere."
Behind the Mask (Number 18), Fleetwood Mac's first studio album not to go platinum since 1975, came out in 1990, around which time Christine McVie and Nicks both announced they would remain in the group but no longer tour. Later that year the drummer's best-selling memoirs, Fleetwood: My Life and Adventures in Fleetwood Mac, was published.
In early 1991, Vito left the group, followed two years later by Burnette. In January, 1993, Buckingham joined Fleetwood, the McVies, and Nicks to perform Bill Clinton's campaign anthem, "Don't Stop," at his presidential inaugural gala. The next month, Nicks announced her departure from the group. In 1994, she released Street Angel (Number 45, 1994), her first album of new material in four years.
Two new members joined Fleetwood Mac in fall 1993: Dave Mason and Bekka Bramlett (the daughter of Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett, with whom Mason had toured before Bekka was born). Bramlett had also sung with the Zoo. After releasing Time (1995) to disappointing response, the group dissolved.
A year later, the Rumours edition of Fleetwood Mac reunited to record The Dance (Number One, 1997), a live document of an MTV concert that featured the band's greatest hits as well as four new songs. The album's release coincided with a worldwide tour — its first in 15 years — that found Fleetwood Mac's popularity undiminished as it marked the 20th anniversary of Rumours.
In 1998 the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where it played an acoustic set that Buckingham insisted would be its swan song. Ironically, founding member Peter Green performed as well — but with fellow inductees Santana.
Taking stock of Nicks' solo highlights, Enchanted, a three-disc box set, was also released. Her 2001 release, Trouble in Shangri-La, returned her to the Top 10. Even Green enjoyed a comeback, forming the Peter Green Splinter Group and releasing a series of late-'90s albums devoted to the blues. By 2000, Fleetwood Mac had sold more than 100 million copies of its albums — including 25 million for Rumours alone — making it one of the most popular rock bands in history.
In 2003, the band regrouped to record Say You Will — the first Fleetwood Mac album in 30 years without Christie McVie's vocals. The album debuted at Number Three, giving the band its best debut since 1982's Mirage, and selling over 500,000 copies. In 2009, the group reconvened again for the Unleashed tour, which thoroughly covered North America before moving on Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Along the way, band members offered hints that another group album might be on the way.
Portions of this biography appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001). Evan Serpick contributed to this article.