When Christine McVie and her husband, John, moved to Los Angeles in 1974 with their band, Fleetwood Mac, they spent the first few months at the home of John Mayall. John McVie had already been in one of the zillion incarnations of Mayall's Bluesbreakers; that year, he joined a slightly different group of Mayall's devising.
"The Brain Damage Club," recalls Christine. "In order to join, you had to dive off the third floor naked into the pool." She's still amazed that he didn't kill himself. "Needless to say, I didn't join the club."
Of course not. For more than twenty years, Christine Perfect McVie has been the epitome of rock & roll sanity. Her career in music – from white English blues to solidly melodic soft rock – has brought her in close contact with burnouts, head cases and mental dead ends. Yet through it all, she has remained steadfastly rational, with her unpretentiousness and her genuine affection for those around her intact. This year, she's released a solo album, Christine McVie, which emphasizes her equanimity even while it celebrates the joys of romantic desire. It is a little on the tame side, which perhaps explains why it hasn't fared so well on the charts.
"Maybe it isn't the most adventurous album in the world, but I wanted to be honest and please my own ears with it," McVie says, in the warm, womanly tones that turn up in her singing voice as well. "I tend to like the traditional sound: three-part harmonies, guitar and piano. I mean, a well-played guitar is a joy forever . . . or something."
Christine has felt that way for twenty-five years – ever since her first gig, when, at the age of fifteen, she and her pal Teresa Gilbert sneaked down to London from their Birmingham homes to play "Walk, Don't Run" on acoustic guitars before a Shadows concert.
The daughter of a college professor who was also a concert violinist, Christine Perfect was raised as a classical pianist, at least until her older brother started playing her the new sounds from the States. "I found some sheet music in the piano store, and it was goodbye, Chopin."
While studying sculpture at Birmingham Art College, Christine got caught up in the blues revival that was sweeping England. "That's virtually all I was listening to: B.B. King, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson." Soon, she fell in with some like-minded mates. First, she made some duo appearances with a blues aficionado named Spencer Davis, before he teamed up with Stevie and Muff Winwood; then she formed a band called Shades of Blue with bassist Andy Sylvester and singer-guitarist Stan Webb. They landed a weekly gig at a local venue, for which they were paid three pounds apiece. Christine admits that Shades of Blue was lousy.
After five years of college, Christine took her teaching diploma down to London, where she got a job as a window dresser for a Regent Street department store. A year later, in 1967, she got a call from Andy Sylvester. He, Webb and a drummer named Dave Bidwell had formed a band called Chicken Shack; they asked her if she wanted to play keyboards. She jumped at the chance. "I was bored, not doing much of anything and not earning any money at all."
The group developed quite a following (perhaps due to Christine's subtle playing and womanly vocal stylings) and toured constantly, including a one-month stay at the Star Club in Hamburg's legendary red-light district.
"It was sort of like taking bad acid or something," she recalls. "We slept in the day and started playing at about five o'clock at night. We did one set at five, one set at seven, one at ten and one at three. It was so weird around there, anyway. You know, transvestites and every kind of humanity you could possibly imagine."
All along, Christine was a tireless supporter of Fleetwood Mac, which at the time was an equally purist white blues band. "They just had tremendous charisma – especially Peter Green – and Jeremy Spencer was such an outrageous little guy onstage. I used to go and see them when I wasn't working."
Eventually in 1969, she became particularly fond of the band's bassist, John McVie. "John was engaged when I first met him. And then the engagement was broken off. He had a wonderful sense of humor, the most endearing person." John asked her to marry him. "I loved him. He loved me. Good reason."
People thought she was nuts. "Peter Green phoned me up the night before the wedding and said, 'You're crazy, you don't even know this guy.' In fact, though, he was the only member of Fleetwood Mac that came to the wedding."
"He was the best man."
The newly named Christine McVie left Chicken Shack and recorded a solo album (which has been reissued with the title The Legendary Christine Perfect Album). It's considered a classic by some people, but not by Christine McVie. "So wimpy," she says now. "I just hate to listen to it." A hastily put-together solo tour was equally traumatic. "One night onstage in Nottingham, I just sang about three songs and ran off crying. Even worse, I had to come back on and finish the set."
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