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."
In the spring of 1970, Fleetwood Mac was touring Germany when Peter Green fell in with what Christine calls "some weird characters in Munich, the Munich jet set. They all went up to some old château and they pumped acid down his throat and he came back not the same." Green's departure left the band with too thin a sound, and on the eve of a U.S. tour that August, Christine was asked to join Fleetwood Mac.
"I had ten days to rehearse and the first gig I did was in New Orleans. It was a nerve-racking experience, playing with my favorite band onstage."
But no sooner had Christine found her niche than guitarist Jeremy Spencer decided to check out as well. "He had always been fairly religious. I mean, he used to have a truckload of Bibles underneath his bed. Anyway, we arrived in Los Angeles one day, and Jeremy seemed depressed. I remember him saying on the plane, 'I don't have to be here. I don't want to be here.' His face seemed whiter than usual."
The group settled into their hotel, and Spencer went out for some newspapers. He never came back. "We suspected it might be a religious cult of some kind," Christine recalls. "And that's exactly what happened. He stayed, and he had his wife shipped over from England to join the Children of God."
Christine was also around for what drummer Mick Fleetwood always considered the band's lowest point: In 1974, right before an American tour, guitarist Bob Weston was kicked out of the band for having an affair with Fleetwood's wife. The tour was canceled, the band's manager put together a bogus Fleetwood Mac to play the dates, and the ensuing litigation kept the group broke and at home for a year.
"All Mateus rosé under the bridge," sighs Christine today. "It was like, 'How many times can we mend the vase?' But there was never any thought of us breaking up."
Her faith was, of course, rewarded in the middle Seventies, when, following the group's move to the States and the addition of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, Fleetwood Mac became one of the most successful bands in the history of the music business. Christine's haunting voice and melodic sense had found their ideal counterpoints, and the public ate it up. The band sold 4 million copies of Fleetwood Mac and over 15 million of its follow-up, Rumours.
In the face of such a commercial bonanza, Christine did acquire some typically Californian possessions: a stately home (once belonging to Anthony Newley and Joan Collins) in Coldwater Canyon, furnished in "Chinese and deco"; matching Mercedes-Benzes with license plates named after her pair of Lhasa apsos; an office and a full-time secretary on the premises. She also acquired that most enduring of upscale accessories: a divorce.
"We just reached a point where we couldn't be in the same room together," she recalls. "We'd probably spent more time with one another than most couples who have lived together for twenty-five years. We had no individuality, no separation."
John McVie remarried soon after. "I didn't feel weird," says Christine. "I was really, really happy. John, he'll always have a soft spot for me, as I always will for him."
There is a limit, though, to Christine's okey-dokey attitude. "It maybe was a little odd that he and his new wife bought my old house from me. And actually held their wedding in my old house. That was a little strange."
More recently, Christine admits that she found her cohort Stevie Nicks' marriage "very, very bizarre" as well. Nicks married Kim Anderson, the widower of her best friend, Robin Anderson, early in 1983; they are now divorced. "She thought it was what Robin would have wanted," says Christine. "But they'd known each other for a long time, and it didn't seen like crazy love to me. I didn't buy her a wedding present."
Indeed, a touch of sadness creeps into Christine's voice when she discusses the transformation of Nicks' personality over the last ten years. "Ten years ago, she really had her feet on the ground, along with a tremendous sense of humor, which she still has. But she seems to have developed her own fantasy world, somehow, which I'm not part of. We don't socialize much."
It wasn't until Tusk that Christine embarked on her wildest relationship, with Beach Boy Dennis Wilson. "I tend to go for these half-little-boy characters. When Dennis was like that, he was just adorable. He was really a sensitive, sweet man."
She admits that she and Dennis did not part on particularly good terms, and she hadn't seen him for at least two years when he died. She was in Portugal when word reached her. "My secretary called me up at eight in the morning. I knew something was wrong. She said, 'Dennis drowned today.' And my first reaction was to say, 'My God, is he all right?' I still really can't believe it. He just seemed indestructible."
But Christine McVie seems to be still more indestructible. While not a Mac-style blockbuster, Christine McVie has done well enough to please its creator. And the equally indestructible Fleetwood Mac plans to get together early this fall to begin work on a new record.
On the personal front, Christine's newest relationship, with her band's keyboardist, Eddy Quintela, clearly has her delighted. In fact, she hasn't ruled out marriage. "I wouldn't like to grow old alone. Not that I would be alone: I have many good friends that I've had for twenty years. If the right guy pops the question, I'll say yes. I'm living with Eddy right now, and it's working out really nicely. So who knows? Maybe I won't get married.
"But I daresay I'll be happy."
This story is from the June 7, 1984 issue of Rolling Stone.