It was frightening, because you don't know if it's going to work," says Stevie Nicks, recalling Lindsey Buckingham's departure from Fleetwood Mac in 1987. The diminutive singer, still dressed in her stage costume of white lace and brocade, is sitting backstage at the Sydney Entertainment Center, toward the end of a sold-out month of Australian shows. "But Fleetwood Mac has an incredible lucky streak," she says with a laugh. "I never worry about Fleetwood Mac, whoever is in it"
It has become the band that wouldn't die: In the twenty-three years since forming Fleetwood Mac, bassist John McVie and drummer Mick Fleetwood have lost guitarists Danny Kirwan, Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer. The group has seen fake Fleetwood Macs touring America, been plagued by intragroup marital turmoil, suffered the personal bankruptcy of Mick Fleetwood – and still it has managed to sell tens of millions of albums.
Yet Buckingham's departure raised real concerns: Since the multiplatinum 1975 album Fleetwood Mac, the band's records had been shaped by Buckingham's avant-pop flair for production. Undaunted, Mick Fleetwood enlisted guitarists Billy Burnette and Rick Vito. The newcomers have, paradoxically, helped Fleetwood Mac get back in touch with its roots: The band's hits-heavy set is now spiked with three of Green's numbers; "Go Your Own Way," the show's closer, is the only Buckingham tune in the current repertoire.
The real test came, however, when the band entered the studio in early 1989 to record its sixteenth album, Behind the Mask. Christine McVie admits she had some doubts at first, but they have since been dispelled.
"I like the fact that we really did pull it off," McVie says. "The record was well arranged and well thought out despite the fact that Lindsey wasn't there."
Burnette and Vito left a deep imprint on Behind the Mask, contributing to eight of the album's thirteen songs. The guitarists say they were determined to become more than sidemen to a legendary band.
"I was always impressed with the original Fleetwood Mac," says Vito. "So my philosophy has been to keep it honest and to keep those guitars out there."
The approach has hit a responsive chord with listeners: Behind the Mask entered the British charts at Number One. The band will soon embark on a ten-week tour of the U.S. and Canada before continuing on to Europe.
To mark the band's silver anniversary in 1992, Mick Fleetwood is preparing a box-set retrospective, and there is talk of a show that would include all past and present guitarists. And Stevie Nicks has plans to publish the band's history. "I'm going to write a hell of a book one of these days," she says. "The story is so far superior to Dynasty, Peyton Place, Dallas – anything you could possibly think of."
This story is from the June 14th, 1990 issue of Rolling Stone.