Look Who's Back: Fleetwood Mac

Fleetwood Mac is back, this time more harmonious than ever

Lindsey Buckingham, Mick Fleetwood, Christine McVie, John McVie and Stevie Nicks
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Lindsey Buckingham, Mick Fleetwood, Christine McVie, John McVie and Stevie Nicks
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SAUSALITO – By rights, drummer Mick Fleetwood, a lanky, 6'6" Englishman and founding member of the transplanted British group, Fleetwood Mac, should be worried. Three weeks ago he and the other four members of the band began recording an album at the Record Plant. They sought a productive seclusion, free of the distractions of Los Angeles (where the group now lives), only to encounter a host of small but vexing problems. Pianos (four in succession) refused to stay in tune, a 16-track recorder developed a habit of chewing up tape and two members had bouts with the flu.

As a result of the delays (which, in the case of the illnesses, cost over $1000 a day in studio time), the band has managed to lay down only three basic tracks, putting the project well behind schedule. Unperturbed, Mick sat in the studio's dining nook with the rest of the band and chuckled philosophically.

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"Agreed, it's unpleasant going through this, but it's not such a weird thing with us. We've gone through it before, even to the point of mixing a whole album, then scrapping it and starting all over again. What makes the difference this time is knowing that, for all the problems we've encountered, we've got a huge hit album. It makes any bad things that happen seem not nearly as bad as if the last album had stiffed."

The album, Fleetwood Mac (with an assist by their hit single, "Over My Head"), is the most successful LP in the group's low-profile, nine-year, 12-album career. Released last July, the LP soared into the Top 20, then dropped to the 40s, but continued to sell steadily while the band toured throughout the fall. Then, just before Christmas, the album again climbed up the charts, despite no-more-than-usual promotion. By early March, more than seven months after release, the LP was Number Five with a bullet in Billboard. Soon after, it turned platinum, while Bare Trees (1972) turned gold.

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The Fleetwood Mac album mixes inventive arrangements and melodic compositions. Instrumental moods vary from the punchy solid rock of "Monday Morning" to the full production sound of "I'm So Afraid," with its soaring guitar and churchy organ progressions. Stevie Nicks's throaty voice (with a vibrato reminiscent of Dolly Parton's) has a strong identity, particularly on her song "Rhiannon," a spacey, ballad "about a schizoid Welsh witch," that is currently moving up as a single. The album's overall sound, and that of the group's recent concerts, is neither loud nor pretentious.

Formed in 1967 by Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie (hence the group's name), the band produced a string of English hit singles (including "Albatross") before its American debut. Though well received in the U.S., Fleetwood Mac failed to duplicate its British chart success. By 1971, though, Fleetwood had gained a loyal concert following, despite the departures of guitarists Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer to devote full-time efforts to Christianity.

Then John McVie's singer/songwriter wife, Christine, brought her distinctive voice and excellent keyboard work to the group and the nucleus was complete. Guitarist Bob Welch, a veteran of Las Vegas show bands, was brought in, and over the next two years and four albums Fleetwood Mac worked at creating a visible identity. The albums sold a respectable 200,000 copies each but there were still no hit singles and no heavy press coverage.

Ironically, the group finally made the news early in '74 when former manager Clifford Davis, claiming he owned the name Fleetwood Mac, hired a band of unknown musicians and booked a three-month nationwide tour for the "new" Fleetwood Mac. Denouncing the claim as preposterous, the real Fleetwood Mac obtained a restraining order to stop the use of its name, but not before angry fans at several concerts on both coasts demanded ticket refunds. A hearing is scheduled for this fall in London to decide rights to the name and royalties for all the group's albums.

"It wouldn't be too much of a problem waiting if we were all independently wealthy," John McVie said. "But we're not, and that means we have to live off our road earnings until the thing is settled. And with a road crew of 14 to support us on tour, no one's getting rich."

In the wake of the bogusband fiasco, Fleetwood Mac ended 1974 anxious to record and tour to reestablish its authenticity. When Bob Welch left in early '75 to pursue a solo career (he's since formed the rock trio Paris), Mick brought in Californians Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, a singer/writer team who'd previously recorded one album (Buckingham Nicks) on Polydor. The addition of Buckingham's facile rock guitar phrasing and a second female lead vocalist helped turn Fleetwood Mac into one hot group.

Fleetwood denied there was any animosity surrounding Welch's departure, "Any stories about hard feelings are simply not true. We were and still are very close friends. In fact, he flew up here a few days ago to hang out with us."

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"We knew he was a bit restless to move on," Christine added. "Certainly what Bob's doing right now is vastly different from anything he did in our band. Very avant-garde rock with heavy guitar and bass riffs and weird timings. I'm sure his trio is very tight and very good."

Christine's praise is genuine, as is the group's affection for their former member. These five people appear inordinately considerate of each other, despite extensive touring and John and Christine McVie's marital uncoupling.

As far as the album in progress, enthusiasm is high. "I think it's going to follow incredibly well from the last one," Christine said. "We've had the chance to learn how we each play and write. That way you learn how people sing and how to inflect your voice to blend with the harmonies."

Though the band is still unsure about what will be on it, the album must be finished in just a few weeks. After that, the band will tour the U.S. – including some of the summer's bicentennial festivals – and visit Europe in the fall to resurrect its following.

Fleetwood Mac is consciously avoiding hysterical promotional campaigns to capitalize on their success. "That's the nice thing about it," Stevie Nicks explained. "We've received no hype but instead we've emerged on our own – with a lot of hard work. It would have been terrible to have been given some ridiculous praise like being 'the future of rock & roll.' Because we couldn't deliver. And we wouldn't."

A cheerful Mick Fleetwood piped up from the other end of the table. "Right, all we have to do is deliver an album for 'the present' of rock & roll."

This story is from the April 8th, 1976 issue of Rolling Stone.

From The Archives Issue 210: April 8, 1976
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