Despite a senior citizen's penchant for detailing her various aches and pains – she's always got a sore throat or a cold – the one thing Stevie Nicks does not exude is weakness.
Through the three-and-a-half-year existence of Fritz, her all-male band members made a private agreement: hands off Stevie. That included Lindsey Buckingham, the slender, curly-haired bass player with whom she shared lead vocals.
"I think there was always something between me and Lindsey, but nobody in that band really wanted me as their girlfriend because I was just too ambitious for them. But they didn't want anybody else to have me either. If anybody in the band started spending any time with me, the other three would literally pick that person apart. To the death.
"They all thought I was in it for the attention. These guys didn't take me seriously at all. I was just a girl singer, and they hated the fact that I got a lot of credit."
Nicks flouts the memory, laughing with defiance. "They would kill themselves practicing for ten hours, and people would call up and say: 'We want to book that band with the little brownish-blondish-haired girl.' There was always just really weird things going on between us." Now she is charged up and scoots to the edge of her sofa to make her point: "I could never figure out why I stayed in that band. Now I know that was the preparation for Fleetwood Mac."
But it would be another two years between the inevitable breakup of Fritz and an invitation to join Fleetwood Mac. Stevie and Lindsey chose to stay together as a duo, calling themselves Buckingham Nicks. "We started spending a lot of time together working out songs. Pretty soon we started spending all our time together and . . . it just happened."
They moved down to L.A., started knocking on doors, and eventually signed a contract with Polydor Records. They released an album and toured to good audience reaction. The band even developed a cult following in Birmingham, Alabama.
In New York, however, Polydor was not impressed and dropped them before they could finish a second album. Lindsey resorted to a phone-soliciting job. Stevie became a $1.50-an-hour waitress in a Beverly Hills singles restaurant.
Waiting on tables? What about mom and dad?
"I'd get money from them here and there," says Stevie, "but if I wanted to go back to school, if I wanted to move back home, then they would support me . . . . If I was gonna be here in L.A. doing my trip, I was gonna have to do it on my own."
They auditioned for Russ Regan, head of 20th Century Records, who, Buckingham recalls, "thought we were a smash act but couldn't sign us" and Ode Records president and artists' manager Lou Adler, who listened to half of one song and thanked them very much. Another manager recommended they learn the Top 40 and play steak and lobster houses.
When she visited home just seven months before joining Fleetwood Mac, her father was also discouraging. "He saw me getting skinnier and skinnier and I wasn't very happy. He said, 'I think you better start setting some time limits here.' They saw, I really think, shades of my grandfather A.J. [Aaron Jeff Nicks]. He was a country & western singer and he drank way too much. He was unhappy, trying to make it. He wanted to make it very badly. He turned into a very embittered person and he died that way."
In late 1974, Keith Olsen, engineer on the Buckingham Nicks LP, met with Mick Fleetwood. Olsen, pitching himself and his studio for the Fleetwood Mac account, presented Stevie and Lindsey's demo as his studio portfolio. Fleetwood listened to the album and made a mental note. When Bob Welch left Fleetwood Mac six weeks later, he looked up Stevie and Lindsey.
They went up to Mick Fleetwood's house in Laurel Canyon to talk. Buckingham offered to do an audition, but Fleetwood declined. Instead, he simply asked: "Want to join?" The two looked at each other and said, "Yes."
"John and Mick," Buckingham says, "have always been open to having a lot of different people in the band – which is odd. I would never be able to do that. I would think it was real important to keep an identity. I remember being a kid – if a new member joined a group, I just didn't like that at all. But that openness is what's kept them going for so long."
But he and Nicks had one more commitment: a headlining concert in Birmingham. The show drew a screaming sellout crowd of more than 6000 fans who knew all the words to their songs. "We went out in style," says Buckingham.
Fleetwood Mac went directly into the studio, reworking such Buckingham Nicks material as "Monday Morning," "Landslide" and a new song written originally on acoustic piano about a Welsh witch Stevie had read about named "Rhiannon." "Everything was already worked out," says Buckingham. He plucked up a belly-backed acoustic guitar and played the introduction to "Rhiannon." "Everything."
The newest members of the band were happy with the album, but Stevie Nicks went through an anxious period of self-doubt. She can quote entire passages from a review in Rolling Stone that, she says, almost caused her to quit. "They said my singing was 'callow' and that really hurt my feelings." She began to think that maybe she wasn't that good, and that she had been asked into the band only because she was with Buckingham. "Time after time I would read:' . . . the raucous voice of Stevie Nicks and the golden-throated voice of Christine McVie, who's the only saving grace of the band.' When it comes to competition, I won't compete for a man and I won't compete for a place on that stage either. If I'm not wanted, I'll get out. I was bummed."
But the bum didn't last long: Fleetwood Mac immediately became a gold album and Christine's ethereal song, "Over My Head," broke big in both pop and easy-listening radio. Nicks, who'd done harmonies on the track, felt better. And when "Rhiannon" found an even bigger audience, with its mainstream rock & roll getting both AM and FM airplay, she forgot all about quitting.
She also became Rhiannon, a witch in Welsh mythology. "I see her as a good witch," Stevie says. "Very positive. I sink into that whole trip when I'm onstage." With her diaphanous black outfits, her chiffon and lace, and a graceful way around the stage, she just as quickly became the band's first willing star/focal point.
There was, of course, a price for all this. Last year, during the ill-fated stretch in Sausalito, she separated from Buckingham after over six years.
"The best explanation is: try working with your secretary . . . in a raucous office . . . and then come home with her at night. See how long you could stand her. I could be no comfort to Lindsey when he needed comfort."
She cites an example from Sausalito. Lindsey was feeling depressed because he couldn't quite get some guitar parts down right. "So we'd go back to where we were staying and he would really need comfort from me, for me to say, 'It's all right. Who cares about them?' You know, be an old lady."
One problem. "I was also pissed off because he hadn't gotten the guitar part on. So I'm trying to defend their point of view and at the same time trying to make him feel better. It doesn't work. I couldn't be all those things."
Stevie has kept mostly to herself since the break up with Lindsey. Outside of a short romance with drummer/singer Don Henley of the Eagles, she's spent her days either in the studio or at home writing and taping her songs. She icily denies talk of an affair with Paul Kantner.
"It's strange for me," she says in confidential tones. "I've never been a dater. I don't really like parties. I'm very alone now. I'm not one of those women who are just willing to go out and sit at the Rainbow. In my position I could meet a lot of people just because of the band I'm in. Well, I don't want to meet anybody because of the band I'm in."
Stevie doesn't mind airing her personal life like this at all. "I don't care that everybody knows me and Chris and John and Lindsey and Mick all broke up," she declares. "Because we did. So that's fact. I just don't want people to pick up a magazine and go, 'Oh, another interview from Fleetwood Mac.' If it's interesting, I'm not opposed to giving out information.
"On this album, all the songs that I wrote except maybe 'Gold Dust Woman' – and even that comes into it – are definitely about the people in the band . . . . Chris' relationships, John's relationship, Mick's relationship, Lindsey's and mine. They're all there and they're very honest and people will know exactly what I'm talking about . . . people will really enjoy listening to what happened since the last album."
The sun sets in Hollywood and Stevie lets her house darken along with it. "I'll tell you an interesting thing that hit me after the Rock Awards," she says. "We won the Best Group and the Best Album awards – that was very far out and everybody was really, really blissed out over that and we went to some party at the Hilton or something afterward and just stayed about 30 minutes. My brother Chris and I got in our limousine and came home. And it really struck me, driving home in the back seat of a black limousine. I was so lonely.
"I thought, 'Here I am, we just won these fantastic awards, we've just been on TV, everybody is singing our praises and here I am driving home in my black limousine.' Terribly alone. Sort of knowing how it would feel to be Marilyn Monroe or something. It was a very strange feeling and I didn't like it at all."
Stevie Nicks opens her eyes very wide. "It scared me."
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