What It Was Like to Replace Stevie Nicks in Fleetwood Mac
Rolling Stone‘s interview series King for a Day features long-form conversations between senior writer Andy Greene and singers who had the difficult job of fronting major rock bands after the departure of an iconic vocalist. Some of them stayed in their bands for years, while others lasted just a few months. In the end, however, they all found out that replacement singers can themselves be replaced. This edition features former Fleetwood Mac singer Bekka Bramlett.
In the summer of 1994, Fleetwood Mac hit the road without Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, or Christine McVie. In the three singers’ spots, drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie placed Traffic’s Dave Mason, rockabilly singer Billy Burnette, and Bekka Bramlett — the 26-year-old daughter of late-Sixties/early-Seventies rock icons Bonnie and Delaney Bramlett.
“We ended up with a bunch of talented people playing good music, but they should not have been touring as Fleetwood Mac,” Mick Fleetwood wrote in his 2014 memoir Play On. “There were too many essential pieces missing from the machine this time. We were a totally different band, with only the original drummer and bass player, and our original name.”
The Bekka Bramlett incarnation of Fleetwood Mac released a single album, 1995’s Time, before dissolving the next year to make way for a lucrative Hells Freezes Over-style reunion album and tour by the classic Rumours lineup. This period of the band may seem like little more than a footnote to some rock fans, but it was a pivotal time for Bramlett, and she looks back on it without any regrets.
“I knew my job was to get Stevie back,” she tells Rolling Stone from her home in Nashville. “I wasn’t a moron. I also knew this was a dangerous job when I took it. I knew I was facing tomatoes. But I didn’t want to wear a top hat. I didn’t want to twirl around. I wanted to be me. I even dyed my hair brown just so people in the cheap seats would know that Stevie wasn’t going to be here. I didn’t want anyone to be discouraged or let down.”
Joining Fleetwood Mac at 26 would have been a shock to the system of most singers, but Bramlett had been living in close proximity to rock stars her entire life. When she was very young, her parents toured and recorded with George Harrison, Eric Clapton, and many other A-list rock stars, winning renown as Delaney & Bonnie and Friends. Those artists also spent a lot of time at her mansion in the Hollywood Hills.
Bramlett didn’t realize any of this was unusual until she boarded the school bus one morning gripping her Disney Princess lunchbox. “This other little girl had a Beatles lunchbox,” she says. “I said to her, ‘I know him. He’s on our couch right now.’ I pointed to George Harrison. ‘I know him too.’ I pointed to John. She started hitting me since she thought I was lying. I was petrified and confused. I thought they were just Daddy’s friends that had accents.”
When she was just four years old, her father recruited Bekka and her sister Suzanne to sing background vocals on his song “California Rain.” “My mom had to get some gaffer tape to keep the headphones on my head since I was so little,” she says. “I used to hate the way it sounds, and now I love it so much. It’s so endearing.”
Right around this time, her parents split up, and she went to live with her father and grandmother. “It was weird, since mostly the moms got the babies back then,” she says. “But my parents were alcoholics. My grandmother never even smoked cigarettes or said cuss words. She brought us to church every Sunday, Wednesday, and Monday. We were in safe hands with our grandmother. I think both of my parents trusted that.”
Delaney and Bonnie both struggled to find solo success in the Seventies, and they dealt with significant substance abuse issues, but Bekka inherited their talents, and she knew from a young age that she’d devote her life to music. “I briefly thought I’d be a lawyer, but I thought I’d be a singing lawyer,” she says. “Then I wanted to be a jockey since I love horses, but I thought I’d be a singing jockey. Music is just what I’m good at.”
As a teenager with a fake ID in the early Eighties, Bramlett spent many nights checking out bands on the Sunset Strip. “I remember standing on the side of the stage as Guns N’ Roses played,” she says. “Seeing it up close, I was like, ‘This is why you never try heroin.’ But then I’d go into the audience and be like, ‘This is why you join a rock & roll band!'”
Her “first love,” she says, was Warrant frontman Jani Lane. They were inseparable during the band’s earliest days, and she even sang background vocals on their 1989 debut, Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich. The year before that, she went on tour with Go-Go’s singer Belinda Carlisle as a background singer. “I did a bunch of demos going back to when I was 15,” she says. “I was doing, like, four a week. Word gets around.” Within a few years, she caught the attention of Mick Fleetwood, who felt she deserved to be at the front of the stage in his band.
What was that first Belinda Carlisle tour like for you?
Oh boy. I was just 17. I grew a lot on that tour, and I screwed up a lot on that tour, too. Man. I just thought it was, “Get on the plane. Here comes champagne!” I was so stupid. That was the wrongest thing to do ever. You need to get on the plane and hydrate. I didn’t know. I was like, “Here I go, bye!” [Sigh.] I also had an affair, which is something I’ll always regret, just being the youngest person. There were terrible lessons to learn, but also great lessons to learn.
How was Belinda as a boss?
I really never got to know her at all until we got to Ibiza. That was my first time in Spain. We had so much fun. They treated me like the baby I was. She never spoke much to me. But [fellow background singer] Donna De Lory was seasoned. She had already been on the road with Madonna, so she was my mother hen. She was the one that said, “Noooo!” She also went, “Listen, blending is bending. This is not the Bekka show. If you don’t blend, they’re going to replace your ass.” I’d get too excited and sing, [loud, booming voice] “Oooohhhh yeah!!!” No. No. No. “Calm it down, do your job, keep your job.”
One time in Ibiza, they did Ecstasy. I didn’t. Belinda did it with her girlfriends. She came over to me and said, “You’re a really good singer and I love your purse.” That’s because I made my own little purse. It was really tacky and cute. But it was like what a 12-year-old would do. I knew they were making fun of it since I could hear them. They had a little Mean Girls thing going on, and we’re traveling together. But it broke that day.
You sing background on the first Warrant record. I love the song “Down Boys.” Are you on that?
Yeah. I think all I sing is “Goooo!” [Laughs.] Put it this way, Jani kept me kind of hidden. It was a boy’s band. They had posters that said, “A mouth is a mouth.” And all the girlfriends had staplers going click-click-click. Whenever they were working, we were flyering. We were putting all the grommets on their friggin’ jackets that they couldn’t afford.
I was friends with [leather jacket impresario] Al Bane. And if people back then could afford Al Bane for Leather, they could be a star. I really attributed him with helping with their stardom. It was very cool. But Jani’s writing and singing was really cool. It was a big family.
It’s so sad what happened to Jani. He was talented.
He came to me right before he gave it up. I hadn’t seen him in at least 15 years. I get this phone call from his manager. He said, “Jani is so bad off.” I thought he was doing cocaine or something. I didn’t think it could just be booze. He goes, “No. It’s just fuckin’ booze.” I was like, “Oh lord.” He said, “He wants to be with you. He’s buying himself a ticket. He has no fuckin’ luggage or anything, but he’s buying a ticket to Nashville. He wants you to come pick him up. He needs you.”
I called up Dave Marshall, one of our old drinking buddies, and we picked him up together at the airport. Meanwhile, I’d called up MusiCares and arranged for Jani to go to rehab the next day.
That night, John Waite was playing here in Nashville. He wanted to go. I said, “You guys go. I’ll stay here.” I gave them money to spend on hot dogs and beer. “Keep on eye on him. Tomorrow is important.” He went, “Let me have my last fuckin’ hurrah!”
Then I got a call from Dave. “I’ve lost Jani!” I went, “You what?!” He found him. He drank all this stuff. I had nothing in my house. He wound up drinking a bottle of cooking Sherry, which is not good. Then he puked purple all over the guest bedroom. I had to bathe him. I hadn’t seen the man naked in 15 years. He had two different wives. I was like, “Who is this guy now?”
But he became just Jani again to me. I was like, “What would his mom do? What would his dad do? What would his sister do? What would I do?” I took care of him. I stayed with him all night until the morning. Then we went to Waffle House and got some pancakes. Then we drove him up to the rehab. I stayed with him until he was admitted. I gave him $100 since he had no luggage. I was like, “This is for sweats.” It was all the money I had on me. I thought he was going to spend it on snacks and sweats. At some point, I was going to send him cash for the little store. Well, he got put in. Then he escaped in the hot, gnarly, pouring rain.
That was the last time you saw him?
That was the very last time I saw him. It was like 4 a.m. when he split. The cops found him. He was drunk and disorderly. He obviously used the $100 for booze. I still didn’t know if it was booze or drugs. It didn’t seem like it could just be booze. But it was. He had nothing else in his blood, they said. Just alcohol. He had just pickled himself.
I felt like we totally fucked up. But they were like, “You can’t stay the night with him. Once he’s admitted, he’s ours.” [Sigh.] It was a terrible thing to have that be the last time I saw him. Then he got arrested for being drunk in public. They let him off. Then he flew back to California. Then he died.
I’m so sorry.
Me too. I’ll tell you what, I think about him all the time. I have the guitar I bought him. He wrote that first record on that. I don’t know his kids, but it definitely belongs to them one day. At some point, they’ll have to reach out. When they do, this will be their guitar. It will matter to them for sure. It will mean the world. It ain’t being sold.
To move on to happier topics here, tell me how you met Mick Fleetwood.
Billy Brunette. I’ve known Billy since I was four. He was a big fan of my dad’s. They lived in Woodland Hills. My dad lived in Shadow Hills. They were playing this place called the Baked Potato and became friends when Billy was just 18.
How did you wind up joining Mick Fleetwood’s band the Zoo in 1992?
Because Mick never wanted to stop working. Never. He always had a hiatus band. When someone is getting healthy or getting off whatever they’re doing.… Fleetwood Mac was a lot. People would actually take a minute and stop everything and regroup. Mick, not so much. He just wanted to keep going. Well before me, I don’t know how many entities of the Zoo he had. He even had Eddie Van Halen in the Zoo at one point. Billy Burnette was telling me about it.
I was dating Richie Sambora. He’s a great guy, a cool Jersey dude I met in Jersey when I was out with the Moody Blues.
I didn’t realize you sang with them.
Yeah. Cool guys. Interesting gig. Not really my style. But it was an honor and a gift that was just handed to me from some cool guys. I was like, “Heck yeah, man.” Not to mention, some of the coolest songs ever. It was cool, but it was not really in my wheelhouse. The rock & roll vibe had left the building. They had their own thing. I felt like a misfit. I felt very, very, very young. Anyway, I met Richie. That was that.
Then Mick invited you to join the Zoo?
Yeah. Richie and I were in Laguna Beach. My dad was playing at Trancas, which is a long shot over Pacific Coast Highway. We decided to go. Jon Bon Jovi came too. I was like, “I’m going to get up and sing with my daddy.” Mick and Billy were there. Mick went, “How about her? I want her.” And that was it. He just said, “Hey, do you want to sing in my band?” We were outside. I said, “Yeah.”
Then Mick goes, “There’s this gentlemen named Billy Thorpe. He’s basically like Elvis in Australia. We’re going to go play there with him.” I said, “Let’s do it.” We had a ball. I’d never seen people like Australians. They’re just wonderful.
Tell me about recording the Zoo album Shakin’ the Cage.
Billy Thorpe lived in Encino. He was like, “We’re doing a record. Let’s go.” We did the record in Encino. The rest of it was in Ocean Way. We did the vocals at Billy’s home studio. We did a video of “Shakin’ the Cage” in downtown L.A. at the very top of a building near scaffolding where we could totally fall to our death. It was so fun.
Your parents are on background vocals on the song “In Your Hands.”
Yes! [Big laugh.] Isn’t that so fun? Not to mention, I’m the one that said, “Let’s get Lucy to sing.” That’s Mick’s daughter. “Let’s keep it in the family.” I just love Mick. I literally talked to him two days before yesterday. He’s my family. He’s my brother.
I said, “Keep it in the family.” He goes, “Get your mom and dad on it.” I go, “Done! How do you like them apples?” He goes, “Are you serious? Can you really just make that phone call and do it?” I said, “Do you want me to make the call right in front of you?” He goes, “No. See to it.” It’s just that easy.
Did you do any Fleetwood Mac songs on the Zoo tour?
Did we? I don’t know. Maybe some of the Peter Green stuff. That’s a good question. I was so drunk all the time. It was a ball. Trust me. But we all were drunk. I’d have to do my homework on that one. I don’t think it was about Fleetwood Mac, though… Oooh, we did do “World Turning.” That’s how I really, really taught myself to play tambourine on that one song. It was my catalyst to really making tambourine an actual percussion instrument for myself.
How did you hear that Mick wanted to restart Fleetwood Mac and possibly bring you into it?
I got a phone call from him. He speaks slowly when he’s talking business. He speaks slowly when he’s giving you love. Other than that, it’s really fast. He said, “Young Bekka. It has come time where one of our family members is going to be away for a moment to embrace her health and well-being. You are the first of my choice to keep this beautiful band that we have nurtured for decades alive. If you are interested. There is no pressure. But would you be able to…”
I’m making this shit up, but this is what it sounds like in my memory. “Would you be at all interested in the idea of being one of the lead singers of Fleetwood Mac? Because I’m Mick from Fleetwood and Johnny is Mac.” It’s so weird. I went, “Yes.” It was just like when he asked me with the Zoo. “Yes” was the only word that came out of my mouth.
Did you feel overwhelmed by the request?
Fuck no. He already explained it before he offered it to me. And I knew that it was temporary. I was like, “I’m going to have a ball!” I love working with Mick. He’s the best friggin’ drummer I ever, ever, ever, ever worked with. I have the soul of a drummer and bass player, but I don’t play either well. But when you’re standing in front of the heat of Mick Fleetwood and then to your right is the power of John McVie… It’s like, “Are you kidding me?” You can go anywhere. They are definitely the net underneath your tight wire. You can literally fly and jump and twist and turn and flip and land like Simone Biles. You can do it. And then there’s Billy Burnette, who is like family.
The press and many fans saw it as you replacing Stevie Nicks, which is a big burden.
They can suck it. There is no replacing Stevie Nicks. Everybody knows that. You can be a fan or an anti-fan. I don’t know an anti-fan of Fleetwood Mac. Do you? I’ve never met one. Never even heard of one. Point is, I wasn’t replacing anybody. Definitely not Stevie Nicks. I’m the 13th entity in that band, and that’s my lucky number. It’s amazing I was the 13th entity of Fleetwood Mac.
Stevie didn’t just want the band to go back into a cocoon again, a web of nothingness. I guess I can’t speak for her. But I did choose not to do her signature songs because that would be weird. I was like, “I’m not doing ‘Rhiannon.’ I’m not doing ‘Dreams.'”
Did you do “Landslide?”
I fuckin’ did “Landslide” until I replaced it with “Imagine.” I didn’t want to fight too hard, man, but I definitely didn’t want to do “Rhiannon” and “Dreams.” Also, I didn’t sound anything like her. When I think truly of Fleetwood Mac, and I still do, I think of Stevie, Chris, and Lindsey. I’m always going to. I think of the Rumours lineup since I was 12.
I wasn’t there for the Peter Green entity. I wasn’t there for Bob Welch. But when I got here to Nashville, he was just bitter and pissed about it. I don’t want to be that. I’m never going to do that.
The first show with you was in Austin, Texas, on July 4, 1994. Do you recall walking onstage that first night?
No! Holy cow. I wish somebody could show me that tape. It’ll probably show its face sometime soon. Oh my God. That would be so great. But no. I don’t remember it. I remember going from rehearsal to, “Here we go, people.”
Did you feel nervous walking onstage at those early shows?
Every day. That’s the whole high. That’s why I didn’t do what they were doing out there. They never did it in front of me. Nothing. I was drinking, but I wasn’t doing that other kind of nothing.
You sang some Christine songs. You did “You Make Lovin’ Fun” and “Don’t Stop.”
Christine gave me the blessing to do that with her own face and hug. She said, “Give it some soul, girl. Give it. I don’t normally say this, but may I speak with you alone, love?” I was sweating visibly. She gave me all 100 percent of her blessing to sing her songs. It was 5 p.m., which is Wine Thirty.
She had her little wine spritzer, which is just a little bit of wine and a lot of spritzer. After a couple of those, she took me again and said, “I just want to tell you…I don’t want to scare you, but I do think it is quite honorable to not sing these particular songs of Stevie’s.” That’s it. She didn’t get into it. She didn’t talk about her friend behind her back at all. She just told me she found it quite honorable for a “young lady of my years.”
That’s stuff you don’t forget. I’m kind of tearing up right now. That was a hard loss. She wasn’t a huge, huge gal. But she gave me that.
In Mick Fleetwood’s second book, he said you didn’t get along with Dave Mason on the tour. Is that right?
Oh God! I just couldn’t stand him. We couldn’t get along at all.
Mick said he had to expend a lot of energy keeping the peace between you two.
Yes. I was young. I already knew the code of the road, but he kept giving me things not to tell certain people. I just felt he was a big sneaker. I couldn’t stand it. If you’re going to be yourself, be yourself. But if you’re going to do anything in front of me, you’re fucked. Right? So just choose not to. I’m not keeping your secrets and then hanging out with your wives and girlfriends and whatever. Whatever you do, just hide it from Bekka, OK? This was pissing me off.
Then he decided to start smoking cigars on the tour bus in Switzerland with no windows. I was like, “Oh my God. I’m going to call my dad.” He was like, “Bekka, you got this. Just hold your temper and hold your breath. Fuck him.” I was like, “He makes me so mad, Dad.” He goes, “He’s pretty lovable and has a lot of heart. Everyone has their own problems.” I was like, “Okaaaay.” I think everything got better when I talked to my dad.
Fleetwood Mac toured with REO Speedwagon, Pat Benatar, and Crosby, Stills, and Nash. Did you spend a lot of time with these people?
Yeah. It was so fun! Oh my gosh. I’m not the kind of person that doesn’t get to know people. Other people stay with themselves and have probably known each other for a long time. But are you kidding me? How am I not going to know Pat? She had a washer and dryer in the bay of her bus. I was like, “I will totally do your wash! I’ll dry it. I’ll fold it. I’ll do anything.” Her husband is one of the best guitar players of all time. Tell me his name right now.
Neil friggin’ Giraldo! They invited us to their house for a barbecue one time. She literally kept her arm over my shoulder the entire time. She took me everywhere. You have to understand, when you’re a kid learning your high notes, you choose your girls. Pat Benatar was top of my list. Her voice let her do whatever she wanted. She had a raspy voice like I do, like a a tomboy, but she could sing anything. She could control her voice and let it do whatever she wanted at any given time. She was such a hero to me, hugely.
Did you get to know the CSN guys?
Oh yeah. I kept thinking, “One day they’re going to let me onstage.” They never did. But the point is, David and [his wife] Jan would always whistle for me outside the window. I was always doing something, like having a jog. Everyone was always just sitting there watching golf or some shit. I was about 26. Back then, I had my pedometer on. I gotta do 10,000 steps. It’s good for your voice and breathing and all that.
They knew I wasn’t doing any drugs. I mean, I was smoking pot. But I’ve been smoking pot since I was 12. But just occasionally, not before a show. It’s supposed to calm you down, but I don’t want to be calm. I like to be nervous going on. Anyway, they went, “Come in here.” They gave me all this advice about AA and having kids and how to deal with really drunk people, since I was dealing with really drunk people.
They were so cool. They told me good stories about my family. It was just wonderful. It would be broad daylight and I’d just sit there, and I’d go back to my bus like a different person. They were really powerful.
You dated Billy Burnette for a period, right?
Oh God. That’s another story. OK. I don’t think he wanted to. I think I made him. I had a crush on him since I was 12. Then I had a crush on him while I was 15. I would listen to all his records. I was so proud of him, knowing that he was his father’s little protege. Billy learned a lot from his daddy and his uncle, of course, but he learned a lot from my dad, too. They used to write songs right outside my bedroom window.
I just always had this crush on him. He was always so happy, and always jovial. He still is. He’s still my best friend. He lives just down the road. He lives, like, five songs from me. If I got in my car, put five songs on, I’d be at Billy’s. He’s still one of my best friends in the whole wide world. Hard to kill, too.
You had a fling with him during this tour?
Yeah. First of all, he had a girlfriend. I waited three months after he broke up with his girlfriend. I figured that was enough time. Then I just kind of threw myself on him. We were at this bar at the Four Seasons. He said, “Look at Bekka’s lips.” That was it. I was like, “I’m kissing him.”
Did you think about the fact that you were basically playing Stevie’s role in the band, he was playing Lindsey’s role, and now you’re having a romance just like they had?
No. Not at all. Zero. I didn’t even put that together until you just said that. [Huge laugh.] That never even entered my brain. No. No. No. It’s not like you just enter Fleetwood Mac and everyone starts fuckin’ each other. It wasn’t like that at all. [Laughs.] It was like the universe brings people together, and that’s all. That’s all I was thinking about. It had nothing to do with Mac or Fleet or Wood or anything else.
For one thing, who wants to even think about how all the damage and heartbreak everyone had to go through? Who is fucking who? No. It wasn’t like that at all. This was far more innocent and long-lived, if that’s something writers say.
Tell me about making the Time record.
Gosh. Where do you start? We recorded it at Ocean Way. That was a super-familiar place for me. I’d been recording for so long. I’ve been at this since I was 15. God, it was so great. Everyone there, all the owners, they were familiar with me and loved me and treated me like family. I’d never met [producer] Richard Dashut, but it took me about two songs to recognize that he was the one that recorded Rumours. He was like, “God, you’re really quick. Do you know how long it took to record Rumours? Four years!” He probably shouldn’t have told me that. I was like, “What? Oh no. Am I doing this too fast? Am I not caring enough?”
Tell me about “Dreamin’ the Dream.” You wrote that one with Billy.
We wrote that the night after our first kiss. Remember when I told you when he said, “Look at Bekka’s lips?” We were sitting at a square bar. He was on one corner and I was on his right corner. I was like, “I’m kissing him. I’m going to pay my bill and totally stalk him, wait until he goes into the elevator, and I’m just going to ask him to kiss me.”
The next night, we wrote “Dreamin’ the Dream.” A couple of years ago, I said to him, “Dude, you wrote 80 percent of that song.” He goes, “I don’t remember it that way.” I was like, “I do.” That’s because I was laying on the bed, trying to be sexy with my notepaper and pen instead of focusing on the song.
How about about “Nothing Without You?” You’re listed as a co-writer on that.
Let me tell you something, because this is Rolling Stone. I told Mick that one day I’d tell this story… I wrote, like, two lines of that song. This song was out when I was a kid. I did it live a couple of times and changed a few words. My daddy and uncle Douglas Gilmore put me on it. As a songwriter that’s proud of my songs, that was a business move. I’ve always said that if someone asked me, I’d tell the truth.
Now that I’ve been writing for 35 years, boy oh boy, when I see someone else’s name on a song that I wrote or a song that me and my friend wrote, it kind of irks me. I kind of understand the business part of it. But I don’t have any feelings I have with them as the feelings I have from putting my name on a song by Daddy and Doug. That’s always going to bother me. It’s always going to fuck with me. I have only one thorn in my side, that’s it.
Tell me about “Talkin’ to My Heart,” which you sing with Billy.
He wrote that with Rafe Van Hoy, one of the greatest guys. He’s not just a cancer survivor and really cool dude and writer, producer, and guitar player. But I twisted my ankle right before my 40th birthday party. It was puffy and huge. He laid his hands on me. People think that’s bullshit, but it’s not. There are certain people who are not bullshit. He’s not bullshit. He laid his hands on me and they felt like a heating pad. All of a sudden, my ankle was OK. It was remarkable.
Anyway, Rafe Van Hoy and Billy write really good songs together and they’re really great friends. I’m going to be family with him forever. That’s not because I’m a hippie and smoke pot. It’s real.
The album didn’t sell a ton of copies. Did that disappoint you or the band?
I don’t know if it disappointed the band. I don’t think I ever, ever once felt disappointed. I was just there. I kind of knew my job was to get Stevie back. But if someone shoots tomatoes at me, what am I going to do? I’m an Aires. I’m a triple Aries. I go head-in. I don’t dip my feet into anyone’s pool. I go right in. I already know it’s cold, but I don’t complain. I jump in. I’ve always been like that.
You said your job was to get Stevie back. What did you mean by that?
I think it was more their job to let Stevie know that when she feels better, we need her. Because come on, man, Fleetwood Mac and Stevie are bread and butter.
In Mick’s second book, he said there were “too many essential pieces missing” from your lineup and he regrets going out under the name Fleetwood Mac. Do you agree?
Fuck no. Fleetwood Mac is Fleetwood and Mac and whomever else. Who knows what the fuck is going to happen to other people? Fleetwood and Mac are best friends. They are Johnny and Mick. They’re going to keep going no matter what. They’ve been showing that for 50 friggin’ years now. I’m just proud to be one of the entities of it. I wasn’t disposable, but I felt a little bit disposable. Basically, put it this way, when their management said, “Stevie only does two or three shows a week,” I was like, “Let’s do five. I’m taking this to the bank. Let’s do this. I’m never going to let you down. Let’s do this as many times as you want to until your queen comes back.”
The last show was New Year’s Eve in Las Vegas, 1995. Do you recall that night?
Yeah, but barely. Not to mention, just a minute ago it popped up on YouTube out of nowhere. I sent it to Mick and said, “Where the hell did this pop out of? Somebody had this shit, and it’s fuckin’ great.” The sound is great. Everyone knows that’s Brian Ruggles. He was the soundman of love and mercy, and still is.
How did you find out they were bringing back the full Rumours lineup and your time in the band was over?
That was heartbreaking. Mick fired me on a fax.
What did he say?
Well … that’s private. But he said … He never said that Stevie was coming back. Let’s put it that way.
How did you feel?
I felt broken. I thought it would be better said at a lunch. I thought he should fly out and talk to me about it since I’d just bought a house. They were all calling me “H.O.” or “Homeowner.” They were like, “Hey homeowner!” And then all of a sudden, Stevie was like, “I’m better. I want to come back now.”
What you have to understand is that Mick and I were the guys that did all the radio and promotion and TV stuff. We did all of it. I was definitely looking forward to the tour we had already just promoted. Evidently someone said, “Get her out of here.”
The only thing he could say to me that was ugly was that it was my fault. That’s because one time I walked on the bus and went, “Goddamn, everyone. Can’t we come off the stage after a show and go ‘Yeah!’ and slap some fives? How come everyone has to pick everything apart?” Mick would be like, “You missed that thing” to John. And John was like, “Well you keep throwing up in a bucket, motherfucker.” He may have been throwing up in a bucket, but he never missed a beat. It was crazy. It was crazy.
I said, “I wish I was with REO Speedwagon!” Then I slammed the door, crawled into my bunk, and went to bed. On my fax, he said, “You wish you were in REO Speedwagon, so I’m going to go ahead and fire you now.” And then, of course, it was on CNN within 10 days. “Stevie Nicks is back with Fleetwood Mac!”
Were you able to keep the house you bought?
[Softly.] No. I absolutely did not.
Despite all that, you were still in one of the best bands of all time.
I know it. It’s always going to be an honor.
You made a cool record with Billy Burnette afterwards. It’s a shame it didn’t do better.
I know. It didn’t do much. It came out right when [record label] Almo Sounds was crashing. It’s OK. Everyone gave their bests. Garth Fundis was the producer. He’s so great. We couldn’t have picked a greater producer. It was great. But timing is everything. I’m renting [my house] now on Blueberry Hill. I’m happy.
You toured as a backup singer with Billy Joel in 1998. How was that experience?
That was a lot. It was a mess. But it was a super honor. Wow. Billy called me two days before Christmas Eve, so three days before Christmas. I thought it was a friend. I was like, “Shut up, dude.” He goes, “No, it’s Billy Joel.” I go, “Shut up!” He goes, “No, no, no. Bekka Bramlett, it’s Billy Joel.” I could then tell it was his voice.
He was like, “I know it’s, like, psycho soon, but I need you to be in New York on New Year’s Eve. I want you to be in my band, and I want you to do a duet with me.” What the fuck is with people? I don’t get it. I didn’t say “yes” right away like I did with Mick. I was like, “What now?” And we talked for, like, three and a half hours. I was like, “I still have boxes upstairs from being in Nashville.” He was like, “You’re going to have a fuckin’ ball. You’ll love it. I’ll send you everything.”
He did. He sent me 52 records and these stacks of folders A-Z of all his lyrics. I just love his assistant more than I love him. Turns out he did the same thing to [bassist] David Santos, who is my fuckin’ brother. I was like, “All I gotta do is learn these words. He has to learn all these chord charts.” And he did!
I lived and breathed it and put headphones on to go to sleep to it on low so I could subliminally hear the words to his songs. It’s like, “rattlerattlerattle…COMMUNIST BLOC!” What the fuck? I had it down, though. I had my my yellow highlighter pens, my green highlighter pens, my purple highlighter pens. I was like, “How am I going to do this?”
[Sighs.] Then … I drank my way through that one too. I don’t think it worked out. And Crystal Taliefero was my dear friend, and she hated me because I was just totally pissing on her tree.
You sang “Until the Night” with him, right?
I only did it once. I don’t know if I should tell this story, but first I was sabotaged. Then I was the saboteur. It was awful. I don’t know how much I can tell you about that. But it was just like, “Don’t hire me again. I’m not meant for this.” I made bad decisions back then.
When did you move to Nashville?
Aug. 30, 1996.
Looking at your credits, you’ve worked with just about everyone. It’s a long list of impressive people.
I’m a lucky duck, dude. I’m so lucky. And I continue to be lucky. It’s so weird. I’m not looking to be rich. I just keep getting so lucky that it almost makes me want to cry. I’m so happy that this singing thing worked out since I get to play and sing with heroes that have always been my heroes, and then I get to sing with people that are new heroes to people. It’s so cool. I maybe don’t deserve it, but I give 100 percent every time I lay my mouth on mic. I get to do it here at my home, mostly. The songs I work on come from all countries now. I’m so lucky.
Let me tell you a funny story about John Oates. He’s the coolest. Love him. We wrote this song together. I was living in East Nashville. When I asked him to come and lay down some guitar parts, he walked in, and it was obvious he didn’t realize I was also the engineer. He doesn’t cuss. He’s not a cusser. But he goes, “What the fuckity fuck fuck? What the fuck! You’re the engineer?” I go, “I live alone.”
He played the greatest stuff. Then he asked how my mom was doing. I go, “Do you want to see her?” He goes, “I would love to see your mama.” Everyone used to have a crush on her. I call her and go, “Mom, come over.” She laid down a spoken-word part. The song is called “Clean Up This House.” We aren’t done with it. I’m working on it right now.
It was just so cute that he didn’t know I was running my own ship. But I’ve been running my own ship for 17 years.
You’ve played with Bob Seger, Robert Plant, Faith Hill… The list is endless.
I sang background on five songs for Faith Hill in one night. Songs that I wrote. It is a pleasure. It’s an honor. It never is not an honor. It’s always an honor if somebody sings your songs. Right now, I just got through singing with Gretchen Wilson on the first song she’s ever written by herself. It was like 8:30 at night. She was like, “Do you think you could come down here?” I was like, “Of course I can!”
When did you last tour as a background singer?
It might have been Vince Gill. Oh, it was Gretchen in 2010.
The cool part of your job now is that you get to work on so many different kinds of music.
Yeah. It’s pretty interesting, man. You have to care. You have to care. You have to care like it’s yours, like you know it better than they do. This is what I do: I ask people to send me their stuff and I listen to it. I listen to it while I’m washing the dishes, while I’m doing my bed sheets, while I’m sitting outside having a cigarette. I listen to it like I’ve always known it. Then I write my parts. You know what? I’m good at writing parts. And I’m good at singing them. When you’re in the studio, you just don’t have time to prepare. It’s like “We have some horn parts coming in, so bada-boom, bada-boom, let’s go!”
How is sobriety going?
It’s always a piece of shit. [Laughs.] You can’t watch a TV show without seeing someone clink wine. I’m a “I’ll have what he’s having” kind of girl. I used to drink wine like water. It was horrifying. Sobriety is not easy. I’m cool today. I don’t know about tomorrow. As long as you keep it OK now, tomorrow might just happen.
You gotta go day by day.
Day by friggin’ day! Come on! It’s never going to be easy. It’s always going to be harder than writing songs.
How is your mom doing?
She’s rad. You’re going to freak out if I tell you what my mom is doing. You’re going to be so excited. She’s been telling me and my sister this forever and we’ve been like, “Go Mom!” It’s not an off-Broadway play about about her life, but a Broadway play about her life. I can’t tell you the names, but their grandfathers started Broadway. I probably shouldn’t even say that.
But they’ve got backers. And they’ve already gotten through the whole first act. She’s driving to New York with my sister and helping them write it. It’s really happening. They’re almost done with the second act now.
It’s nice that you and Mick Fleetwood are still tight.
When we did the Time record, I was the little tiny baby penguin poking out of the shell [on the cover]. That’s me, he said. The penguin is their spirit animal. It’s just a big white album with a tiny penguin poking out of the egg. “That’s Bekka!” Isn’t that lame? But it’s cool.
Anyway, there was this one song that everyone fuckin’ fought against him. Mick said to me, “Nobody let me do any of my songs on any of these records.” I was like, “What now? Say what? Did you just say that? What now, Mick?” He said, “Ain’t none of my songs on here. They never let me do a song I did myself.”
And he wrote a song called “These Strange Times.” I fought for it. Christine wouldn’t do it. They wouldn’t do it. Billy is always Switzerland. Dashut didn’t know what to do. So we went literally across the street and cut this thing, and then we got Lucy to go “Daddy, Daddy.” It’s called “These Strange Times.” It’s the last song on the record.
Anyway, I’m sitting here in Nashville now. He’s sitting over there in Maui. I said to him a few years ago, “You should put that song out again, dude.” He goes, “Let’s redo it, me and you.” I said, “I’m here.” He got Rick Vito to play guitar on it. He got a great band. I sang 12 languages on it. It came out a couple of years ago.
When you’re out in the world now and you hear “Gold Dust Woman” or “Don’t Stop,” how do you feel? Where do you go mentally?
I go back to my swimming pool! I go back to horseback riding. Wherever the boombox was. In my household, I had my own little eight-track tape and my own little cassette player. That’s how I learned how to sing. Other than that, all you heard was Daddy’s music at the kitchen table, and what you heard at school.
There wasn’t an iPod and all that stuff. When we got off horses, we let them cool off before we put them in the stall. Don’t put a wet horse in a stall. We’d jump into the swimming pool and put the radio on. It was the Eagles, Boston, Fleetwood Mac. Every time I hear Fleetwood Mac, I think of my childhood. I don’t think of my time in it.
Did you ever meet Stevie Nicks?
Yeah. I did.
How was it?
[Laughs.] She didn’t much care for me. I cared for her. We were were at this place called the Cellar, and Billy Burnette went, “Stevie’s coming!” I sang [belts out] “737 comin’ out of the sky/Oh, won’t you take me down to Memphis on a midnight ride” [from “Travelin’ Band”]. I was blonde. The first thing she said was, “Oh, I didn’t know she was blonde. And she over-sings.” Everyone at the table said the same thing, so I know it’s true. But it’s OK. I still love her. She probably felt like I pissed on her tree. I can understand that. I’m a woman. I dig it. I understand it. I get it. I don’t dig it, but I get it.
You kept her music alive for a few years, and paved the way for her return.
That’s a really sweet way to say it, sweetheart. Thank you.
What are your goals over the next few years?
I have seven albums I hope to put out. I just don’t know how to. I don’t have the whole right-brain part. People wonder how come I don’t put records out. I don’t know how to. What do I do? Who do I pay?
You could get your website back online and post a link to the album on Twitter and Instagram and get it on Spotify and…
You know what that means to me? [Imitates indecipherable muttering.] The reason why Mick and I are such good friends is that he doesn’t know either. When I get somebody that knows what they’re doing, I’ll pay for it. I just don’t know what to do.
Do you ever think about writing a book about your life?
Yeah. Somebody once flew out here to try and get me to start writing a book. I just didn’t know where to start. I kind of clammed up. I don’t know how to do that either. I think once I get a record out, I could probably be more vocal with somebody that would just listen. I don’t know. I mean, if I were to do that, it would be a book that doesn’t hurt anybody. I don’t want to do a tell-all. I don’t think anyone deserves to be told all. I think everyone has a heart and a breaking point. I’ve been a lot. I take more heat than I give. And I’m going to keep it that way.
I don’t have any children, dude. I don’t want to hurt a whole family by what I know. You know why? I just see it as human stuff, fuckin’ up, and I just don’t want to share that. I’m sure they have un-fucked that up afterwards. I’m sure they have. Why go over everyone’s boo-boos that they can’t undo anyway? Why? Why fuck someone’s grandkid up thinking that their grandpa or their grandma was a piece of shit? I’m not that girl. I don’t want to do that.
Listen, I have so many great rock & roll memories of great, awesome kindness. Why would I focus on the boo-boos of growing up in a rock & roll lifestyle. I’m not going to share it.
You could share the positive stories.
I will. I’m looking forward to it. It’s just that nobody gives a shit about that. When someone wants to write a book that doesn’t want a tell-all, I’m in. And when that happens, I’ll talk to them until their head flies off.