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When Stevie Nicks decided to record her first solo album in 10 years, she called her old pal, Eurythmics veteran Dave Stewart. Not only did he prove to be a particularly well-suited writing partner and producer, he shared a unique historical circumstance that bonded them in a special sort of kinship; like Nicks, Stewart had been part of a duo that was both musical and romantic. And like Nicks, his romance ended before the musical connection did.
Stewart, of course, was with Annie Lennox when the pair gained fame. Nicks had joined forces with Lindsey Buckingham when they were still high-school students, and when Buckingham was invited to join Fleetwood Mac, he said the Buckingham-Nicks duo, which had released one dead-in-the-water album, was a package deal. By the time they split, they had put their indelible stamp on what would become one of the best-selling albums of all time, 1977's "Rumours," a chronicle of two band couples coming apart (John and Christine McVie were the other) and Nicks' affair with the band's co-founder, drummer Mick Fleetwood.
The members of Fleetwood Mac have since splintered and come together again more than once, but in the meantime, each made solo forays. Nicks, however, has notched the most successful solo career of any Fleetwood Mac veteran (including several before she and Buckingham joined). Her string of hits, with and without Fleetwood Mac, represents one of pop music's most beloved canons: the list includes "Rhiannon," "Landslide," "Dreams" (a favorite topic), "Edge of Seventeen," "Leather and Lace" (a duet with one-time lover Don Henley), "Stand Back" and, with Tom Petty, "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around."
Her gypsy/witchy-woman look - Victorian-inspired gowns, high-heeled boots, leather and lace, silk and satin, romantic hats over long, blonde hair, all shown off with frequent stage twirls - set a tone in the ‘70s from which she hasn't wavered. Nicks hasn't changed her songwriting style much, either - or at least, she hadn't, until she began working with Stewart on her new CD, "In Your Dreams," released in May.
Up until he sat across from her in her L.A. living room, expecting her to sing along as he played, she'd never written a song with another person while sharing the same breathing space, face to face.
"I sent him 40 pages of poetry, never really expecting him to read all of it, but he did," Nicks recalled, speaking over the phone in her deep alto. "He puts his guitar on and he takes one of the poems out of the binder that I had sent him, and he said, ‘I like this poem. Let's do this one.'"
Startled ("like a deer in headlights," she said with a laugh), she wanted to tell him she doesn't write with other people. But she kept her mouth shut - likely a rare moment for a woman who hardly breaks for another question once she gets going during an interview.
"Something in me said, ‘Don't say that. Just sit there and see what he is gonna do,'" she confessed. And he played. Then he told her to sing. And she did.
"That's actually the third to the last song on the record; it's called ‘You May Be The One,'" she said. "That's how it started, and 20 minutes later, we had a really good song."
That was the moment when she understood why Paul McCartney and John Lennon continued to write together when they didn't have to, she said, adding, "(It's) because of what just happened between me and Dave."
The only song on which they actually shared lyric-writing duties was "Everybody Loves You"; he gave her the chorus and asked her to write verses. The words he provided were "Everybody loves you but you're so alone, no one really knows you, but I'm the only one." "
"I immediately took it like he was writing that about Annie Lennox, because that sounded like a person from a duo writing a song about the other person in the duo," Nicks said. "And what Dave and I had that was great was that we'd both been in really famous duos, so the whole time we were making this record, I feel like Lindsey and Annie were floating around in the room. Because a lot of the stuff that we both wrote seemed to be directed to our years as famous people in duos."
She said the words came from a poem she had done about 12 years previously, and it was definitely about Buckingham. "Where it says, ‘No one else can play that part. No voice of a stranger could play that part/It broke my heart,' that's pretty much all about Lindsey." Interestingly, in the lyrics accompanying the album, it said "broke her heart," but when Nicks brings sings the line through the phone, she uses first-person. Yet she and Buckingham, in a way, still share the chains they sang about on "Rumours." He actually performs on "In Your Deams," and they may do yet another Fleetwood Mac tour next year, following her solo tour. Nicks also recently finished a tour with Rod Stewart, whom she calls "trippy" and "charming."
"You can't not like Rod Stewart because he's darling," she said, "and he was very good to me and he gave me a chance to take my new album around the United States and do 18 arena gigs."
Though she'll play smaller venues as a headliner on her own, she's hoping the tour will draw audiences to her poignant mix of love songs, reminiscences, dreamscapes and odes to soldiers, vampires, New Orleans and even Edgar Allen Poe (Nicks set Poe's poem, "Annabel Lee" to music; coincidentally, Sarah Jarosz just released her own musical version of the poem.)
The new album also contains contributions by frequent collaborator Mike Campbell, along with Waddy Wachtel, Fleetwood and other players she's worked with in the past. Except for drum overdubs, they recorded the entire album in her home, starting in January 2010 and finishing in December.
"It was the best year of my life," Nicks enthused. "I am probably more proud of this record than anything I've ever done."
Nicks will perform Aug. 13 at The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in The Woodlands. For tickets, visit www.woodlandscenter.org.