The band is infamous for its battles and lineup changes – and famous for its music
By George Varga, Pop Music Critic
There are a variety of nonmusical career opportunities for world-famous rock 'n' roll stars, especially those willing to lend their names to lucrative endorsement deals and other commercial ventures. But Mick Fleetwood is one of the few who might qualify for a position as a special envoy for the United Nations.
“That probably would have appealed to me, if I had been better educated and had more mental discipline,” said the lanky drummer, who performs with Fleetwood Mac Sunday night at the San Diego Sports Arena. “I can see bits and pieces of my natural instincts that would have made me well-suited for the U.N. In another life, that premise is not a horrific one for me. Obviously, that's not what I ended up doing.”
However, in his own way, Fleetwood has learned more than many career diplomats about maintaining order, tiptoeing around land mines (at least figuratively speaking) and negotiating fragile truces in uncivil circumstances.
The only member of Fleetwood Mac to have played with every edition of the band since its inception in 1967, his key qualification is, well, that he is the only member of Fleetwood Mac to have played with every edition of the band since its inception in 1967.
As a result, he has served as the de facto peacekeeper for this famous (and famously contentious) band, which in its first seven years of existence went through nine different lineups.
Between 1970 and 1974, guitarist Peter Green burned out after taking too much LSD, guitarist Jeremy Spencer abruptly left to join a religious cult and guitarist Bob Weston was fired after his affair with Fleetwood's then-wife was discovered.
The band has weathered five more lineup changes since 1975, the year two young Americans – singer Stevie Nicks and guitarist-singer Lindsey Buckingham – joined. The couple had previously played together in Fritz, a Bay Area band, and had recorded one obscure duo album.
Against all odds, the addition of Buckingham and Nicks helped transform Fleetwood Mac, which had started out as an all-English blues-rock outfit, into an Anglo-American band that became one of the best-selling rock acts of the 1970s – and beyond.
Faster than you can say “Rumours,” the name of the band's 1977 mega-album, Fleetwood Mac became a superstar act at precisely the same time internal band tensions nearly caused it to implode.
The marriage between bassist John McVie (who is still in the band) and singer-keyboardist Christine McVie (who isn't) came to a rocky finish. Buckingham and Nicks ended their romantic relationship. Fleetwood began a clandestine affair with Nicks, who still relied on Buckingham to improve her songs with his expert arrangements and stellar musicianship.
“It's a testament to every man and woman in this band that none of us ever believed we were something special,” Fleetwood, 61, said. “That's been the extreme blessing of Fleetwood Mac, that it really is a 'people with their faults' band. We never got sucked into the massive potential for a showbiz-type approach, (despite) the soap-opera type stuff going on that became public knowledge.”
At the time, Buckingham openly bristled when it became clear the band (and its record company) wanted Fleetwood Mac to avoid tampering with its success. Determined not to cash in on the success of “Rumours,” which has now sold close to 40 million copies, the guitarist pushed the band to make 1979's “Tusk.” An edgy, artistically ambitious double album, it didn't sell nearly as well as its predecessor.
“Those years after 'Rumours' were difficult,” Buckingham acknowledged in a separate interview from Los Angeles.
“That was the beginning of me realizing I wanted to buck the pressures of making something like 'Rumours 2,' so that we would not become a caricature of ourselves. People want you to repeat formulas and run them into the ground.”
People (at least at the time) like drummer Fleetwood. His increasingly heated arguments with Buckingham over creative control and the band's musical direction prompted the guitarist to quit in 1987 and embark on a solo career.
“I was probably the numero uno cheerleader for the band,” Fleetwood acknowledged.
“I was the one who believed that, at all costs, we must turn up for Fleetwood Mac. Lindsey left because he didn't see any other way to do what he wanted to do, without leaving Fleetwood Mac. He probably had visions of me, with a cheerleader's outfit on and a huge master-of-ceremony's whip, saying 'We will never stop, not even to take a breath.'
“Looking back, I would say I could have done with being about 30 percent less obsessive about putting my whole life on hold for Fleetwood Mac. But all of us, for a while, sold our creative souls to the band. And it was always all about the music, even when things were not easy for us, emotionally.”
But that was then, and this is now. And Buckingham, who rejoined the band in 1997, has since managed to strike a balance between his solo career and his work with Fleetwood Mac. The band's current tour is, by Fleetwood's account, the first time the band has hit the road without a new album to promote. (The band's most recent album was 2003's “Say You Will.”)
The result is a “Greatest Hits” show that also features some songs from Buckingham and Nicks' respective solo careers, including his “Go Insane” and her “Stand Back,” along with Fleetwood Mac's 1969 gem “Oh Well.”
“When I introduce the band now (on stage), I acknowledge John and Lindsey first,” Fleetwood said. “And when I get to Stevie, I invariably say: 'This is a lady who keeps us guys in Fleetwood Mac very well-behaved, if you know what I mean.'
“We have fun with that. We never got into the whole ripping-hotels-apart thing. Our illicit deeds were tiptoeing down hotel corridors and visiting each other when we shouldn't have. We were more 'under the covers.' ”
Literally and figuratively?