Lindsey Buckingham looks past Fleetwood Mac ‘fiasco’ with upcoming solo tour.
Over the past four years, Fleetwood Mac gave him the boot, his wife filed for divorce, he lost his voice, nearly died, and watched the release of his long-awaited solo album get delayed several times. Oh, and then there was the whole pandemic thing.
“It’s certainly been an interesting few years, starting with the whole Fleetwood Mac fiasco,” Buckingham, 72, told The Chronicle, calling from his home in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles.
Yet the songwriter, best known as the band’s lead guitarist and singer on the 40 million-selling 1977 album “Rumours,” is full of hope as he prepares to kick off an extensive spring solo tour at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco on Tuesday, April 5.
The trek is in support of his seventh solo album, “Lindsey Buckingham,” which was completed nearly five years ago and finally released in September. The first leg of the tour in the fall saw him packing theaters with loyal fans, and many of his upcoming dates are sold out too.
But Buckingham is most looking forward to getting back onstage with the members of his former group — drummer Mick Fleetwood, bassist John McVie, keyboardist-vocalist Christine McVie and singer Stevie Nicks, who reportedly issued the ultimatum forcing the band to dump Buckingham ahead of its 2018 “An Evening With Fleetwood Mac” tour.
“These are people that were my family, dysfunctional or not, for close to 45 years,” Buckingham said.
The Palo Alto native joined Fleetwood Mac with then-girlfriend Nicks in 1974, after the pair graduated from high school in Atherton. They quickly became the identifiable faces and voices for the former British blues band, with Buckingham contributing hits like “Go Your Own Way,” “Tusk” and “The Chain.”
On the band’s recent tour, his position was jointly filled by Neil Finn of Crowded House and Mike Campbell of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers, which Buckingham said made it feel like “a cover band.”
“It didn’t dignify the legacy that the five of us had built,” he said.
In a lawsuit filed in 2019, Buckingham said he was told that the band would tour without him five days after they appeared together at a 2018 event where the members of Fleetwood Mac were recognized as MusiCares’ Person of the Year at Radio City Music Hall in New York.
He said the conflict arose after he asked the band to delay its tour for three months so he could have time to promote his solo album, which reportedly drove Nicks to threaten to quit the band if Buckingham was not ousted first. He said he would have been paid at least $12 million for his share of the tour proceeds. They settled out of court.
Last year, Nicks made her first public statement about the incident in a letter to Rolling Stone.
“It’s unfortunate that Lindsey has chosen to tell a revisionist history of what transpired in 2018 with Fleetwood Mac,” she wrote. “His version of events is factually inaccurate.”
She said the breaking point came when Buckingham “complained” after the band was introduced at the Radio City Music Hall event with the song “Rhiannon,” which Nicks wrote.
“To be exceedingly clear, I did not have him fired, I did not ask for him to be fired, I did not demand he be fired,” Nicks said. “Frankly, I fired myself. I proactively removed myself from the band and a situation I considered to be toxic to my well-being.”
Buckingham left the band once before, in 1987, to record a series of neglected solo albums, but returned for a tour in 1996 and remained a steady member up until the latest fracas — his temperamental relationship with Nicks a constant source of background anxiety.
“We made it through all of that, and we made it through so many difficulties that were so much more profound and so much more challenging than the particular things that led to my being ousted from the band,” he said, seemingly still in disbelief. “I won’t get into the specifics of that, but underneath all of that, there’s still a lot of love. I miss Mick. I miss Christine. And I even miss Stevie in some ways. So there’s always a part of me that would think and would strongly believe that another tour with the five of us would be a very appropriate way to wrap things up.”
And yet, he admits, he remains frustrated with Nicks.
“I don’t understand Stevie’s thing,” he said. “I think she’s going through her own personal challenges, trying to be Stevie Nicks in capital letters.”
After Fleetwood Mac fired him, Buckingham made one of his first public appearances at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in Golden Gate Park, playing just a handful of songs.
Now he plans to return to the city with a full set that spans solo singles like “Shut Us Down,” from his 2006 album, “Under the Skin,” and his 1981 single, “Trouble,” alongside reworked versions of hits he wrote for Fleetwood Mac, such as “Never Going Back Again,” from “Rumours,” and “Big Love,” from its 1987 release, “Tango in the Night.” The set is also expected to heavily feature the melancholy numbers from his self-titled latest album.
“Strangely, I feel like the subject matter that was being addressed on the album, which has been ready to go for a number of years now, has been informed and made more contextual by everything that’s happened,” he said. “Certain things that were addressed in the abstract were more visceral.”
That includes the health scare he suffered during elective surgery in 2019, requiring an emergency triple bypass. During the operation, one of the surgeons damaged Buckingham’s vocal cords while inserting a breathing tube. It took months to regain his voice.
During that time, shelter-in-place orders were issued because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and his wife of 21 years, Kristen Messner, filed for divorce. He ended up spending most of the past two years on his own with his three dogs.
“I’m a pretty insular person anyway,” he said. “I’m a loner. I forced myself to go down to the studio and start some new songs. Obviously, dealing with my wife taking a break, I didn’t see that coming. I think the pandemic had a slight effect on that, with her needing to do that. It was one of those strange things.”
He said he mostly felt bad for his three children, who are 17, 21 and 23. Like the band, he is hopeful things will work out with his marriage.
In the meantime, he is feeling appreciative of the fans who come out to the solo shows, which allow him to break from the rigid greatest-hits set lists of his former band to explore some of the more challenging corners of his career.
“Fleetwood Mac was always a political animal,” Buckingham said. “With my solo endeavor since 2005, there’s a distinct lack of politics. Arenas are all about commerce. At some point, the scale of that disconnects. You can’t put on the same kind of show in an arena as you can in a theater for a couple of thousand people. Music thrives more in the more intimate environment.”
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