Lindsey Buckingham - Biography
By Jeff Hunt
Lindsey Buckingham is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for a reason. In the 1970s, his ecstatic, complex guitar playing got him membership in Fleetwood Mac; once he was in, it was his singular talent for dense, layered, modernistic, forward-thinking studio production that transformed that band into the biggest, most popular act of the era. Through it all, the raw emotion and intensity of his on-again/off-again romance with Stevie Nicks provided rock with one of its most engaging soap operas of all time. And while Buckingham’s solo records never approached the success of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors LP, they’re engaging, solidly crafted pop; meanwhile, his nearly single-handed effort on Tusk has come to be appreciated as a strange moment of crazed genius.
It was destiny. Lindsey Buckingham met Stevie Nicks in her senior year of high school. Soon they formed a band, Fritz. They had a decent following on the West Coast from 1968-1971, and opened for Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Credence Clearwater Revival, but the other guys in the band got tired of the beautiful, young, ethereal lead singer getting all the attention (guys in bands can be shortsighted blockheads). When Fritz disbanded, Stevie and Lindsey stayed together as a musical duo, and a couple. They recorded a single LP, Buckingham Nicks (1973 Polydor). It didn’t do well, which is odd, because they’re naked on the cover. However, it brought them to the attention of Fleetwood Mac.
The Fleetwood is Mick Fleetwood, drums; the Mac is John McVie, on bass. By default, the Mac is also Christine McVie née Perfect (what a great maiden name!), on keyboard and vocals. Fleetwood Mac started out as a psychedelic English blues band, and had been through a bewildering array of line-up changes; only Fleetwood and McVie were constants. When they approached Lindsey and asked him to join as their guitarist, he informed them that he and Stevie were a package deal: both or neither. To their credit, Fleetwood Mac took both. Buckingham didn’t waste any time. With his passion for dense, sophisticated, technologically elaborate pop like The Beatles and The Beach boys, he tossed the remnants of the blues thing out the window, and set out to reinvent the band.
Fleetwood Mac (1975 Reprise), is titled like a debut, and in most ways, that’s what it is. Stevie simply elevates the material, and there are hits aplenty: "Rhiannon," "Say You Love Me," and "Over My Head." Lindsey gives the production a depth and sheen that glistened through the FM airways; together, Stevie and Lindsey win the band over to their laid-back, SoCal vibe. Fleetwood Mac resonated in 1975, and it went to the top of the charts. Moreover, it absolutely ruled the FM airwaves. The group’s transformation was remarkable: From the outside, it was all gloss and sheen; but on the inside things were crumbling. Stevie and Lindsey were splitting as a couple; John and Christine were divorcing; Mick and his wife were breaking up as well. It was a bitter, hostile, uncertain environment, fueled by drug and alcohol abuse; just as Fleetwood Mac achieved superstardom they were in danger of collapsing as a band. Instead, they channeled all of that negative energy into song.
Rumors (1977 Warner Bros.) lays is all bare. “Go Your Own Way” is a Lindsey song that savages Stevie and their breakup. Stevie supplies “Gold Dust Woman,” a confessional about her own drug demons. “You Make Loving Fun” is Christine describing the joys of cheating on John on tour with the band’s sound engineer. It just goes on and on like that, hideous recriminations cloaked in soaring harmonies and splendid hooks galore. “The Chain” is strident and irresistibly catchy, drawing from rock, folk, and country. Rumors won the Grammy for best album, and hibernated at the top of the charts like a laid-back California Grizzly for 31 weeks – not near, the top, either. It was at #1. For 31 weeks. To date, it has sold 30 million copies, and is one of the biggest selling albums of all time.
The follow-up, Tusk (1979 Reprise), was a double LP hatched almost entirely from the imagination of Lindsey Buckingham, fueled by Clash records and mounds of coke. At the time it was considered a flop – a double-platinum flop that any other band would have died for, but how do you live up to expectations after you release the biggest record of all time? Tusk is an epic of hair-raising, professional weirdness, and over the years it’s come to be regarded as a classic. Yet Stevie was marginalized, and the resulting 18-month, around-the-world tour (in part due to the success of Rumors) was, understandably, a grueling experience. After a break she crafted her solo debut; Lindsey responded with his own solo LP. Law and Order (1981 Asylum) wasn’t fully fleshed out, and was swamped by the success of Stevie’s solo LP. However, Lindsey’s follow-up LP, Go Insane (1984 Warner) was stronger, with a huge Brian Wilson-style, multi-tracked blast to it.
Fleetwood Mac’s popularity tumbled in the 1980s, and after 1987’s Tango in the Night (1987 Reprise), Lindsey left the group. Out of the Cradle (1992 Reprise) was a more conventional effort that failed to find an audience; after one of several Mac reunions, he released the melancholic Under the Skin (2006 Reprise). Sadly, a version of Fleetwood Mac without Nicks and Buckingham released a CD that bombed so badly that it failed to break the Billboard Top 200. That’s not a typo: two hundred. Still, there’s talk of another reunion, and another new album. Let’s trust that there’s plenty of magic to come.