Lindsey Buckingham is a multi-platinum enigma -- massively successful and still somehow an enduring, intriguing mystery. As an individual artist, Buckingham has remained a curiously low-profile figure, despite decades of high visibility as a member of Fleetwood Mac -- the legendary band for which he has long served as a visionary leader and bold sonic architect.
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For Buckingham, "Fleetwood Mac has been one of the joys of my life, but that kind of success is a double-edged sword. You're under tremendous pressure to sell as much and as often as possible, to become an assembly line, to feed the philosophy, `If it works, run it into the ground.' Artists need to take their time to breathe in and out, to take risks though it may not always be good for business."
Buckingham is that rare artist whose body of work shows a refusal to allow commerce to swamp art. His series of wildly eclectic and consistently acclaimed albums have topped more critics' annual Top Ten lists than sales charts. Within Fleetwood Mac, his role is fascinating-- his brilliance as a singer-songwriter-arranger and producer have been key in making the band's music so successful, yet he's famously displayed a commercially subversive tendency dating back to Fleetwood Mac's Tusk -- the band's daring follow-up to 1977's Rumours, one of the best-selling albums in music history. Rarely has anyone followed their muse so strongly, challenging himself and his bandmates rather than taking the formulaic path of least resistance.
"On the heels of Rumours, the pressure was very great to come up with something like Rumours II," Buckingham remembers. "But the process of making Rumours had been about spontaneous events as a band and as individuals -- events never to be repeated. Why try? We were at the crossroads, and I felt as a writer and producer I was being given the opportunity to make choices that would define me forever after. It defines the ethic I try to uphold to this day. I remember hearing that when the Tusk album was played for the first time at the Warner Bros. weekly staff meeting, everyone saw their Christmas bonuses flying out the window! That was their equation and therein lies the dilemma between creativity and business."
Today, Tusk is viewed not as a commercial letdown, but rather as an influential rock classic. It stands as a testament to the unflinching talent that makes Buckingham a true musical artist. His refusal to sell his own musical gifts short can be heard loud and clear on his wonderful and willful solo albums -- Law and Order, Go Insane, Out of The Cradle -- and most recently on Fleetwood Mac's 2003 smash release Say You Will, an acclaimed album that has stunned critics with its ambition and accomplishment. For anyone who's been listening closely, Say You Will is the latest evidence that Lindsey Buckingham is a daring musical genius who remains at the height of his powers, refusing to rest on his laurels. Lindsey Buckingham is that rare rock god who seems constitutionally incapable of simply going with the flow.
All in all, he'd rather go his own way.
* * *
Lindsey Buckingham was born in the idyllic San Francisco suburb of Palo Alto on October 3, 1949, the youngest of three boys of Morris and Rutheda Buckingham. Very early, Buckingham gravitated toward music.
"My mother told me I was singing songs off the radio, `Goodnight Irene' and others, before I was two. At three I remember I somehow became fascinated with guitars and began drawing them constantly. By age four, I was listening to my parents'' 78's, "Nutcracker Suite" and other orchestrations. I would try to analyze what was making all the various sounds. So I guess there was a predisposition for singing, guitar and even production at a very early age."
But for Buckingham -- like so many others -- everything suddenly changed with the arrival of Elvis Presley in 1956.
"When my older brother Jeff brought home `Heartbreak Hotel,' that was it," recalls Buckingham. "I had been fiddling around with a plastic, four-string, but the following Christmas I received a three-quarter size Harmony acoustic guitar and I was off! I never took lessons, and I still can't read music. To this day, it's all just a child's curiosity and intuition."
By 1962, the first wave of rock and roll had broken and receded. Buckingham became interested in folk music. When he was thirteen he learned to play the five-string banjo and the finger-style for which he is known began to take root. Still, a career in music hardly seemed likely for this sum of an upper middle-class family in which athletics were far more valued than artistic endeavors. Indeed, Lindsey's middle brother Greg Buckingham would later become a world record holding swimmer and compete at the 1968 Olympics.
It was not until the middle of his senior year that Buckingham dove into rock & roll full on -- playing with his first real band. The group -- rather perversely named the Fritz Raybyne Memorial Band after a classmate who was apparently unpopular but very much alive -- was later known simply as Fritz.
The group's personnel shifted once Buckingham and fellow band members Javier Pacheco and Bob Aquierre went on to attend San Mateo Junior College where they soon met up with an important new addition to the band -- a young woman called Stevie Nicks.
"I had known Stevie briefly when I was a junior in high school and she transferred from Southern California as a senior. She moved around a lot growing up, and she had learned how to make a splash. She kind of swept in and everyone was immediately aware of her. We met at a few functions, and she was already writing and playing, so we talked, exchanged musical ideas, flirted. There was a definite mutual attraction, but we didn't get together at the time."
Fritz gave the pair plenty of time together. The band gradually became one of the busiest local bands in the Bay area, playing everything from frat parties to opening spots for the likes of Big Brother and The Holding Company, Ike and Tina Turner and the Moody Blues. By 1970, the members of Fritz had quit college to try and make it as a band. By 1971, they had relocated to Los Angeles in pursuit of a record deal that would still prove elusive.
"When we started connecting with LA, that was the end of Fritz and the beginning of Stevie and Lindsey," Buckingham recalls. "We were singled out. There was no interest in signing the band, only interest in focusing on the two of us." As the band crumbled, Buckingham and Nicks began to follow this new dream, working on their own material, their own sound. Along the way, the duo became a couple.
"Then out of the blue I received a $12,000 inheritance from a relative I never knew," Buckingham says. "Very lucky, very timely. I was able to buy a used Ampex four-track machine. My father let us use a small storeroom in his coffee plant in South San Francisco, and every night after dark I would drive up there and work, sometimes with Stevie, sometimes alone. I developed my basic skills as a producer in that room. Over the months, I took Stevie's songs and my songs and hammered out an overall style we could call our own."
After many near misses, Buckingham Nicks -- as the duo became known -- finally signed a record deal with the Polydor/Anthem label, and started cutting tracks at Sound City Studios in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley. Although the Buckingham Nicks album is now a major collectable, in 1974 it was a difficult road for the two, and the album failed to establish them in the way it should have.
Opportunity knocked when Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac turned up at Sound City Studios looking for a place for the veteran band Fleetwood Mac to record. To showcase the studio, producer Keith Olsen played the Buckingham Nicks track "Frozen Love" and introduced Fleetwood to Buckingham who was at the studio working on new material. A week later, Fleetwood Mac guitarist Bob Welch handed in his walking papers, and Buckingham received a call asking him to join the band. Informed that Lindsey and Stevie were a package deal, Fleetwood consulted with his band mates and called back the next day, extending the offer to both of them.
So it was that in early 1975, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks became members of Fleetwood Mac.
The Chain was now linked.
The chemistry of the fivesome -- drummer Fleetwood, bassist John McVie, keyboardist and vocalist Christine McVie, along with Buckingham and Nicks -- was immediate. The newly revived group titled the first album they recorded together simply Fleetwood Mac, and hit the road.
As Buckingham recalls, "We did everything, station wagon runs, colleges, small and large towns, Bill Graham stadium shows, mostly opening. We became tighter and tighter as a band and as friends." Fleetwood Mac quickly became a multi-platinum smash, yielding a series of hits, "Over My Head," "Rhiannon" and "Say You Love Me." Within the span of a year, Fleetwood Mac had become major stars. Remarkably, it was only the beginning.
The recording of the group's follow-up effort was not going on long when it became clear that both Lindsey and Stevie and Christine and John McVie were in the throes of breakups, and that the songs emerging from the sessions were forming a sort of intense, open musical dialogue marked by passion and pain. The resulting album, shaped in significant part by Buckingham, was titled "Rumours," and it became a sensation, largely for its timeless, deeply felt music, partly because it served as a sort of musical soap opera, a gorgeous stained glass window into the band members' lives.
The first single from Rumours was Buckingham's "Go Your Own Way" which remains a stunning rock classic. It was followed by three more smashes - "Dreams," "Don't Stop" and "You Make Loving' Fun." Rumours has gone on to sell more than twenty million copies and Fleetwood Mac were now well-established superstars -- reigning kings and queens of rock.
When it came time to record their next album Buckingham led the charge to keep pushing artistically forward rather than treading in more commercially minded waters. The impressive result was Tusk -- an adventurous double-album that sold roughly five million copies and yet was widely viewed as a major disappointment. Among the disappointed were some of Buckingham's bandmates.
"I was very proud of the Tusk album, and I was not disappointed by its commercial performance," Buckingham says. "I sort of expected it. What I was disappointed in, what I didn't expect, was the band's reaction to it after the fact." Sensing that his edgier creative impulses weren't going to see the light of day in the context of Fleetwood Mac, Buckingham signed a deal with Elektra and started working on his first solo album. Law And Order was a charming musical variety show that included one significant radio hit in "Trouble."
"There was some conscious effort in going for a diverse approach, in staking out a range of possibilities, generally to the left," says Buckingham. "There were just a lot of things I wanted to try."
Buckingham felt less tied to Fleetwood Mac's next album, 1982's Mirage. "Because of the band's reactionary stance in the wake of Tusk, there was, for me, less focus, less intent, less to strive for. Still, there were some great things. "Hold Me," "Eyes of the World," and especially, "Gypsy." I was very proud of that. It's possibly the best single production job I ever did for Stevie."
Buckingham's second solo album Go Insane was a dark ride, a troubled song cycle clearly reflecting the disillusionment and pessimism its maker had been feeling. Still, the riveting title track became a hit song and video. Yet, not everyone was excited about Buckingham's increasing experimentation. "I'll never forget I flew to New York and went to the apartment of Elektra President Bob Krasnow to play him the album," he remembers. "This can be uncomfortable, but executives generally have a range of tactful responses. We chatted a bit and then put the album on, listening from start to finish. When the last song ended, Bob sat in silence for a few seconds and then said, `Well, you're your own man.' Period."
Within Fleetwood Mac, the mood was tense. "There was drink and drugs, obviously, but now there was less harmony, more selfishness." Buckingham responded by retreating into the studio and doing more recording on his own. By the end of 1985, Buckingham and longtime recording cohort Richard Dashut had five songs nearly complete for another solo album when then Warner Bros. Chairman Mo Ostin asked him to interrupt work on his solo project in order to put together a new Fleetwood Mac album.
Under the most difficult conditions in his history with the band, Buckingham managed to pull together a remarkably successful and charming album -- 1987's Tango In The Night. The lack of unity -- and the degree to which the band members' personal habits were spinning out of control -- made the process exceedingly difficult. Yet somehow, under Buckingham's musical leadership, it all worked. Tango In The Night produced three hit singles -- Buckingham's "Big Love," followed by "Seven Wonders" and "Little Lies" -- and went on to sell over seven million copies.
Nonetheless, Buckingham still couldn't see hitting the road with Fleetwood Mac. "The studio has been kind of nuts, and when I contemplated the road, I just had to say `Enough.' Everyone, including myself, was at their worst. It was a survival move creatively, but also in the real physical sense."
After twelve years, Buckingham suddenly found himself cut off from his former musical base. His first order of business was to let the emotional dust settle. Eventually, he got to work on his third solo album, having used his earlier solo tracks to help create Tango In The Night. Working again with Richard Dashut, Buckingham gave birth what is arguably his most personal and powerful solo album. 1992's Out Of The Cradle. The album has a softer sound and conveyed a new sense of optimism. There was a sweetness, a longing, a broader emotional landscape -- an intimate reconciliation of Buckingham's past and present. Without a major hit song, the album sold only mildly, yet it justifiably received the best reviews of Buckingham's life.
Out Of The Cradle was proved to be a pivotal album in Buckingham's musical life. No longer serving double duty, he could for the first time put together his own band to tour. The unique group that Buckingham assembled consisted of five guitarists, a bassist, a drummer, two percussionists and a keyboardist. Six of the players sang. "It worked like a dream," Buckingham says. "It was a great learning experience. In Fleetwood Mac, we would usually have to paraphrase down from the recordings for the stage. I always wanted to do something more conceptual, making more use of midrange, multiples of guitars and voices so that everything could be more creatively orchestrated. The power coming off the stage was remarkable, the detail of the orchestrations was sublime, and over and over, people told us it was one of the best shows they had ever seen."
The time following his Buckingham's breakthrough with his first solo tour was important on many fronts. He met his future wife Kristen when she came to photograph him during the new recording sessions he began with producer Rob Cavello. These sessions found Buckingham reunited with Mick Fleetwood, who eventually suggested bringing John McVie into the sessions to overdub some bass. Soon Christine McVie stopped by for a visit as well. "Suddenly here were the four musicians sitting together behind the console," Buckingham recalls. "It was strange but so familiar, I was laughing. Over the past years, each of us had traveled our own roads, and it was probably the most comfortable now that it had ever been."
Out of such comfort came the joy of Fleetwood Mac's return to form -- The Dance. Buckingham once again set aside a solo album so that the band could reunite for a massively successful MTV reunion special, tour and live album in 1997. A 1993 appearance at Bill Clinton's inauguration had been a glitzy one-off, but The Dance proved a more serious and sustained reunion. However, the tour ended when Christine McVie, not Buckingham, decided she'd had enough of the road.
In the years that followed, Buckingham focused on his personal life as well as returning to the solo project that he'd put aside for The Dance. Following the birth of his and Kristen's first child, William Gregory Buckingham on July 8, 1998, Buckingham returned to work on the project that had the working title, Gift Of Screws.
Soon, however, it became clear that once again, the record company was more interested in a new album from Fleetwood Mac than any Buckingham solo project. So it was that the Gift Of Screws gradually evolved into 2003's acclaimed Fleetwood Mac album Say You Will, an album highlighted by many of the same songs that had started out as part of Buckingham's solo project, including the album haunting first single, "Peacekeeper."
The album reflected Buckingham's characteristic ambition beautifully. And as Fleetwood Mac -- now without Christine McVie -- set out on tour in support of it in the late spring of 2003, Buckingham was once again holding himself to the highest standards. "There's a kind of profundity about this situation if we pull it off properly and I think we're going to," Buckingham explained. "Rock bands as a cliche tend to get in their mid-thirties and get a little soft and fade away. The idea of rockers is always associated with something youthful and untamed. The best analogy is with Frank Sinatra. When he was a bobbysoxer with a callow voice, very thin and sort of one-dimensional. Then he came back in his forties as the quintessential Frank Sinatra with maturity and a perspective that you just don't get when you're twenty or twenty-five. There's still a possibility to define that in the genre of rock -- a real statement from someone who's made it through." Lindsey Buckingham has made it through with his artistic integrity and talent intact. And through it all he's somehow done it his own way.
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