You dive into the personal dynamics and politics of Fleetwood Mac at your own risk.
Certainly, you are advised against it before hopping on the phone with Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie, the singer-songwriters who were — all due respect to Queen Stevie Nicks and the founding rhythm section of Mick Fleetwood and John McVie — the primary architects of the classic Mac sound.
Keep the focus on the new album and tour, you are urged by a publicist. Not on the old days.
Which is, of course, much easier said than done. Forty years after their all-time breakup album Rumours, the mythology and romance — literal and otherwise — of Fleetwood Mac still towers over the band’s imposing legacy. You cannot discuss Buckingham and McVie’s new album, and the tour that brings them to Ruth Eckerd Hall Thursday, without breaking it down through the lens of Fleetwood Mac.
And, it turns out, neither can they.
"Obviously, there’s been so much written about Stevie’s and my relationship, and the underpinnings of the romance that go along with that and create that part of the musical soap opera that was Fleetwood Mac," said Buckingham, 68. "Unlike with Stevie — with whom I did have a romantic relationship, and with whom we had a great vocal blend — Christine and I had the kind of bonding that comes from both of us being grounded in our craft as musicians."
"It’s a strange one, really, because we’re not really the best of chums," McVie, 74, said in a separate call a little later. "We don’t really hang out very much together. But we have a really strong musical bond with each other. Once we’re in the studio, we work as a team really well. We inspire ideas with each other. It is quite amazing, really, that I can listen to something he’s playing and tooling around on, and then we link up off each other very well. It’s been like that over the years — we come up with different ideas, and cooperate in a very natural way."
Cooperation? Bonding? Working together as a team? This is Fleetwood Mac we’re talking about, right?
Not exactly. It’s Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie, the title of their new album and the one coupling within the band left mostly unsullied by discord. That they found harmony with one another in the year of Fleetwood Mac’s golden anniversary is probably not a coincidence.
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It was 1970 when the former Christine Perfect joined Fleetwood Mac as a singer, songwriter and keyboardist after marrying the band’s bassist, John McVie. She was instrumental in the band’s evolution from a British blues-rock combo to a transcontinental pop-rock phenomenon — as were Buckingham and Nicks, who joined in late 1974.
The next year, Fleetwood Mac’s breakthrough self-titled album featured seven songs written by McVie and/or Buckingham, including Say You Love Me and Monday Morning, and nine where they traded lead vocals.
"I think it was from Day 1," McVie said. "When we got into the studio, it was like, I get what he’s playing, and he gets what I’m playing."
Buckingham, an assiduous studio wonk known for sonic perfectionism, fleshed out and spit-shined McVie’s indelible melodies. While they rarely shared songwriting credit, between them, they penned many iconic hits — Buckingham’s Go Your Own Way, Never Going Back Again and Tusk; McVie’s You Make Loving Fun, Everywhere and Little Lies. They shared lead vocals on Don’t Stop, a McVie composition that became their signature, show-closing hit.
Over time, Nicks, Buckingham and McVie all found themselves pulled in different directions away from the band. McVie, long divorced from John, quit for good in 1998 out of a crippling fear of flying and a desire to stay closer to family in England. The band soldiered on, with Nicks handling her vocals. But in 2014, after years of self-imposed isolation, McVie asked to come back.
"It catapulted Fleetwood Mac back into another kind of stratosphere, really, because then the original Rumours five were back onstage again," she said. "The chain was complete, if you like."
McVie met with Buckingham in the studio to jam out some new demos, partly as "a great welcoming gesture to get her into another familiar arena," he said, "prior to just getting dumped into rehearsals with all the politics that exist within the band."
What he means by that isn’t explicitly clear — but it is true that Fleetwood and John McVie were in on some of those sessions, and for a time, at least, it looked like Fleetwood Mac might be working on its first classic-lineup LP since 1987’s Tango In the Night.
"As far as Stevie’s involvement, there was never really a clear-cut time where she said, ‘No, I’ve got other commitments,’" Buckingham said. "In the same way we weren’t saying it was a Fleetwood Mac album, I don’t think anyone was saying it wasn’t a Fleetwood Mac album. But Christine and I recognized this enhanced rapport, this unbelievable sort of connection that seemed to have only gotten better over time, and we did get protective over it rather quickly."
McVie quibbles with that word, "protective" — "It’s not quite the word I would use," she said. But, she adds, "One had to wonder what Stevie would have sung, and where she would have sung. ... It sounded like me and Lindsey singing duets. It just sounded lovely."
That it does. Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie isn’t Rumors or Tusk, but it’s a collection of sweet songs that show off the singers’ easy chemistry. For McVie, who spent all those years off the road, it was such a fun experience that she’d like to do it again — either with Buckingham or with all of Fleetwood Mac.
"One lives in hope, but I just have no idea," she said. "I’m no spring chicken. But hey, I feel pretty darn good, so yeah, I see no reason why not."
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For all the positive vibes Buckingham and McVie are feeling in 2017, the politics of Fleetwood Mac still do come into play at their shows, which are split about evenly between new songs and old. Picking the latter has led to some curious choices (like the 1982 rarity Wish You Were Here) and omissions (like their iconic duet Don’t Stop).
"Even though it’s Lindsey and I singing on the record, I think we just thought, Nah, that’s very Fleetwood Mac. We can’t do that," McVie said of Don’t Stop.
Fleetwood Mac will tour in 2018, but it’s unknown how that will play out. A lesser band, one without so much pre-existing baggage, might split over two members — or four, if you count Fleetwood and John McVie’s studio contributions — splintering off on their own. Buckingham doesn’t think it’ll happen here.
"Fleetwood Mac is absolutely a dysfunctional family, but it is a family," he said "There may be a time when people start wanting to pare down that part of their lives. That hasn’t really happened yet.
"It is nice to know that Christine and I are having such a good time," he adds. "One of the things I think has been so eye-opening for her about the tour is that she had gotten used to the dysfunction of Fleetwood Mac, and the politics being so convoluted within the band, as the norm. And then we got out there and she saw this group of people who had no issues with each other, who all wanted to be doing the same thing for the same reasons. She saw that there was this sense of family that doesn’t really exist in that way with Fleetwood Mac.
"So who’s to say? It would surprise me if she and I didn’t want to do this again in another year or two. I don’t think it’s necessarily an either/or with Fleetwood Mac. I think Fleetwood Mac will have the life it has until people start dropping out."
He laughed. The band has survived much tougher times than this. At this point, they’re likely all in it for life. Two of them, at least, sound sure of it.
Contact Jay Cridlin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.
and Christine McVie
Wilderado opens at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Ruth Eckerd Hall, 1111 N McMullen Booth Road, Clearwater. $63.25 and up. (727) 791-7400. rutheckerdhall.com.