Picture being the guitarist and co-vocalist for one of the best rock bands in existence, as well as penning many of their best songs. Picture being responsible for some of the best riffs and choruses ever put to record, across nearly fifty years.
Now picture your legacy being thrown to the dust because one of your band decided they’ve had enough of you – for no reason. Your reputation trampled over; your efforts skipped like they were filler tracks.
Well step forward one Lindsey Buckingham, longtime guitarist of British-American titans of classic rock, Fleetwood Mac, who was forced out in 2018. The man with the fro and the unusual fingerpicking style on guitar had written many of the Mac’s biggest hits, such as ‘Go Your Own Way’, ‘Big Love’ and ‘Tusk’ (as well as co-writing other singles like ‘World Turning’ with Christine McVie and ‘The Chain’ with the rest of the band), and yet he was ‘ousted’ without a thought. By whom? Well, Stevie Nicks.
The tale of Nicks and Buckingham goes back a long time. The pair met in high school and went on to form their own rock duo, Buckingham Nicks, releasing an eponymous debut in 1973. As sales for the album proved disappointing, however, Mick Fleetwood (drummer and ‘overseer’ of Fleetwood Mac) happened to hear Buckingham in a studio, and figured he needed Lindsey for his own band. But Buckingham wouldn’t join without his sweetheart, Stevie Nicks, to which Fleetwood agreed. Together with keyboardist, songwriter and vocalist, Christine McVie, and bassist John McVie, the Rumours line-up of Fleetwood Mac ended up reaching the heights of success, across several masterful records.
Only, after the release of the self-titled ‘White Album’ in ’75, Buckingham and Nicks would go through a brutal split, just as Fleetwood Mac were working on their next album, the colossal Rumours, which went on to become one of the best-selling albums of all time. Indeed, the band’s interpersonal relationships around that time were all over the place, and the tumultuous atmosphere created a heated record of sharp anthem after sharp anthem.
Since then, Nicks and Buckingham were fairly on and off in their approach toward eachother, often leading to explosive interactions onstage that made up part of their reputations.
In 1987, as Fleetwood Mac released Tango in the Night (co-produced by Buckingham and featuring singles, ‘Big Love’, ‘Little Lies’, ‘Everywhere’ and ‘Seven Wonders’, among others), things came to a head once more, when Buckingham decided he didn’t want to go out on the road. This led to a big argument at Christine McVie’s home, where supposedly Buckingham grabbed Nicks by the neck. He left for several years but returned to the stage with the band in 1993 for Bill Clinton’s presidential inauguration, to play Clinton’s electoral anthem, ‘Don’t Stop’. From there on, Buckingham stayed as the line-up of the band changed yet again and again.
And in 2018, Fleetwood Mac were preparing themselves for another extensive tour; a spectacle for young and older fans alike. According to Buckingham, he had put his own solo tour on hold for a year in order to join the Mac for several shows. But shortly before, he received a phone call from manager Irving Azoff, erupting at Buckingham that he had ‘really done it this time’. Buckingham was essentially told that he was out of the band. Stevie Nicks had taken issue with his apparent ‘smirking’ during her acceptance speech at a recent event (The MusiCares Person of the Year Award in January of 2018) and didn’t want to be on stage with Lindsey ever again. There are also reports that Buckingham wished for newer and older, pre-Buckingham Nicks-era music to be played live (Fleetwood Mac were pure British blues before the American duo came aboard), which Nicks took issue with. She delivered the band and the record company an ultimatum; it was her or Buckingham.
Of course, Fleetwood and the band went with Nicks. And it’s not hard to see why, either. She’s the heart and soul of the band to many, the face of Fleetwood Mac to others. And, above all, the money. Whereas Buckingham, though talented and a genius in his own right, is tragically relatively unknown to many casual fans and followers alike. The band replaced him with vocalists and guitarists Mike Campbell (Of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers) and Neil Finn (of Crowded House fame) and went out on tour anyway.
Lindsey filed a lawsuit against the band in October of that same year, for breach of fiduciary duty, oral contract and intentional interference with prospective economic advantage, which was settled a few months later. In Buckingham’s own words, he didn’t want to ‘twist the knife’; only to get what he felt was owed. None of the band tried to talk to him. John McVie (founding member and bassist of Mac) simply told him that he was sorry, but he couldn’t say anything. Lindsey truly felt abandoned. Stevie Nicks seemingly used whatever excuse she could to justify her hatred of him and his ultimate outcast. But Lindsey wouldn’t let that stop him. He tried to move on. He had to, really; he had nothing left to do.
And look, there are two sides to every story. The lord knows how many die-hard Stevie fans there are to back-up her side of the story, to argue that Lindsey was difficult to work with, that he wasn’t prepared to make compromises. And that could be true. But from all I’ve seen of Buckingham – from interviews to onstage performances, to backstage interactions, he’s always seemed like a modest person. A figure of humble demeanor who comes alight onstage, with blistering guitar on roaring vocals. Either way you look at it, Nicks acted like a textbook diva and cast him aside like he was nothing. When in reality, he’s a truly gifted guitarist. Singer. Songwriter. Producer. Experimentalist. In short, a damn good musician.
And I’m not saying Fleetwood Mac should, as a result, be shunned either. They’re still good musicians, and they’ve made some absolutely astonishing music, both with and without Buckingham. They were the music that accompanied me through two years of college, in fact, but it’s tough to view them in the same light. The bond that legendary fivesome made was to be unbreakable. Unbeatable. And to see it broken in such a gruesome way is never easy.
Still, in August of 2018, Buckingham released the three-disc Solo Anthology and days later embarked on a solo tour across North America. It seemed as though, whilst the dust was still settling, the darkness could not consume the determined Lindsey, try as it might. He was even considering a UK and Europe tour, he told fans along the way, and was soldiering on as an army of one.
Until February of 2019, when his wife, Kristen, announced that Buckingham was rushed to hospital and underwent emergency open heart surgery following severe chest pains. The procedure saved his life, but caused vocal cord damage, the extent of which was unclear. Fans of Buckingham were shocked, fearful of what may come next. Would Lindsey return to the stage again? And if so, in what condition? He was a guitarist, true, but his voice added another layer to his talent, and showcased an unsung rock legend. His former bandmates wished him the same copy-paste message on social media, but that was about the extent of their help.
But, once more, the smoke cleared, and Buckingham came out of hiding. Earlier this year he suddenly announced a short streak of solo shows planned for early May, as well as performances at a variety of festivals throughout the summer. And as if to emphasise his comeback (to the six-string, for now), he recently provided guitar for The Killer’s new track, ‘Caution’, featuring a minute-long ending solo that’s musical dynamite. Once again Buckingham’s unmistakable sound shines through in an already punchy song, creating something truly wonderful.
We still don’t know how Lindsey will sound, but with some solo shows on the way, things are looking promising. Regardless of where you stand on the Stevie / Lindsey divide, it’s impossible to downplay the latter’s contribution to over forty years of Fleetwood Mac, and no one deserves to be thrown aside that quickly, and that carelessly. I stand with Lindsey Buckingham, and here’s to many more years of great solos and infectious fingerpicking. Going his own way, and doing a damn good job of it.