How Lindsey Buckingham Took Fleetwood Mac To The Top
In the annals of Fleetwood Mac’s guitar history, Peter Green gets nearly all the black — in part because of his key role in making the Gibson Les Paul Sunburst an integral part of rock and blues history. But the Mac also featured another great Les Paul player who took lead of the band and helped the group reach its zenith of popularity: Lindsey Buckingham.
Buckingham cut six albums with Fleetwood Mac, including 1977’s Rumours, which, like Steely Dan’s Aja from the same year, remains a template for arranging, engineering, production and pure sonic mastery.
The group’s previous album, 1975’s Fleetwood Mac, was no slouch either. It was Buckingham’s debut with Mac and yielded the charters and radio hits “Rhiannon,” “Over My Head,” “Say You Love Me,” “Landslide” and the Buckingham-penned “Monday Morning.” During its first year of release it sold 4.5-million copies, and that number has doubled over the decades.
Buckingham acquired a white 1975 Les Paul 20th Anniversary reissue model as he joined the band, and it became his main electric guitar on stage. Based on the Les Paul Custom more than the original Les Paul Gold Top, Buckingham’s instrument had humbuckers and was gifted with superb clarity and punch, responding briskly to every nuance of his self-made finger-and-nail picking style.
The guitar often appears in classic Fleetwood Mac live videos from the mid-’70s — its tone lightly colored by the spare array of effects Buckingham carried during that era: a fuzz unit he made from a tape deck preamp and a Roland Space Echo driving a loud, clean amp with the reverb audibly cranked.
The first guitar Buckingham played as a kid in Palo Alto, California, was a Mickey Mouse model, which he squeaked by on until his parents forked over $35 for a Harmony acoustic. He is entirely self-taught, which makes his seemingly effortless mastery and remarkable versatility all the more impressive.
Buckingham cut his first album in 1973 with his then-girlfriend Stevie Nicks. Buckingham Nicks had a stellar cast of players, including drummer Jim Keltner and another Gibson six-string legend, Waddy Wachtel, a 1968 Les Paul ’Burst exponent. The album included the first version of “Crystal,” which would also appear on Fleetwood Mac. But it stiffed.
Broke but still swinging, the couple began cutting demos for their next disc, including, according to West Coast rock lore, the future Fleetwood Mac hits “Rhiannon” and “I’m So Afraid.” In 1974 Mick Fleetwood ended that demoing process when he tapped Buckingham for his band after the guitar chair opened. The picker insisted that he and Nicks were musically inseparable — and thus the second historic line-up of Fleetwood Mac formed.
Immediately Buckingham and Nicks became the group’s main songwriters — not so surprising, since the crux of the band was its titular rhythm section — and their work started devouring the pop charts. Live, Nicks’ fetching stage persona and Buckingham’s Les Paul pyrotechnics became the group’s twin focal points. “I’m So Afraid,” featuring Buckingham’s lead vocal, became a musical cornerstone in concert thanks to his indelible melody and piercing solos.
After Rumors knocked Fleetwood Mac into the commercial stratosphere, the lives of its members spun into a period of disarray that saw the break-up of Buckingham and Nicks and various combinations of intra-band bed hopping chronicled in Mick Fleetwood’s 1990 autobiography. The group never quite found their footing again. Buckingham took the reigns of 1979’s double-album Tusk, which is imbalanced and wildly self-indulgent, featuring a college marching band and a number of tunes where Buckingham played every instrument.
Although 1982’s Mirage produced several singles including “Hold Me,” “Love in Store” and “Gypsy,” that — and the resulting two-million copies sold — wasn’t enough to keep the group together. Nicks and Buckingham were well into solo careers by then and continued to go their own ways, eventually with diminishing returns.
Buckingham has released five studio albums and one live disc to date, and he continues to enjoy a sterling reputation as a guitarist’s guitarist. But his most visible successes have been Fleetwood Mac reunions.
The original Buckingham-Nicks-Fleetwood-John McVie-Christine McVie line-up came together in the studio one last time for 1987’s Tango in the Night, a complex but strongly pop oriented album that restored their chart standing with four top 20 singles, including Buckingham’s “Big Love.” It also propelled the band’s first reunion tour, which sold out sheds and stadiums across the world.
Fleetwood Mac briefly reunited again to play Bill Clinton’s presidential inauguration party but didn’t tour again until the mid-’90s. The Dance, a 1997 live CD, was Christine McVie’s swan song with the group. Since then the remaining members have banded together to tour and record occasionally. Say You Will, their first studio album without Christine McVie, was released in 2003, and the next year saw the DVD/CD package Live in Boston.
In a way, Live in Boston brought the band, at least in name, full circle. In 1970 the first classic line-up of the group, featuring Peter Green, Danny Kirwan and Jeremy Spencer on guitars — all delivering sterling performances of the Green tunes “Black Magic Woman,” “Rattlesnake Shake” and “Oh Well” — cut a live disc at the legendary Boston Tea Party nightclub that’s available on CD under the same name. A truncated version of that set was originally released on LP by the Rounder label in the ’80s as Jumping At Shadows. Both are superb examples of the first incarnation of Fleetwood Mac in peak form.