Intra-band drama is like oxygen to the members of Fleetwood Mac. They cannot survive without it.
Like the Eagles, Journey, Queen and Kiss, Fleetwood Mac has pressed on despite the absence of key members. Longtime guitarist/vocalist Lindsey Buckingham, the voice of “Go Your Own Way,” was booted by his bandmates last year and replaced with Mike Campbell, formerly of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, and Crowded House singer/guitarist Neil Finn.
Many fans are nonplused by this latest shake-up. Fleetwood Mac’s show at the Smoothie King Center on Saturday is officially sold out, though tickets are available, at a premium, on the secondary market. Show time is 8 p.m.; there is no opening act.
At this point, the songs are arguably more important than who actually sings and plays them. And drama has always been part of the deal.
The saga dates to 1967, when drummer Mick Fleetwood and guitarist Peter Green left English musician John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers to form their own band. Another Bluesbreaker, bassist John McVie, would soon join them. The new ensemble was named Fleetwood Mac in honor of its rhythm section (“McVie” was shortened to “Mac”).
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For the next seven years, musicians came and went. McVie’s new wife, Christine, a well-regarded singer and pianist, came aboard. Other members left under sometimes bizarre circumstances. Green suffered an LSD-related mental breakdown. Guitarist Jeremy Spencer went for a walk prior to a show in Los Angeles and never returned; he joined a religious cult instead. Along the way, the Mac transitioned from a heavily blues-based sound to more mainstream rock ‘n’ roll.
In 1974, Mick Fleetwood approached guitarist Lindsey Buckingham about joining Fleetwood Mac. Buckingham was half of a folk-rock duo, Buckingham Nicks, with his girlfriend, Stevie Nicks. The couple folded their act into Fleetwood Mac.
That lineup — Fleetwood, the McVies, Buckingham and Nicks — proved to be the magical combination. The 1975 self-titled Fleetwood Mac album hit No. 1 and spawned a slew of hits. The 1977 follow-up, “Rumours,” is one of the most successful albums of all time. The perfectly formulated pop-rock gems on those albums still sparkle 40-plus years later.
But all that music came at a heavy price: affairs, divorce, breakups, consumption of copious amounts of drugs and alcohol.
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The center couldn’t hold; the chain would not remain unbroken. Buckingham left in the late 1980s; his bandmates recorded 1990s “Behind the Mask” without him. Nicks quit for a while in the 1990s, precipitating a hiatus and the poorly received 1995 album “Time.”
The classic quintet reformed for 1997’s hit tour and album “The Dance,” but Christine McVie retired the following year. Her bandmates released the 2003 album “Say You Will” without her, then went on hiatus again.
They eventually regrouped, and Christine McVie later came out of retirement to rejoin them. All seemed well until old divisions resurfaced. In 2017, Buckingham and Christine McVie released an eponymous duo album that also featured contributions from John McVie and Fleetwood; it was initially intended as a Fleetwood Mac album, but Nicks declined to participate in favor of going on a solo tour.
In early 2018, the rift between Buckingham and Nicks deepened following the band's appearance at a MusiCares benefit. Also, Buckingham apparently took issue with aspects of a planned Fleetwood Mac tour.
Nicks may or may not have given a “him or me” ultimatum. As Buckingham later recounted to Rolling Stone, he didn’t initially realize he’d been fired; he thought Nicks had quit. A call from manager Irving Azoff clarified the situation.
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Three months later, Buckingham calmly commented on his ouster while playing to a small audience: “There were factions within the band that had lost their perspective, and what that did was to harm the 43-year legacy that we had worked so hard to build. And that legacy was really about rising above difficulties in order to fulfill one’s higher truth and one’s higher destiny.”
Higher truth aside, Buckingham wound up suing his former bandmates, hoping to recoup the millions of dollars he would have made during the tour. Late last year, the two sides settled the lawsuit.
In yet another twist, Buckingham underwent emergency open heart surgery in early February that, his wife revealed, damaged his vocal cords.
Will Buckingham’s brush with mortality cause his ex-bandmates to reconsider his exile? Anything is possible.
Meanwhile, if you’re Neil Finn or Mike Campbell, don’t get too comfortable. Because the only constants within Fleetwood Mac are drama and change.