As co-producer of Rumours, one of the biggest albums in rock history, Ken Caillat witnessed the implosion and rebirth of Fleetwood Mac up close. Here’s his story.
By George Varga / U-T San Diego
Wednesday, June 5, 2013
In his new book, Rumours co-producer Ken Caillat (top left) details what it was like making that classic 1977 album with Stevie Nicks (second from left). Mick Fleetwood (in hat) and the other members of Fleetwood Mac. Caillat will discuss his book Thursday, June 6, at 7:30 p.m. at Warwick’s in La Jolla.
Released in 1977 after more than a year of recording, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours simultaneously qualifies as one of the best-selling albums ever released and a vivid musical chronicle of one of rock’s biggest, real-life soap operas.
As the co-producer of Rumours, Ken Caillat was a firsthand observer as Fleetwood Mac fell apart and was reborn, in the aftermath of enough emotional upheaval to fuel the careers of several relationship therapists. It wasn’t so much that the Anglo-American band was breaking up, although that seemed a distinct possibility, but that its members were certifiably breaking up as they tried to make Rumours at the famed Record Plant recording studio in Sausalito.
Specifically, the marriage between bassist John McVie and singer/keyboardist Christine had disintegrated. So had the love affair between singer Stevie Nicks and guitarist-singer Lindsey Buckingham, who only joined the band in December, 1974. And drummer Mick Fleetwood’s marriage fell apart after he discovered his wife was having an affair with one his best friends, former Mac guitarist Bob Weston.
All this upheaval fueled the making of Rumours and such classic songs as “Go Your Own Way,” “The Chain,” “I Don’t Want to Know” and “Never Going Back Again.” It also fueled Caillat’s book, Making Rumours: The Inside Story of the Classic Fleetwood Mac Album. He will discuss it, and sign copies, at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, June 6, at Warwick’s in La Jolla.
“The fact is, for this album, they wrote all the songs in the studio,” Caillat said in a recent phone interview with U-T San Diego. “So everything they wrote and put on tape was doused with gasoline and tears, so to speak, and every lyric was hurtful. All these songs were painful reminders of what was going on. So there was a somber mood.”
Make that somber and, at times, surreal, be it when Buckingham re-recorded some of McVie’s bass parts (while McVie was out of town) because he thought they were too complicated, or McVie getting infuriated when Christine McVie asked if she could invite her boyfriend into the recording studio.
“I remember John had already moved on to having a new girlfriend, Sandra, a beautiful British girl, and John had her up there while we were recording Rumours,” Caillat said, recalling an incident that is not included his book.
“The Record Plant feels like you’re locked into first-class on a plane. You all get to know each other very well andvery fast. Christine said: ‘Hey, John, Valentine’s Day is coming up and I want to have my boyfriend, Curry (Grant, Fleetwood Mac’s concert lighting director), come up. And John said: ‘No way! I don’t want to see that bastard anywhere around here.’ He said that as Sandra was sitting right next to him.
“Christine said: ‘It’s not fair. You have Sandra right here.’ And John said: ‘She means nothing to me.’ Sandra and Christine both threw a glass of champagne at John, and stormed out. And John was like: ‘What did I say?’ “
Caillat’s book has multiple focuses: The musicians, the emotions, the songs that resulted and, in great detail, the recording of those songs, including how he constructed Buckingham’s classic guitar solo on “Go Your Own Way” from multiple takes. That move required Buckingham to learn the solo, in order to be able play it live in concert.
At the start of the recording sessions for Rumours, it was unclear if the band would last long enough to complete the album. Then, Caillat said, came a fateful phone call from an executive at Warner Bros., Fleetwood Mac’s record company. The elated executive was relaying the new that — thanks to the success of Nicks’ witchy-woman song, “Rihannon,” which was featured on the 1975 album, Fleetwood Mac — the album was becoming a sizable, if belated, hit.
Caillat. who is the father of Grammy Award-winning songstress Colbie Caillat, picked up the story.
“The band’s manager said: ‘If you can do this follow-up album, and make it as good as the ‘Fleetwood Mac’ album, you guys will be superstars and it will change your lives forever.’ Everyone was crying, even Mick was sobbing. They came into the studio the next day and said: ‘You know what? Let’s all be adults. We’re all breaking up (our relationships), we know it, so let’s not keep rehashing everything and throwing poison darts. Let’s stay together.’ I think Stevie said: ‘I would like to be a superstar, so let’s put everything aside and make the best record we can.’
“At that point, there was basically a peace accord, and I thought: ‘Thank heaven! Now we can get on with making a record. What I didn’t realize is, the lyrics still existed. So, every time we’d be working on a song, like working on a vocal harmony or an organ part, the lyrics would piss somebody off again. So it kept stirring this tension into the musical soup, and I think it helped keep things on track.”
He chuckled. “It wasn’t like we were making a lighthearted comedy album. It was more like (Lindsey saying to Stevie): ‘What’s a good chord to put on “Go Your Own Way,” bitch?’ “
As for the oft-told rumors that a lot of drugs also fueled Rumours, Caillat’s book acknowledges the use of pot, cocaine and alcohol. But, he stresses, those rumors were overblown.
“Everybody says drug (use) was a big part of making Rumours. Well, no it wasn’t,” he said. “They were just beginning to experiment with drugs. Making Rumours, there was a lot of work, and pain, and anguish. Where the partying started was with (the next Fleetwood Mac album) Tusk, when they had a lot of money.”