The Texas kid who became a ‘Fleetwood Mac rock,’ Stevie Nicks has survived romantic pain, chemical excess and a night in Prince’s purple kitchen. Her secret? ‘Being mysterious is very attractive.’
With its views of the palatial architecture along London’s Victoria Embankment, the Corinthia hotel is a very Stevie Nicks establishment. Formerly the Metropole, it was once home to saucy wartime liaisons and secret (service) assignments.
However, there was a time when the penthouse suite’s current occupant could have trumped any of the Metropole’s former residents for illicit adventure…
“I was up at 6:30,” says Nicks, by way of introduction, cursing her jet lag in a low drawl. “I don’t do early.”
This is not as inauspicious a start as it might first seem. Even at 65, and after countless interrogations over the years, Fleetwood Mac’s femme fatale still loves to unpack the details of her epic life. “That’s why I’m here,” she says, her soft brown eyes peering over dark tinted glasses. She pulls up a footstool and draws a cushion to her chest. “That’s why I got the fireplace so sweet for us.”
Stevie Nicks joined Fleetwood Mac in 1974 when Lindsey Buckingham insisted he and his girlfriend came as a package. Today, with her Rapunzel-like blond tresses, and diminutive 5ft 1 ½ inch frame kitted out in loose-fitting black chiffon top, flared black trousers and black suede boots, Nicks still has that ‘70s image of the not-of-this-world fairy-tale siren, but in conversation she can be both dryly funny — playing with a Dame Edna Everage sense of her own importance — and refreshingly tough-talking: “When I told Fleetwood Mac that I was not going to tour with them in 2012, that did not go over big,” she says. “But I was totally right — we’ve been away and now it’s huge again.”
She also does poignant with appropriate gravitas and is winningly gushy about her heroes. “If Jimmy Page would play guitar with me I’d put a band around us tomorrow,” she says.
Nicks is in town to talk-up In Your Dreams, her and Dave Stewart’s “glorified home-movie” document of the album of the same name, recorded at her Los Angeles pile in March 2010. She credits Stewart with the most enjoyable year of her life, describing him, endearingly, as being “like all four Beatles rolled into one.”
Speaking at the UK premiere of In Your Dreams, four days after The MOJO Interview (September 12, 2013), Nicks says it was Peter Bogdanovich’s four-hour Tom Petty film, Runnin’ Down a Dream, that convinced her to let Stewart document the creative process on film. Stewart, Mick Fleetwood and Christine McVie also attend the premiere; Lindsey Buckingham and John McVie do not.
As our allotted hour stretches to 100 minutes, Nicks is happy not to spend too much time stoking over the embers of Rumours and Tusk, concentrating on the return of the Mac (and McVie), the music and experience that shaped Nicks, and her eventful, still durable solo career. “I love our band,” she says, “and we need it to stay together. I have a loyalty to our incredible history from Peter Green right through…”
The big Fleetwood Mac news is that Christine McVie is back. How involved has she been?
She’s just re-emerged to do one song. It could have been a few songs, but Lindsey’s very funny about that. Chris left in 1998 and we didn’t start Say You Will until 2002. It took us that long to figure out what the hell we were going to do without her — or even if we could do without her.
Lindsey seems almost cross about Christine’s return. He said she’d “burned her bridges,” and asked MOJO not to use a line-up shot including Christine on the cover of our issue about the making of Rumours…
I think his words to us were, “She can’t just come and go.” That’s important to him, but it’s not so important to me. Chris is coming to Dublin when we go into production rehearsal, and she’s going to come on and do Don’t Stop the second two nights in London. Much as Lindsey adores her — and he does; she’s the only one in Fleetwood Mac he was ever really willing to listen to — he doesn’t want the first night reviews to be all about Christine’s one song, rather than the set we rehearsed for two months. But it will be wonderful to have her back up there, and from there, who knows?
Lindsey also told MOJO: “There are still parts of mine and Stevie’s relationship that are unresolved and it will be interesting to visit that on this next tour…”
He’s probably referring to what I call ‘The Talk.’ About a year and a half ago I told him everything I had wanted to say to him since 1968. I said, “Do you remember how cute we were? How we could walk into the room together and people would be mesmerized because we were so funny and smart?” I said, “Lindsey, if we can’t go back to being those people, I’m going to quit. I have other people I can work with that treat me with warmth and utter respect, and in my world there’s never a harsh word spoken.”
And his reaction?
He was very quiet. I said, “The ball’s in your park, Lindsey — 2013 better be great.”
So has it been great? When the pair of you hold hands on-stage now what’s going on there exactly? The hand-holding on the 2009 tour seemed a bit hammy…
That’s interesting. My cousin John has known Lindsey and I since 1968. He told me, “When I saw you and Lindsey play with Fleetwood Mac in 2009, there was nothing between you. It was as if you were thinking, ‘What shall I get from room service tonight? Grilled cheese? Tomato soup?’” Hammy wasn’t the word for Lindsey and I in 2009 — it was totally fake. It is loving, and it is as close to those two people who met as teenagers as you could hope for. Every night I tell the story of “Without You,” the poem that I wrote in 1972 before we made the Buckingham Nicks album. The story has become longer than the song, and I told Lindsey, “I’m sorry, I’m trying to shorten it.” He goes, “Don’t worry, Stevie — it’s charming.” Three years ago he would have been like, “Are you kidding? We could do “The Green Manalishi” in that time…”
OK, let’s go back a bit. What were the first records that go under your skin?
I listened to lots of Top 40 R&B radio. I loved the Shirelles and Martha Reeves and the Vandellas; stuff like “(Remember) Walking in the Sand” by the Shangri-Las.
But your grandfather Aaron Jess Nicks was a country singer, right?
Right. Everybody called him A.J. When we lived in El Paso, Texas, he bought me a truckload of records when I was in the fifth grade. There must have been 150 singles: country, rockabilly, some Everly Brothers, a song called “Party Doll” [written by Buddy Knox and Jimmy Bowen] that went (smiles and sings), “Come along and be my party doll/And I’ll make love to you.”
Was AJ an influence?
Yeah, we’d duet on songs like [Dorsey Burnette’s] “It’s Late,” and AJ picked up that I was a good harmony singer. But my dad was worried when he saw me getting into music, because he’d watched AJ go down the tubes trying to make it. At the same time I’d be in the back seat of my parents’ car singing some R&B song and saying, “Quieten down! I’m trying to concentrate!” My folks would look back with this bewildered expression that said “Who are you?” I totally had my black self going on, too.
Your mother Barbara was credited with instilling the love of fairy tales and fantasy that would later feed into your lyrics. Hans Christian Andersen? The Brothers Grimm?
Well definitely those, yes. And Halloween was a big day at our house. Mom was one of those gals that really loved having a little girl and making things magical for her. My aunt told me that when I was 20 and my parents got transferred back to Chicago and I stayed in San Francisco, the light went out of my mom’s eyes. She’d gone to this freezing cold place without her daughter.
Your father Jess became president of the Greyhound bus company and you often had to up-sticks because his job. Growing up, did that make lasting friendships difficult?
It did. When we got transferred from El Paso to Salt Lake City I was pretty bummed, because we’d been in Texas for five years and I’d settled in. I remember my mom saying, “You better learn how to make friends fast, Stevie. Open up a bit; you’re too much in your own world.”
You first met Lindsey at a party in San Francisco in 1966 when you sang “California Dreamin’” together…
Yeah, he was 16 and I was 17. It was just a one-off, three-minute moment. After that I never saw him for two years until Lindsey’s drummer called me and asked me to join their band Fritz.
What did they sound like?
They were a hard rock band. We were in San Francisco, and it was the Age of Aquarius. If they’d been like Sly and the Family Stone, that would have been fine by me, too.
Fritz opened for Janis Joplin a few times…
The time I remember most was at Stanford Frost Amphitheatre. The band that were on directly before her had ran into her time and she screamed, “Get off my fucking stage right now or I’ll kill you!” Boy, they wound it up quick! (laughs). Then Janis gets up there. She’s all red-and-purple feathers, big hair and silky bell-bottoms, but she’s tiny as a peanut. I learned that, small or not, you could walk on-stage with a big attitude. Flamboyance with humility I got from Jimi Hendrix when Fritz opened for him around 1969 and then from Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane I took slinky and floaty. I liked her look a lot.
What are your memories of shooting the cover for 1973’s Buckingham Nicks?
I’m actually quite prudish. So when they suggested they shoot Lindsey and I nude, I could not have been more terrified if you’d asked me to jump off a speeding train. Lindsey was like, “Oh, come on — this is art. Don’t be a child!” I thought, “Who are you? Don’t you know me?” I went out and spent my last $100 on a beautiful, hand-painted chiffony blouse that wrapped around and tied, and Jimmy Wachtel, my long-term guitarist Waddy’s brother, took a bunch of photos of us with me wearing it. But then it was, “OK — now without the blouse.” I couldn’t breathe. But I did because I felt like a rat in a trap.
And when your folks saw the picture…
Well, I’d taken it home to show them, because I didn’t want them taken by surprise. But then I got sidetracked by an ovarian cyst operation, and I kept the picture under my bed for five weeks while I was back home recovering. When the record came out and I saw my father, it was, “Why didn’t you just say no, Stevie?” I said, “Daddy, I don’t know. I didn’t feel like I had a choice — I’m so sorry.” He said, “OK — move on. Bu you always have a choice.” I learned a big lesson that day.
Buckingham and Nicks joined Fleetwood Mac on New Year’s Eve, 1974, but you kept waitressing for a bit, right?
About three more days. Most I was thinking, “What if this doesn’t’ work?” because I’d been supporting me, Lindsey, and Richard Dashut [later co-producer on Rumours and Tusk] for several years. I didn’t mind. It got me out of the cave. I could leave the guys working, earn enough to pay the rent and keep our Toyota running. I just wanted to make sure that, when we joined Fleetwood Mac, we didn’t burn our bridges.
In those early days, did Mick Fleetwood and John McVie talk about the ‘ghosts’ of Fleetwood Mac; about what had happened to Peter Green, to Jeremy Spencer?
Oh yeah. And I loved hearing about all that. I liked my haunted castles.
Was there a specific moment when you turned from being Stephanie Lynn Nicks into “Rock Star Stevie Nicks”?
I knew that I was Stevie Nicks after about three weeks of being in Fritz. I would stroll through San Jose State with my guitar case thinking, “Does everybody know who I am? I’m a rock star.” I felt it and I believed it.
Was your song “Rhiannon” part of that later on? A theme song for a new identity?
Not when I wrote it in 1973, no. I wrote it after reading Mary Leader’s book Triad, which is about a woman who becomes possessed by another character called Rhiannon. It wasn’t until 1978 that I found out about the Mabinogion [Welsh medieval prose tales drawing on Celtic mythology], and that Branwen and Rhiannon are in there, too, and that Rhiannon wasn’t a witch at all; she was a mythological queen. But my story was definitely written about a celestial being. I didn’t know who Rhiannon was, exactly, but I knew that she was not of this world.
In 1994, you told MOJO’s Sylvie Simmons, “I like being a mystery, and I even think I’m pretty mysterious to the people who know me really well…”
There are parts of me that nobody knows about, and that nobody ever will know about. There’s stuff in my head; things that I want to do when I’m 75. I might go rent a Scottish castle and write some crazy movie…or I might not. I like mysterious people. I’m drawn to them. And I think that, thanks to Instagram and Facebook, today’s young women have lost their mystery. You want to film yourself in the bathroom in the morning getting ready for school? Are you crazy? You think that’s attractive? Being mysterious is very attractive — that’s where my little world has always been.
Received wisdom holds that cocaine impairs judgment of what’s good music and what isn’t, so how did Rumours turn out so great?
Because our drug use was just beginning. We started writing Rumours through 1976 and it was an involved process during which we were happy and confident. But even during the recording of Rumours, the cocaine hadn’t taken us over. It was great until it wasn’t, you know? We were extremely messed-up romantically, but we were young and creative and we still really cared about the band and we were damn well gonna make another great record. The drugs only go really bad during Tusk.
At what point did you realize that you had far more than Fleetwood Mac could accommodate?
Pretty much right away. Twelve songs on each album between three writers is only four apiece. I was extremely prolific, so every time we made a Fleetwood Mac record, I’d have 20 songs left over. By 1980 I’d be sitting at the piano and Christine would walk through and go (drops into theatrically overblown English accent) “Oh my God — she’s writing another song!” I’d chase her and she’d shout, “I love you darling!”
Your 1981 solo debut Bella Donna reached Number 1 in the US and was certified platinum within three months of its release. Did that change the power dynamic in Fleetwood Mac?
Not much. They weren’t that impressed. Anything I did outside Fleetwood Mac wasn’t that important to them. Chris cared, but not the boys. And it wasn’t like Beyoncé and Destiny’s Child. I’d told them, “I swear to God I’m not leaving ever,” and here I am today. But when I signed my solo deal with Atlantic in 1980, I started this whirlwind thing of being able to flit between two worlds. Fleetwood Mac made Tusk, and I made Bella Donna. Fleetwood Mac made Mirage, and I made The Wild Heart, and on it went. I loved it, because I get bored easily. I change hotel suites twice in the same week.
Prince played synth on your 1983 single Stand Back, which you had written by singing new words and a new melody to his Little Red Corvette. What do you remember about the session with him at Sunset Sound?
I remember him playing basketball outside like one of the Harlem Globetrotters. He was spinning the ball on his finger and throwing it backwards into the net. In terms of the actual recording, he was super-quick. Unfortunately, we couldn’t keep him locked-down there forever (laughs).
But he later sent you the backing track for Purple Rain, asking you if you wanted to write something to it…
It was a cassette — and I’ve still got it — with the whole instrumental track and a little bit of Prince singing, “Can’t get over that feeling,” or something. But it was 10 minutes long with the big guitar solo and I was overwhelmed. I told him, “Prince, I’ve listened to this a hundred times but I wouldn’t know where to start. It’s a movie; it’s epic.” It was epic. And it became a movie.
So you turned down what became Prince’s defining song?
Right. But I always feel like there’s a little bit of me in it. The olive branch of him giving me that cassette was huge, but I think he would have liked a romance with me, too.
Wow. Were you flattered?
Very flattered. I remember Fleetwood Mac were in Minneapolis on tour one time and Prince came and got me right after the show. I’m still in my chiffon stage outfit and he’s in his purple stage outfit. We get in his purple Camaro and bomb out onto the freeway at 100mph. I’m terrified, but kind of excited, too: “Shit, we’re gonna get pulled over!” So we get to his purple house and he has a studio downstairs and we try to write a song together. But I’ve just done a show and I’m tired, so I go upstairs and sleep on the floor of his purple kitchen. In the morning he wakes me up and I have some coffee and I sing a little part on the song. But I’ve got to be at the airport by 2pm to take-off with Fleetwood Mac, and you do not miss that plane. We get into the purple Camaro again. Prince bombs it down the freeway and right out onto the tarmac alongside our private jet. He comes around to open my door and we hug goodbye, but we both look like crazy people. I get on the plane and the rest of the band are like (drums fingers, rolls eyes). I’m like, “What? Nothing happened.”
There’s a moving story about Has Anyone Ever Written Anthing for You from 1985’s Rock a Little. You’d driven to the mountains with The Eagles’ Joe Walsh, and he showed you the silver fountain he’d built in memory of the three-year-old daughter he lost…
Yes, [it] was written for Joe and Emma Kristen. The drive was in Boulder, Colorado. I was having a hard time and Joe was opening for me, but I soon realized how little I had to complain about. We made the trip there and he told me the whole story about how Emma had been killed by a drunk driver on the way to nursery school. Joe had been married to a woman named Stephanie, but they couldn’t survive what had happened and broke up. My song was for Stephanie, too, I think. It was for all of us. It was about the whole tragic story and how the insidious stupidity of some drunk asshole driving into a Porsche tore so many lives apart.
How did Joe react to the song?
He was blown away.
You’ve said he was the great love of your life.
It was a long time ago: 1983-1984. We were very excessive. One day my friend Sharon came and said, “Joe told me to tell you that he’s taken a plane to Australia. He says he won’t be back for several months and don’t try to find him.” There was never any closure, so I’ve never got over it. I did go into rehab about a year and a half later, and that was it for me and coke, but I don’t think I ever quite bought Joe’s thing that one of us was going to die before the other person had the chance to dial 911. Maybe some day he will tell me the truth about what happened to us.
In the new documentary you remark, “I don’t think love changes, it can happen at 16 or 75.” Still time, then?
I’m fine without a man in my life. I’m busy and I love being free. If I say, I’m off to do 47 show, then I’m gonna be back a few days, then I’m gonna take my niece and four of my best friends to Italy and Paris,” what guy is gonna shout, “Have a great time!” as my limo pulls away?
One who really loves you?
Well I’ve tried every kind of man — rock ‘n’ roll star; average Joe; tour manager; producer — but eventually they all go, “Are you serious? You’re not coming home at all?” If I want a boyfriend, I’ll find one tomorrow, but they can’t come on the road with me if they don’t have a job, because the crew start looking at them like, “Why are you here?” That said, if Mr. Right were to walk around that corner, I’d throw all of that out the window. It has happened.
Will the current Fleetwood Mac tour be the last one?
That won’t happen until it’s super age-inappropriate. Right now we’re doing shows that last two hours, 40 minutes and it is kick-ass. I’ve got pains in my fingers from playing tambourine, so I don’t know how Mick does it. The first 20 shows of the current tour we’d be going on-stage and I’d whisper to Lindsey, “This is too much for me!” But then the lights go up and…bang!
You’re in the car and “Dreams” comes on the radio — do you still turn it up?
Oh, totally! (laughs). If I’m out walking and it comes on down the street, I stop people and tell them, “That’s me!” It can be a Christine song and I’ll still say it’s me. I’m very proud.
Interview by James McNair / Portrait by Danny Clinch / MOJO (241: 38-43) / December 2013
Three Nicks picks from start to finish
Uncoded devotion on Buckingham’s sweetly-picked guitar instrumental “Stephanie,” plus Nicks’s fine, oddly-modulating “Races Are Run” and the couple’s epic, vocal-harmony rich co-write, “Frozen Love.” It’s criminal that this crackling Jim Keltner-anchored, Keith Olsen-produced LP has never been properly reissued, and that talk of a 2013, 40th anniversary re-vamp has come to nothing.
Packing her cathartic showstopper “Rhiannon,” and also “Landslide,” the poignant ballad that has reportedly netted Stevie some $7 million to date in royalties, Fleetwood Mac, not Rumours or Tusk, is your ultimate Nicks-fix. Mick Fleetwood clocked Stevie’s talent and also her beauty. On the next album she, not John McVie, would be his cover-star.
Nicks named her debut for a poisonous Eurasian plant and drew in spellbound collaborators. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers fire “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” she’s in super-close duet with Don Henley on “Leather and Lace,” and she’s versatility itself on stoical country gem “After the Glitter Fades.” Better yet, all that pesky early ‘80s technology has yet to envelop her.
James McNair / MOJO (241: 38-43) / December 2013