23 Years Ago: Nicks, McVie Leave Fleetwood Mac
After more than a decade of relative stability and huge commercial success, Fleetwood Mac entered a period of constant flux during the late ’80s. Guitarist Lindsey Buckingham left the band in 1987, and while he was quickly replaced by Rick Vito and Billy Burnette, his departure was only the first of several to take place over the next few years.
Even though the reconstituted post-Buckingham lineup made it through the recording of Fleetwood Mac’s next album, 1990′s ‘Behind the Mask,’ largely without incident, change loomed large on the horizon. Drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie remained as stalwart as ever, and Vito and Burnette brought new energy to the sessions, but after the record was finished, keyboard player Christine McVie and singer Stevie Nicks both announced that the Behind the Mask Tour would be their last with the band.
While Fleetwood Mac’s publicist at the time insisted it was an amicable split that took place after a “series of very heartfelt conversations,” and both McVie and Nicks seemed willing to contribute to the group’s next album, it still marked a major — and, for fans, somewhat startling — change in a sound that had dominated FM airwaves since the mid-’70s.
Even without Buckingham’s trademark guitar and vocals in the mix, having McVie and Nicks in the group meant still being able to rely on the voices (and songwriting talents) behind hits like ‘Rhiannon,’ ‘Landslide,’ ‘Don’t Stop’ and ‘Songbird.’ Nicks had been a member since 1975, and McVie preceded her by four years; their restlessness signaled the end of an era.
“I would have to say this is our biggest challenge, in no uncertain terms,” Fleetwood admitted in an interview toward the end of the tour. “But without sounding at all blase about the subject, it’s a decision that’s come in a pleasant way, and it’s understandable. Each, for their own reasons, basically wants more time to herself. And, God knows, both of them have given so much to Fleetwood Mac through the years.”
McVie, who’d always been more of the retiring type, was certainly looking for a little more peace and quiet. In the same interview, she related her difficulties dealing with the recent death of her father, which prompted a change in her approach to her career. “In the last few years, it’s been more of a band than it’s ever been,” she said. “I think we spent more time laughing in the last few years than in prior years. That’s one thing that’s held us together. But when the time comes for change, you know it, you feel it. Things can’t go on the same as always. You go around in circles.”
At the time, some believed that Nicks and McVie’s departures were hastened by bad blood in the wake of Fleetwood’s memoir, ‘Fleetwood: My Life and Adventures in Fleetwood Mac.’ As the Philadelphia Inquirer alleged during the tour, the book’s “sordid revelations” — which included portraying McVie as “a glutton for punishment” and Nicks as “insecure, self- destructive as a singer, a graduate of the Betty Ford Clinic’s alcohol rehab program and a sometime romantic partner with Fleetwood while he was still married” — angered both women, particularly Nicks. But according to Fleetwood, that was all idle speculation.
“That is nothing but tommyrot,” he later retorted. “At the time that Stevie decided to quit, she hadn’t read it. I think she and Christine just decided that it was time for them to leave. Stevie has a very successful career of her own, and she wanted to devote more time to it … Christine recently bought a farmhouse in England, and she wants to settle down and pursue her music and painting. As far as what I wrote about me and Stevie, I don’t think she had a problem. We were very much in love. I think she wished that I had written more.”
For her part, Nicks seemed unwilling to close the door completely, even as the tour drew to a close. “We are all individuals and have our opinions, and until three years go by and I see the whole thing with no chance of getting back together, I’ll never believe it’s over,” she admitted. “I really believe everything is destined, and if we’re supposed to be together, we will be.”
As it turned out, destiny — or something like it — kept the band going throughout the ’90s. McVie appeared on Fleetwood Mac’s next album, 1995′s ‘Time,’ which featured a vastly overhauled lineup that included Dave Mason and Bekka Bramlett; following its commercial failure, the group went through a couple of inactive years before reuniting with McVie, Nicks and Buckingham for the wildly successful live album ‘The Dance’ and subsequent tour. McVie departed again shortly thereafter, but goodbyes tend to be temporary in Fleetwood Mac — just ask Nicks and Buckingham, who spent 2013 in the studio and on the road with the group. She may have a couple more comings and goings in her yet.