An architect of sound

By Sergio Ariza

Lindsey Buckingham must have something special when one of most important people in the career of Peter Green, drummer Mick Fleetwood,  says he has seen flashes of his genius after listening to him for first time in his life. Of course Buckingham is much more than a great guitar player, he is also an excellent composer, arranger and producer, something like an architect of  sound using the guitar as part of the whole rather than as a focal point. 

He was responsible for turning a band that was several years lamenting the departure of their leader into one of the most successful bands in history, being the stylist responsible for the sound in his  most famous reincarnation and able overcome the black legacy of one of the most unstable and dangerous jobs that exist in the world of rock, a Fleetwood Mac guitarist.

Lindsey Buckingham Adams was born on October 3, 1949 in Palo Alto, California, the youngest of three boys. Like his two older brothers, little Lindsey became a competitive swimmer (his brother Greg won a silver medal at the Olympic Games in Mexico) but at age 13 he gave  that up completely to devote himself to his other passion, music. This passion  had begun by  listening non- stop to his brother Jeff’s 45 single records,  which lead to his learning the solo from Heartbreak Hotel  by Elvis on a Mickey Mouse toy guitar. His parents, seeing this, decided to buy him a Harmony for $35. In addition to Scotty Moore, another of his early influences would be the folk of the Kingston Trio, so he chose to not use a pick  when playing and perfected  his 'fingerpicking' style .

In 1966 he moved to San Francisco and became part of a band called Fritz, where he played bass and sang. Two years later he invited Stevie Nicks to join his band, she was a girl he had met when they were in school and he had fallen in love with her after singing California Dreamin ' by The Mamas & The Papas together. Soon it was clear that their voices were born to be together and soon were opening for people like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jefferson Airplane, but despite promising beginnings, the band came to nothing, and in 1971 broke up. Buckingham and Nicks stayed together and started recording demos of several songs, then their relationship had gone from professional to love and they moved in together. Stevie worked as a waitress to pay the bills, and Lindsey stayed at home practising guitar. His improvement on the instrument was amazing, as heard in the demos they recorded. With them under his arm they moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles, California chasing that dream of the song they sang together for first time.

The dream came true, but not without a fight. Shortly after arriving, producer Keith Olsen got them a contract with Polydor and they were  able to record their first album, simply called Buckingham Nicks, where they began to hone the soft sound of the West Coast which would bring them success. Yet the album, released in September 1973 was a commercial flop, without any support from a company which  terminated their contract. With things going like this, Buckingham toured with Don Everly, singing his brother Phil Everly’s part .

That's when fate became part of history, the day Mick Fleetwood was checking out the Sound City studio as a possible scenario for his band’s next album . Olsen, who was going to be the producer,  put drums on the  last song of the album BuckinghamNicks, as a kind of presentation. It was in that song where Fleetwood saw part of the magic of Green in Buckingham’s style ,"they had the same soul but very different ways of expressing it.  I recognized in them both the quality artists who have mastered their instrument in a way where they begin to create a unique sound of their own." Years later it remains one of the best examples of Buckingham as a guitarist, the first with a single acoustic, very folk, using 'fingerpicking', and then with the spectacular solo on his electric Telecaster. Coincidently, Lindsey was in the studio too that day, and Olsen introduced them. Fleetwood was impressed and did not hesitate a second in calling him when Bob Welch, the then guitarist of the band, left.

The call to join Fleetwood Mac occurred on New Year's Eve, 1974. Buckingham was not at all convinced because the band had been in a kind of purgatory since Green’s departure in early 1970, but Nicks was key when convincing him,"you can always quit and with what they pay us, we can pay a few overdue bills." In the end Buckingham agreed but told Fleetwood that Stevie had to be part of the deal. Fleetwood was so sure of the  guitarist and accepted both without an audition. A few days later, they were recording Fleetwood Mac, the band’s tenth album, and the first with his most renowned band members .

Buckingham became the architect of the band’s new sound, he and Nicks contributed several songs they had prepared for their next album as a duo and had even performed live such as  Rhiannon, Monday Morning or I'm So Afraid. But his perfectionist nature, by telling the drummer ad bass player how they should play, struck a nerve with the second man that was left from the original lineup, John McVie, who made one thing perfectly clear."The band you are a part of is Fleetwood Mac. I am the Mac. I play bass". Although they never ended up getting along (McVie himself would say years later "basically the only ones who had not had an 'affair' in the band was me and Lindsey"), things would 'click' musically, Buckingham gave them the sound and Fleetwood and Mac would provide the rhythm section. In the end, Olsen, who was in charge of producing,  knew it was the best he had ever done and more than likely a success. Still McVie wasn’t too convinced , "You know, we used to be a blues band. This does not sound anything like a blues band". Olsen quipped right back, "maybe it’s far from the blues John, but is much closer to your bank account." He  wasn’t wrong, although not an immediate success, the album was slowly rising on the charts, while the band toured tirelessly to promote it. It was at this time when Buckingham was persuaded to move from a Fender to a white Gibson Les Paul Custom onstage to give more strength to his tone. The repertoire included Oh Well or Green Manalishi and they used to close with a Buckingham song , I'm So Afraid, where he shines on guitar. McVie couldn’t stand him, but could not help but enjoy playing like crazy with him.

When the album reached the #1 in sales, the group was recording its follow up in Sausalito. What should have been a party, became something else, for that moment the two pairs of the band were splitting up, and, even worse, Fleetwood's wife was cheating on him with his best friend. It was in this rarefied atmosphere that the band’s masterpiece was conceived. The three main composers, Buckingham, Nicks and Christine McVie decided to unleash the pen and write about the collapse of their relations through song. So much so that the reclusive McVie said they should call the album Rumors for its  personal content. It was here that Buckingham perfected the style of the band, delivering their best song, Go Your Own Way. Beyond personal contributions, as the mentioned one, or the delicate acoustic piece Never Going Back Again (two undisguised attacks on Nicks) is his work shaping songs by Nicks and Christine McVie, especially the former. Clearly he was an expert in getting the best out of Stevie, but his arrangements for songs like Dreams, Gold Dust Woman or discarded Silver Springs are simply unforgettable.

Together with the instability of relations (John and Christine McVie did not speak, and Lindsey and Stevie just  shouted at each other), was the indecent amount of cocaine used during recording, so much so that Mick Fleetwood tried to put his  dealer in the credits. The album became one of the best sellers of all time and Fleetwood Mac became the most popular band of the moment. They had made it, but the cost was tremendous. It was the drummer who, nevertheless, got them to go on together but relations were never the same. In the live presentations cocaine and champagne were the norm. Yet everyone was expecting  a new record.

But when they began recording, punk and New Wave had become big and Buckingham, following their influence, began to back away from the sounds that had made them popular, cut his hippie hair and sought a new sound. Tusk was a great album but alienated part of  his audience. Still, sales were astronomic, which brought about  the idea to find his final guitar for the next years, made exclusively for him by luthier Rick Turner. Here is the mix of acoustic and the Les Paul sounds, it was called Model One guitar and would accompany him onstage for the rest of his career. Although in the studio Stratocaster or Telecaster would be there, plus a Taylor 814 for acoustic pieces.

The group would survive the turmoil for some time, though by then most had embarked on a solo career, but in the end Buckingham said enough, after recording the remarkable Tango in the Night. All the bad vibes and drug problems exploded and Lindsey jumped ship becoming another victim of the cursed guitarist of Fleetwood Mac, with Peter Green suffering mental problems, Jeremy Spencer joining a sect, Danny Kirwan living on the street or Bob Welch committing suicide. But in the end, time healed wounds and, after returning to the fray with the choice of Don’t Stop by Bill Clinton's campaign came in 1995 reconciliation and a return to the band in 1997. Since then Buckingham has combined his solo career with Fleetwood Mac, including the recent album that was published with Christine McVie.

He was always compared to Peter Green, something that does not make much sense, since each led a different band with the same name and the same rhythm section, and you don’t need to choose one over the other, but enjoy both. And both their styles, as the Mick Fleetwood put so well, is evidence of two different but compatible geniuses.