Fleetwood Mac was barely two years old when its third album, “Then Play On,” was released in 1969. It was made by the then-young English blues band’s third lineup.
Now, nearly 50 years — and more than a dozen different lineups later — the title of that album sounds like a prophetic mission statement. So does “Oh Well,” the group’s 1969 single, especially after the latest upheaval in Fleetwood Mac’s famously tumultuous history.
In late January, band mainstays Mick Fleetwood and John McVie agreed with longtime members Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie that they could not continue working with the group’s fifth member, Lindsey Buckingham.
By April, Buckingham had been replaced by former Crowded House singer and rhythm guitarist Neil Finn and former Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers’ lead guitarist Mike Campbell. The revamped Fleetwood Mac performs here Saturday, Dec. 8, at San Diego State University’s Viejas Arena. (Ticket information appears below.)
In October, Buckingham filed suit against Fleetwood Mac. Among other charges, he alleges breach of oral contract, breach of fiduciary duty and intentional interference with his potential earnings. His suit contends that Fleetwood Mac’s core members could make between $12 million to $14 million — each — from the band’s current tour.
Drummer Fleetwood, meanwhile, has sought to downplay Buckingham’s termination from the band — at least when it comes to the word “fired.”
“Well, we don’t use that word because I think it’s ugly,” Fleetwood, 71, said on a late April “Good Morning America” telecast, likening the split to a divorce. “... It’s not a question that Lindsey has huge amounts of respect and kudos (for) what he’s done within the ranks of Fleetwood Mac, and always will. … (But) as a band we needed to move on and we have. ...”
In the mid-1970s, Buckingham played a pivotal role in helping propel Fleetwood Mac from journeyman status to pop-rock super-stardom.
In addition to writing such fan favorites as “Go Your Own Way” and “Second Hand News,” he made significant contributions as an arranger, instrumentalist and co-singer on songs by Nicks and Christine McVie.
Those songs included “Over My Head,” “Say You Love Me,” “Rhiannon (Will You Ever Win),” “Don’t Stop” and “You Make Loving Fun.” They boosted Fleetwood Mac’s fortunes immeasurably and fueled the top-selling albums “Fleetwood Mac” and “Rumours.”
Accordingly, Buckingham received a good share of the credit for transforming the band into a chart-topping, multi-million-selling juggernaut. That notion was disputed by bassist John McVie.
“One member at any one time has never made Fleetwood Mac," McVie told the Union-Tribune. "With Lindsey, it's turning into ‘He was the band,’ which was not the case. He was a large part, but so are the other members. Lindsey played his part, and now he's gone.”
For the record, McVie made that observation in 1987, shortly after Buckingham had quit Fleetwood Mac to focus on his solo career.
Also for the record, the band did not tour at all between late 1982 and 1987. Drummer Mick Fleetwood unhappily acknowledged this prior to a 1987 San Diego show with The Zoo, which he formed during Fleetwood Mac’s extended hiatus.
“People assumed that we had ceased to be, but we never broke up," Fleetwood said at the time. “It's a matter of logistics — we're not touring, we don't have tea with each other, everyone's got their own managers. It's neither good nor bad; it's just the way it is. …
“It was getting to the point that, after four years, we had to decide whether we'd let it drift on indefinitely or make music. From time to time, I'd say: ‘Are we going to make an album, or what?' Then, John, Christine and myself felt it was about time we made an album, and Lindsey, as usual, has just started work on one of his albums. But he stopped to work on our album” (1987’s “Tango in the Night”).
This time around, though, the issue wasn’t related to recording, but to touring.
Nicks, Fleetwood and their longtime band mates, former husband-and-wife team bassist John and singer-keyboardist Christine McVie, wanted to hit the road for a major concert trek this year. Buckingham — who this fall went on tour to promote his new career compilation, “Solo Anthology: The Best of Lindsey Buckingham” — wanted Fleetwood Mac to wait until next year, after his own, currently ongoing tour concluded.
Not coincidentally, the now Buckingham-free band is now on tour to promote its new career compilation, “Fleetwood Mac: 50 Years — Don’t Stop.”
Cue “Go Your Own Way,” the 1977 song Buckingham wrote about the end of his years-long romance with Nicks. But now it is Buckingham who is going his own way, albeit involuntarily. His ouster came after Fleetwood Mac manager Irving Azoff told him Nicks would not stay in the band if Buckingham remained — and that Fleetwood and the McVies had sided with Nicks.
“Our relationship has always been volatile,” Nicks told Rolling Stone in October. “We were never married, but we might as well have been. Some couples get divorced after 40 years. They break their kids’ hearts and destroy everyone around them, because it’s just hard.”
Nicks was more direct in a 2002 Union-Tribune interview, charging: “Fleetwood Mac never would have broken up if it had been up to me, Mick, John or Christine. So, this is all Lindsey's ballpark. Lindsey either wants to be in Fleetwood Mac, or he doesn't. ...”
In a 2013 Union-Tribune interview, Buckingham expressed surprise that Fleetwood Mac’s best-known lineup had somehow reunited and was active nearly 40 years after he and Nicks first came on board.
Against all odds
“The one thing that probably would have disabused me from thinking then that we’d still be around now is that the chemistry was always so volatile,” he said. “Not just because there were two couples in Fleetwood Mac who had broken up (before the ‘Rumours’ album was completed), and that whole subtext, but from the point of view that we are the kind of people who don’t all belong in the same band together …
“There's no way (39 years ago) I thought we'd still be doing this, now, in this form.”
Even so, Buckingham told Rolling Stone in October, after his ouster: “I don’t think there was ever anything that was just cause (for me) to be fired. We have all done things that were not constructive. All of us have worn on each other’s psyches at times. That’s the history of the group.”
That it is.
When Buckingham quit the band in 1987, he was replaced by Billy Burnette and Rick Vito, who quit in 1991. Nicks and Christine McVie left the band in late 1990. After a hiatus, the band reactivated with new members Bekka Bramlett and Dave Mason.
In early 1993, Buckingham and Nicks reunited with Fleetwood and the McVies to perform at newly elected President Bill Clinton’s Inaugural Ball in Washington, D.C. (Clinton had used “Don’t Stop” as his campaign theme song.) The band’s best-known lineup reunited again in 1997 for an album, “The Dance.” Buckingham was MIA for the subsequent tour.
“Ten years ago (in 1987), we had a band meeting at my house," Christine McVie recalled in a 1997 Union-Tribune interview. “Lindsey told us he was not going to tour to support our ‘Tango in the Night' album, and there were very bad feelings; you could feel the electricity in the air. When Lindsey walked out of my living room door 10 years ago, no one expected this could happen again, let alone with so much joy."
A year later, in 1998, Christine McVie retired. In 2014, she returned to music and the band — 11 years after the 2003 release of “Say You Will,” Fleetwood Mac’s only album of new music in this century.
Mick Fleetwood predicted the group would make a new album in 2015. None has materialized as yet. Then again, in 2003 that the lanky drummer firmly predicted Fleetwood Mac absolutely could not withstand any more lineup changes.
“I would venture to say that that would just not be on the cards,” Fleetwood declared. “This is it.”
Oh, well. “Then Play On,” indeed.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8
Where: Viejas Arena at Aztec Bowl, San Diego State University, 5500 Canyon Crest Drive, San Diego
Tickets: $69.50-$299.50 (plus service charges)
Phone: (800) 745-3000
Fleetwood Mac through the years
1967: The band's first lineup includes drummer Mick Fleetwood, guitarist-singer Peter Green, guitarist Jeremy Spencer and bassist Bob Brunning, who was quickly replaced by John McVie.
1968: Danny Kirwan joins the front line of Green and Spencer, making Fleetwood Mac one of the first anywhere with three lead guitarists.
1970: Green leaves the band in April; singer-keyboardist Christine McVie joins in August.
1971: Spencer quits to join a religious cult in Los Angeles and is briefly replaced by Green, until Spencer's position is filled by Bob Welch, the band's first American member.
1972: Kirwan is fired. Former Savoy Brown singer Dave Walker joins, followed by guitarist Bob Weston.
1973: Walker leaves.
1974: Weston is fired after having an affair with Fleetwood's wife. Welch leaves of his own accord.
1975: Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks join and help propel the band to super-stardom.
1987: Buckingham quits and is replaced by Billy Burnette and Rick Vito.
1990: Nicks and Christine McVie quit, but not before being rejoined by Buckingham for two songs at a Fleetwood Mac concert in Los Angeles concert.
1991: Vito quits.
1993: Nicks, Buckingham and Christine McVie rejoin the band for a night to perform at President Bill Clinton's inaugural day concert, then again go their own way(s).
1994: Former Traffic guitarist Dave Mason joins, along with singer Bekka Bramlett.
1997: Nicks, Buckingham and Christine McVie re-team with Fleetwood and John McVie for a lucrative reunion tour.
1998: Peter Green is on hand when Fleetwood Mac is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but he performs with fellow inductees Santana, not the band he co-founded. Later that year, Christine McVie retires.
2014: Christine McVie rejoins the band.
2017: McVie and Buckingham release a joint album and embark on a joint concert tour.
2018: Buckingham is fired and replaced by Neil Finn and Mike Campbell. The “new” Fleetwood Mac launches a tour that includes shows in some of the same cities as Buckingham’s concurrent solo tour.