Lindsey Buckingham was born in the idyllic San Francisco suburb of Palo Alto on October 3, 1949, the youngest of three boys of Morris and Rutheda Buckingham. Very early, Buckingham gravitated toward music.
“My mother told me I was singing songs off the radio, ‘Goodnight Irene’ and others, before I was two. At three I remember I somehow became fascinated with guitars and began drawing them constantly. By age four, I was listening to my parents’ ‘78’s, The Nutcracker Suite and other orchestrations. I would try to analyze what was making all the various sounds. So I guess there was a predisposition for singing, guitar and even production at a very early age.”
But for Buckingham - like so many others - everything suddenly changed with the arrival of Elvis Presley in 1956.
“When my older brother Jeff brought home ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, that was it,” recalls Buckingham. “I had been fiddling around with a plastic, four-string, but the following Christmas I received a three-quarter size Harmony acoustic guitar and I was off! I never took lessons, and I still can't read music. To this day, it's all just a child's curiosity and intuition.”
By 1962, the first wave of rock and roll had broken and receded. Buckingham became interested in folk music. When he was thirteen he learned to play the five-string banjo and the finger-style for which he is known began to take root. Still, a career in music hardly seemed likely for this sum of an upper middle-class family in which athletics were far more valued than artistic endeavors. Indeed, Lindsey's middle brother Greg Buckingham would later become a world record holding swimmer and compete at the 1968 Olympics.
It was not until the middle of his senior year that Buckingham dove into rock and roll full on - playing with his first real band. The group (named The Fritz Raybyne Memorial Band after a classmate who was apparently unpopular, but very much alive) was later known simply as Fritz.
The group's personnel shifted once Buckingham and fellow band members Javier Pacheco and Bob Aquierre went on to attend San Mateo Junior College where they soon met up with an important new addition to the band - a young woman named Stevie Nicks.
“I knew Stevie briefly when I was a junior in high school. She’d transferred from Southern California as a senior. She moved around a lot growing up, so she learned how to make a splash. She kind of swept in and everyone was immediately aware of her. We met at a few functions, and she was already writing and playing, so we talked, exchanged musical ideas, flirted. There was a definite mutual attraction, but we didn't get together at the time.”
Fritz gave the pair plenty of time together. The band gradually became one of the busiest local bands in the Bay area, playing everything from frat parties to opening spots for the likes of Big Brother and The Holding Company, Ike and Tina Turner and The Moody Blues. By 1970, the members of Fritz had quit college to try and make it as a band. By 1971, they had relocated to Los Angeles in pursuit of a record deal that would still prove elusive.
“When we started connecting with LA, that was the end of Fritz and the beginning of Stevie and Lindsey,” Buckingham recalls. “We were singled out. There was no interest in signing the band, only interest in focusing on the two of us.” As the band crumbled, Buckingham and Nicks began to follow this new dream, working on their own material, their own sound. Along the way, the duo became a couple.
Buckingham was able to buy a used Ampex four-track machine. He would drive up to a small storeroom in his father’s coffee plant in South San Francisco, sometimes with Stevie, sometimes alone. Buckingham stated, “I developed my basic skills as a producer in that room. Over the months, I took Stevie's songs and my songs and hammered out an overall style we could call our own.”
After many near misses, Buckingham Nicks finally signed a record deal with the Polydor/Anthem label, and started cutting tracks at Sound City Studios in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley. Although the 1974 Buckingham Nicks album is now a major collectable, it was a difficult road for the two, and the album failed to establish them in the way it should have.
Opportunity knocked when Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac turned up at Sound City Studios looking for a place for the veteran band Fleetwood Mac to record. To showcase the studio, producer Keith Olsen played the Buckingham Nicks’ track, “Frozen Love”, and introduced Fleetwood to Buckingham, who was at the studio working on new material. A week later, Fleetwood Mac guitarist Bob Welch handed in his walking papers, and Buckingham received a call asking him to join the band. Fleetwood consulted with his band mates about the mandated package deal of Buckingham and Nicks - and called back the next day, extending the offer to both of them.
So it was that in early 1975, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks became members of Fleetwood Mac.
The chemistry of the fivesome - drummer Fleetwood, bassist John McVie, keyboardist and vocalist Christine McVie, along with Buckingham and Nicks - was immediate. The newly revived group titled the first album they recorded together simply Fleetwood Mac, and hit the road.
As Buckingham recalls, “We became tighter and tighter as a band and as friends.” Fleetwood Mac quickly became a multi-platinum smash, yielding a series of hits, “Over My Head,” “Rhiannon” and “Say You Love Me”. Within the span of a year, Fleetwood Mac had become major stars. Remarkably, it was only the beginning.
The recording of the group’s follow-up effort was not going on long when it became clear that both Lindsey and Stevie and Christine and John McVie were in the throes of breakups, and that the songs emerging from the sessions were forming a sort of intense, open musical dialogue marked by passion and pain. The resulting album, shaped in significant part by Buckingham, was titled Rumours, and it became a sensation, largely for its timeless, deeply felt music, partly because it served as a sort of musical soap opera, a gorgeous stained glass window into the band members’ lives.
The first single from Rumours was Buckingham’s “Go Your Own Way”, which remains a stunning rock classic. It was followed by three more smashes – “Dreams”, “Don’t Stop” and “You Make Lovin’ Fun”. Rumours has gone on to sell more than twenty million copies and Fleetwood Mac were now well-established superstars - reigning kings and queens of rock.
When it came time to record their next album Buckingham led the charge to keep pushing artistically forward rather than treading in more commercially minded waters. The impressive result was Tusk - an adventurous double-album that sold roughly five million copies and yet was widely viewed as a major disappointment. Among the disappointed were some of Buckingham's band mates.
“I was very proud of the Tusk album, and I was not disappointed by its commercial performance,” Buckingham says. “I sort of expected it. What I was disappointed in, what I didn’t expect, was the band’s reaction to it after the fact.” Sensing that his edgier creative impulses weren’t going to see the light of day in the context of Fleetwood Mac, Buckingham signed a deal with Elektra and started working on his first solo album. Law and Order was a charming musical variety show that included one significant radio hit in “Trouble”.
“There was some conscious effort in going for a diverse approach, in staking out a range of possibilities, generally to the left,” says Buckingham. “There were just a lot of things I wanted to try.”
Buckingham’s second solo album, Go Insane, was a dark ride, a troubled song cycle clearly reflecting the disillusionment and pessimism its maker had been feeling. Still, the riveting title track became a hit song and video. Yet, not everyone was excited about Buckingham’s increasing experimentation.
Within Fleetwood Mac, the mood was tense. “There was less harmony, more selfishness.” Buckingham responded by retreating into the studio and doing more recording on his own. By the end of 1985, Buckingham and longtime recording cohort Richard Dashut had five songs nearly complete for another solo album when then Warner Bros. Chairman Mo Ostin asked him to interrupt work on his solo project in order to put together a new Fleetwood Mac album.
Under the most difficult conditions in his history with the band, Buckingham managed to pull together a remarkably successful and charming album – 1987’s Tango in the Night. The lack of unity made the process exceedingly difficult. Yet somehow, under Buckingham’s musical leadership, it all worked. Tango in the Night produced three hit singles – Buckingham’s “Big Love,” followed by “Seven Wonders” and “Little Lies” - and went on to sell over seven million copies.
After twelve years, Buckingham suddenly found himself cut off from his former musical base. His first order of business was to let the emotional dust settle. Eventually, he got to work on his third solo album, having used his earlier solo tracks to help create Tango in the Night. Working again with Richard Dashut, Buckingham gave birth what is arguably his most personal and powerful solo album – 1992’s Out of the Cradle. The album has a softer sound and conveyed a new sense of optimism - an intimate reconciliation of Buckingham's past and present. Without a major hit song, the album sold only mildly, yet it justifiably received the best reviews of Buckingham's life.
Out of the Cradle was proved to be a pivotal album in Buckingham’s musical life. No longer serving double duty, he could for the first time put together his own band to tour. The unique group that Buckingham assembled consisted of five guitarists, a bassist, a drummer, two percussionists and a keyboardist. Six of the players sang. He was able to use multiples of guitars and voices so that everything could be more creatively orchestrated. The shows were powerful, while the detail of the orchestrations sublime.
During the new recording sessions with producer Rob Cavello, Buckingham reunited with Mick Fleetwood, who eventually suggested bringing John McVie into the sessions to overdub some bass. Soon Christine McVie stopped by for a visit as well. “Suddenly here were the four musicians sitting together behind the console,” Buckingham recalls. “It was strange but so familiar, I was laughing. Over the past years, each of us had traveled our own roads, and it was probably the most comfortable now that it had ever been.”
Out of such comfort came the joy of Fleetwood Mac's return to form - The Dance. Buckingham once again set aside a solo album so that the band could reunite for a massively successful MTV reunion special, tour and live album in 1997. A 1993 appearance at Bill Clinton's inauguration had been a glitzy, single offering, but The Dance proved a more serious and sustained reunion. However, the tour ended when Christine McVie, not Buckingham, decided she’d had enough of the road.
In the years that followed, Buckingham focused on his personal life as well as returning to the solo project that he’d put aside for The Dance. Following the birth of his and Kristen's first child, William Gregory Buckingham on July 8, 1998, Buckingham returned to work on the project that had the working title, Gift of Screws.
Soon, however, it became clear that once again, the record company was more interested in a new album from Fleetwood Mac than any Buckingham solo project. So it was that the Gift of Screws gradually evolved into 2003's acclaimed Fleetwood Mac album Say You Will, an album highlighted by many of the same songs that had started out as part of Buckingham’s solo project, including the album haunting first single, “Peacekeeper”.
Buckingham was once again holding himself to the highest standards. “Rock bands as a cliche tend to get in their mid-thirties and get a little soft and fade away. The idea of rockers is always associated with something youthful and untamed. The best analogy is with Frank Sinatra. When he was a bobbysoxer with a callow voice, very thin and sort of one-dimensional. Then he came back in his forties as the quintessential Frank Sinatra with maturity and a perspective that you just don’t get when you're twenty or twenty-five. There’s still a possibility to define that in the genre of rock - a real statement from someone who’s made it through.” Lindsey Buckingham has made it through with his artistic integrity and talent intact. And through it all he's somehow done it his own way.
Gift of Screws (referencing the poetry of Emily Dickinson) offers the kind of rocking, heady electric pop he's known for, as well as some glorious, lyrically sophisticated, acoustic singer/songwriter fare that bears his signature alone.
With Gift of Screws (2008) Buckingham is not only still relevant, but he's also a pioneer in terms of craft, execution, and production, and has plenty to teach the current generation about making excellent records and never resting on your laurels. Gift of Screws is a standout even in his catalog.
With the release of his sixth solo album Seeds We Sow (2011), legendary Fleetwood Mac songwriter and guitarist Lindsey Buckingham has created some of his most personal and intimate lyrics and songs of his storied and award winning career. From the soft melodic pop/rock tinge of “End of Time”, the album’s most rockin’ track, “One Take”, and the almost lullaby-esque hushed tones of the closing number, “She Smiles Sweetly”, the album showcases Buckingham’s full arsenal of skills.