Throughout their star-studded career, Fleetwood Mac sold a combined 54.5 million records in the US — 21st among all Billboard acts. Worldwide, the band sold over 100 million units, earned a Grammy, a well-deserved place in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and a Brit Award for outstanding contributions to music. Their 1977 masterpiece, Rumours, became one of just six albums to sell more than 20 million albums in the US. And, it is the 8th-best selling album in music history.
It’s safe to say that when your career features something that can be plausibly mentioned in the same breath as Hotel California, Back in Black, Thriller and Led Zeppelin IV, your mark on the musical landscape is as indelible as it is immortal.
The best part? But for a geographic anomaly, all of that may have never happened. You see, Alabama is largely responsible for Fleetwood Mac, because Alabama is largely responsible for the success of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks.
Let’s see how we get to that punchline.
Fleetwood Mac was formed in London in 1967 as your fairly standard blues-rock band of its time. Think: Cream, Yardbirds, et al. They even scored a No. 1 hit in the UK with the instrumental, emotive solo blues track, Albatross.
But, as the bluesy music of the ‘60s was yielding to the experimental, guitar-fueled 1970s — and with Fleetwood Mac being a turnstile of rotating members (a trend that predated the infamous love triangle of classical-era Fleetwood) — the band needed to go in a different direction.
On the other side of the Atlantic, there was a pop-folk cover band from the San Francisco Bay area struggling to make it in America’s crowded music scene: The Fritz Rabyne Memorial Band. Though the band is now largely lost to history, what would make Fritz stand out is that it reintroduced two high school peers to one another; the two members who would go on to help form the transatlantic genius of Fleetwood Mac: Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks.
During those Fritz years, the pair learned how to manage huge crowds as they opened for larger bands of the era; how to demo and record; and, yes, how to balance it all with a self-destructive rock and roll lifestyle. Nicks and Buckingham left Fritz in 1972 and headed for the larger lights of Los Angeles to form their own group: Buckingham Nicks.
There, they began to write their own own music, record session demos, and look for any deal that would come their way. Relying on some connections from the Fritz days, eventually Polydor would come calling and ink the band.
Buckingham Nicks’ virgin release, the eponymously-titled prog-rock Buckingham Nicks, is considered by some to be a stinker, and by others to contain the gestational seeds of the classic Fleetwood Mac sound. It had very few tracks that would stand out in 2019; though most notably it did have Frozen, Lola and Frozen Love and an early version of Rhiannon.
There’s no way to describe the release as anything other than a flop though.
The album did not perform well, save one place. So, the band hit the road and began to promote the record in the one place that it seemed to be gaining traction: the South, specifically Alabama.
“We went to Birmingham and discovered we’d sold out an auditorium. Just blew our minds because we were totally unknown in L.A., couldn’t get a gig at a club or anywhere, and here were six thousand people out there going nuts!”
So popular would the duo be in Alabama, that for the next 18 months, Buckingham Nicks frequently hit up the Yellowhammer State: They played Birmingham three times — headlining the fairgrounds and playing Boutwell, played in Jacksonville, Mobile, and in Tuscaloosa (twice.) It was the Tuscaloosa concert that featured the first live performance of Rhiannon, in fact.
During the tour, Polydor’s producer had shown the session recordings to Mick Fleetwood, who was taken by Lindsey Buckingham, and wanted to offer him the open guitarist gig in Fleetwood Mac. Buckingham refused to leave Stevie Nicks behind, and Fleetwood’s offer became a two-fer, which was obviously accepted.
Buckingham Nicks wrapped up their existence by headlining in the the place that had jumpstarted their career: Alabama, at the state fairgrounds in Birmingham.
Said, Nicks later: “We could join Fleetwood Mac or we could move to Birmingham, Alabama.”
Sadly for the Magic City, the pair decided that a four-decade-long career as one of the world’s most successful rock bands was more to their liking...which I guess is okay. And the rest, as they say, is history.
(And no, folks, Tusk is not a shortened version of “Tuscaloosa.” It means something else entirely more...uhhh...in keeping with the hedonistic 1970s.)
21 Days until Football Season
BTW: I have necessarily skipped over the sordid history of a band that could and has launched a hundred biographies. There was no greater self-destructive revolving door than the incestuous relationships inside Fleetwood Mac, ones that even predated Nicks and Buckingham — keeping track of Christine McVie, Lindsey Buckingham, Mick Fleetwood, Stevie Nicks, Peter Green, and John McVie requires a scorecard more extensive than a Tolkien novel. But, if you want some taste of the zaniness, you can start here.