The Tragic Real-Life Story Of Fleetwood Mac

How do you break up with your longtime mate but continue to work together for fifty years as the world watches? Fleetwood Mac can show you how. Core band members Mick Fleetwood, Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks, Christine McVie, and John McVie surely qualify as one of the most endearing, and enduring, dysfunctional family bands in rock history. Named after Mick Fleetwood and John McVie, who combined their surnames, this highly-resilient group has gone from its humble beginnings in 1967, to the top-selling album Rumours in 1977, to solo careers in 1979, to a phenomenal comeback in 1993. Even today, the band's unique music continues to entertain audiences worldwide.

Over the last five decades, the members of Fleetwood Mac have weathered a bevy of tumultuous relationships and numerous changes of staff. But CBS reports that the band has waded through the drama to sell over 100 million records as of 2017. In 2018, according to Rolling Stone, the band fired longtime player Lindsey Buckingham and replaced him with stellar performers Mike Campbell and Neil Finn. The sudden upheaval has become standard for Fleetwood Mac. Will the new changes stick? With this band, it is anyone's guess. Here's their crazy story.

Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac: Shake Your Money Maker

The original Fleetwood Mac was formed in 1967 in England with Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, and Peter Green (pictured in 1970), all formerly of John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, according to Britannica. Their first hit was "Black Magic Woman," which was written by Green. It also was Green who insisted changing the name of the band from Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac to just Fleetwood Mac. In fact, Green was furious when he discovered his name had been added to the band's moniker. In a CBS interview with Fleetwood, the drummer explained that Green told others, "Well I pretty much felt that one day I would leave and I wanted Mick and John to have a band."

In 1970 Green did leave, according to Rolling Stone, with a drug problem: his addiction to LSD was getting the best of him, leaving him rambling and citing the dangers of money. Fortunately John McVie's wife, Christine, was a talented singer and songwriter with a great music resume. She easily made a welcome addition to the band. But more changes would come, and they would be the first of many: original guitarist Jeremy Spencer left in 1971, as did guitarist Danny Kerwin in 1972 after a backstage brawl with fellow guitarist Bob Welch. And in 1973 a third guitarist, Dave Walker, was fired after Fleetwood decided he wasn't a good fit for the band. Being a guitarist in Fleetwood Mac was like being a drummer in Spinal Tap.

Running in the shadows, damn your love, damn your lies

Christine McVie's (pictured here in 1980) entrance was pivotal to Fleetwood Mac, but trouble also was brewing. Mick Fleetwood suffered the first of the band's romantic heartbreaks in 1973 when guitarist Bob Weston had an affair with Jenny Boyd — Fleetwood's wife. According to Rolling Stone, Weston remained with the band until the end of their 1973 tour. 

Complicating matters was another band also calling itself Fleetwood Mac. This fake wannabe was the brainchild of the original group's manager, Clifford Davis, who claimed rights to the name in 1974. Using all new musicians, Davis attempted to take the pseudo-Mac on tour, reported the Washington Post. Because this occurred in the U.S., the real Fleetwood Mac had to move to America to fight Davis in court.

An article on WOGB states the band had a total of only $2,700 when they arrived in the U.S. Mick Fleetwood, however, managed to get Davis' band banned from performing or collecting any royalties. In the end, the real Fleetwod Mac retained all rights to their name. More trouble was to come, though: Bob Welch, a band member since 1971, could no longer handle the long hours or his budding drinking problem, and quit in late 1974. Frantic to find stable, talented musicians who could bring their skills to the table, Fleetwood Mac began looking around for more players to complete their dysfunctional family. They finally found it in two young musicians, Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham.

Buckingham-Nicks: Long Distance Winner

According to Biography, Phoenix-born Stevie Nicks was the granddaughter of country music singer Aaron Nicks. Grandpa not only made a guitar for Stevie, but he also taught her to sing and began taking her with him to local music gigs. After a brief stint in college, Nicks followed her music heart. With a high school friend, Lindsey Buckingham, she joined a band called Fritz. Several notable opening acts later, the couple paired off to create Buckingham-Nicks in 1971. The following year, the young lovers released their only album, which was self-titled and "went largely unnoticed." Nicks would later express her dismay at having to pose topless for the cover.

For the next three years, Buckingham-Nicks struggled financially. Nicks worked at a variety of jobs, including as a dental assistant, maid, and waitress. According to In Her Own Words, Nicks remembered, "I worked at the Copper Penny, Clementine's and Bob's Big Boy. I supported Lindsey and I for years, 'cause he never worked or had a job." But Nicks did so willingly, feeling it was important for Buckingham to refine his musical talents. 

When Fleetwood Mac offered the couple a spot in the band, the pair readily accepted. The band was thrilled with Nicks' songs, namely "Rhiannon" and "Landslide," which Britannica confirms resulted in the multi-million-selling album, Fleetwood Mac in 1975. "From that day that we joined to June of that summer," Nicks later said, "we were famous."

Players only love you when they're playing

As Fleetwood Mac skyrocketed to fame, the band's personal lives were quickly disintegrating. Nicks' voice began going south, requiring medical attention and new voice lessons to regain her enchanting crooning. Nicks' relationship with Buckingham became equally strained. Meanwhile, according to Fleetwood Mac News, an unhappy Christine McVie had an affair with the band's lighting director. Her song, "You Make Loving Fun," reflected on the incident — although she actually told John McVie that the lyrics were about a dog. As the McVies divorced, Nicks and Buckingham also split in about 1976, according to Biography. Nicks even had a brief affair with Mick Fleetwood. But the band was in the midst of recording their next album as America cheered them on. How could they possibly quit?

Luckily for both the band and their fans, Fleetwood Mac's next album, Rumours, was a massive hit—and one of the best breakup records ever. The album, which premiered in 1977, was filled with songs about the band member's heartaches. "Dreams," "Go Your Own Way," "Second Hand News," and other tunes were direct products of the band's failed relationships. It was most ironic that such a personal album should rise to #1 on Billboard and stay on the charts for an amazing 353 weeks. The album also was awarded a Grammy award for album of the year as fans sympathized with what was going on ... and loved the music that resulted.

Going their own way: That's all for everyone

The success of "Rumours" left Fleetwood Mac reeling. Suddenly they were a hot mess, famous but unhappy, known worldwide, and expected to exceed their fan's expectations. Hits like "The Chain," "Second Hand News", "Gold Dust Woman," and "Dreams" sailed over the radio waves as everyone sang along. It wasn't until two years later, in 1979, that the band produced another album, Tusk. Ultimate Classic Rock defined the album as quirky, with 20 tracks and an experimental sound that failed to fall nicely into step behind Rumours. Some called the album "Lindsey's Folly," and blamed Lindsey Buckingham who, as the artist said himself, wanted to "subvert the norm." 

In an effort to revive the feelings behind Rumours, Fleetwood Mac next put out Fleetwood Mac Live in 1980. The album rehashed the band's best hits, but also introduced a few new songs like "Fireflies" and "The Farmer's Daughter." Rolling Stone's Ken Tucker viewed the album as Buckingham's attempt to "confuse virtuosic wit with labored playfulness." Furthermore, Buckingham couldn't resist including an extended version of Tusk's namesake title song, with plenty of "raveups—and ravings (listen to him work the crowd)," according the Tucker. Still, the critic concluded that "the beauty of the finished product" made the live album palatable. For Stevie Nicks, however, the album seemed to be her cue to finally branch out with her own music career.

Stevie Nicks: She is dancing away from you now

Stevie Nicks' smokey voice, ethereal lyrics, and gossamer wardrobe had a marked effect on Fleetwood Mac fans. According to Britannica, Nicks' first solo album, Bella Donna, was a number one hit in 1981. She also partnered with rock dynamo Tom Petty on "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around." The pairing was so popular that each musician became prone to special appearances at one another's concerts. Buckingham too, made a brief appearance on the Billboard Top 10 list with his own single, "Trouble." But it was Stevie who was now singly pulling audiences towards her with such iconic songs as "Edge of Seventeen."

Fleetwood Mac, meanwhile, produced its next album, Mirage, in 1982. Nicks appeared on the album as she worked on her own new record, The Wild Heart, which premiered in 1983. But the rock and roll queen also made news when she married Kim Anderson, the widowed husband of her lifelong friend Robin, who had succumbed to leukemia. Two days before Robin's death, doctors were forced to remove her six and a half month old son, Matthew, from the womb. "I went crazy," Nicks said according to In Her Own Words. "I just went insane. And so did her husband." In a well-meant attempt to manage their grief and care for Matthew, the two married. The union, according to Biography, lasted less than a year.

Christine McVie: Love will show us how

More albums, and relationships, for Fleetwood Mac followed. Although Stevie Nick's 1985 album Rock a Little eventually went platinum, it was initially less successful than the performer hoped. In addition, Nicks was now battling alcohol and drugs. According to Biography, Nicks' addiction to cocaine was so extreme that it resulted in a hole in her nasal cartilage. The following year, Nicks sought help and checked into the Betty Ford Clinic on a 28-day plan to kick her habits.

Christine McVie released a self-titled album in 1984, with the song "Got A Hold on Me" reaching the Top 10 list in pop, according to Billboard. Both McVie (who remarried in 1986) and Nicks — seen together here circa 1980—  were on hand when Fleetwood Mac produced a new album, Tango in the Night, in 1987. A greatest hits record in 1988 was moderately successful. 

Still, there were more problems: Although she had beat her cocaine addiction, Nicks was now addicted to Klonopin—a tranquilizer prescribed by her psychiatrist, according to Biography. Nicks remained "strongly addicted" to the drug for several more years. In the meantime, she managed to continue touring while churning out albums with Fleetwood Mac. When Lindsey Buckingham left the band in 1987, Fleetwood Mac hired guitarist Billy Burnette to replace him, reported Rolling Stone. Nicks, meanwhile, made another album in 1989, The Other Side of the Mirror, with its biggest hit being the beautiful song "Rooms on Fire."  

Stevie Nicks' Recovery: Rock on gold dust woman

In 1990, Fleetwood Mac produced its first real flop since Stevie Nicks joined the band, Behind the MaskAccording to Rolling Stone, Nicks left the band shortly afterwards, not just to work on her solo career, but also to tackle her continuing issues with drugs once and for all. Her 1990 compilation, Timespace, was made up of her own greatest hits and was well received. The crux between Nicks, her addictions, and Fleetwood Mac's future occurred in 1993, when presidential candidate Bill Clinton used the band's song, "Don't Stop," as his campaign song and was elected president of the U.S. Fleetwood Mac had little choice but to reunite and perform at the inauguration. The event seemed to be a turning point for Nicks, who kicked her habits once and for all, according to Biography.

Fleetwood Mac, meanwhile, brought on Dave Mason of the band Traffic to replace Buckingham and Nicks. The move was a limited success according to Rolling Stone's Andy Greene, who commented, "People want to see members of Traffic play Traffic songs. They want to see members of Fleetwood Mac play Fleetwood Mac. You can't mix and match them like cogs in a machine." Nicks' new solo album, Street Angel, was also disappointing. "Nicks' hardcore devotees will want Angel," wrote Alex Henderson of AllMusic, "but it's far from essential."

Fleetwood Mac's song, Nothing Without You rings true

The jig was up by 1996, after Fleetwood Mac suffered another unsuccessful year of touring, with singer Bekka Bramlett (shown here in 2015) emulating Stevie Nicks on stage. Bramlett, according to Rolling Stone, was relegated to backup singing as both Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham returned to the band. Likewise, Fleetwood Mac now "had no use for" Billy Burnette, who was let go. Biography reports that the band's next album, The Dance, earned $36 million. In addition, Nicks produced a popular box set, Enchanted which included some new tunes. Two of her songs, "Crystal" and "If You Ever Did Believe," were also added to the soundtrack for the movie Practical Magic in 1998.

Now, according to Rolling Stone, it was Christine McVie's turn to leave the band. "Well, I initially developed a great fear of flying," she explained to the magazine in 2014. "And the earthquakes—I was terrified of the earthquakes [in Los Angeles]." That, combined with a yearning to live a normal life, inspired McVie to go into semi-retirement. "I don't know that I was thinking, really," she said. "I just wanted to live a normal, domestic life with roots." McVie also clarified that leaving was nothing against the band.

Fleetwood Mac: Trouble in Shangri-La

The soap opera that was Fleetwood Mac would continue for years. Nick's 2001 album, Trouble in Shangri-La, included Sheryl Crow and some previously unpublished works dating back to the 1970s, according to Slant magazine. She also teamed with the rest of the band, sans Christine McVie, for another album titled, Say You Will in 2003. Unfortunately nobody could miss the absence of McVie or, per Britannica, "her importance as a mediating influence within the band." It would be 11 years before McVie rejoined her bandmates, but it was a welcome re-addition to the band. Soon after, Fleetwood Mac launched their first major tour since 2009.

Now was the time for Fleetwood Mac to reflect on their past and share their more intimate histories with their fans. Nicks' 2014 release of 24 Karat Gold: Songs from the Vault, consisted of remakes of older demo songs. In 2017, Buckingham and McVie released a fresh album Buckingham/Christine McVie. Mick Fleetwood, according to CBS, published a book about Fleetwood Mac's history titled, Love That Burns: A Chronicle of Fleetwood Mac. "I'm 70-years-old and I play harder now than I used to," he said, according to The Guardian. "I don't want to look like an old fart and I'm not an old fart. I don't know how much longer I'll be able to do what I do."

Don't stop thinking about tomorrow

In January of 2018, reported Rolling Stone, Lindsey Buckingham and was at home watching the Grammy Awards when Fleetwood Mac manager Irving Azoff called. "Stevie never wants to be on stage with you again," Azoff said. Nicks' decision was fueled by Buckingham's outburst at a MusiCares benefit, and after he visibly smirked during her thank-you speech. Clearly, Nicks was tired of Buckingham's disrespect. The news was followed by the announcement that Mike Campbell (formerly of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers) and Neil Finn of Crowded House would replace Buckingham. A confused and incensed Buckingham was revealed by Hollywood Reporter to have filed suit in October for breach of contract and other issues. By December, however, the suit was dropped. "We've all signed off on something," he told CBS (per Rolling Stone). "I'm happy enough with it. I'm not out there trying to twist the knife at all.

Fleetwood Mac, the veteran band of all wars of the heart, soldiered on through 2018. The band began a new whirlwind tour with concerts in Denver, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Toronto in the early part of the year, reported Jambase. "Seeing Fleetwood Mac in 2019 is a strange experience," headlined Double J's Dan Condon of the tour in Australia, "but they've always been a strange band." Condon also rightfully reckoned that the group would always keep its fans guessing. After all, why mess up a bad thing if it works?

Christine McVie's sudden death

In 2021, Christine McVie broke the hearts of Fleetwood Mac fans everywhere when she told the BBC (via Rolling Stone) that the band would probably never tour again, saying, "I think I'm getting a bit too old for it now, especially having had a year off. I don't know if I can get myself back into it again." She also pointed out other members were also feeling their age.

After a huge outcry, McVie clarified to Rolling Stone that she wasn't saying it would never happen, just that it wasn't likely: "Fleetwood Mac is part of the DNA of who I am, and I know the same is true for Stevie, Mick, and John. As for future touring ... Who knows. We continue to hope for the best."

While the chances were always slim that the most legendary lineup of Fleetwood Mac would ever perform onstage together again, even that tiny chance was cruelly snatched away from fans on November 30, 2022, when the band announced on Twitter that Christine McVie had passed away, and taking the chance to reflect on her talent and what her friendship meant to the group. Her relatives also released a statement (via CNN), explaining that "She passed away peacefully at [the] hospital ... following a short illness. She was in the company of her family." She was 79.