45 years later Buckingham Nicks album still casts spell
45 years later Buckingham Nicks album still casts spell
By Matt Wake | email@example.com | Posted September 13, 2018 at 09:44 AM | Updated September 13, 2018 at 01:53 PM
A blonde, unfamous singer named Stevie Nicks wore pick curlers in her hair during her band's afternoon soundcheck at Tuscaloosa's Morgan Auditorium on Jan. 29, 1975
"And she was just so cool," recalls Jimmy Wiygul, who was working as stagehand. "Really nice, unassuming."
That night, Buckingham Nicks - Nicks' group with singer/guitarist Lindsey Buckingham before both found stadium stardom with Fleetwood Mac - performed two, now legendary shows.
There on the University of Alabama campus, this Los Angeles folk-rock band was finally feeling some love.
Right before the band was done forever.
Despite strong songwriting, vocals and musicality - not to mention cover-art depicting a topless, foxy Lindsey and Stevie - Buckingham Nicks' self-titled debut album had tanked.
But the group became an unlikely sensation in Alabama after Birmingham progressive rock station WJLN-FM gave the LP heavy spins, particularly spiraling seven-minute track "Frozen Love."
After Nicks and Buckingham's golden throats and charisma turned mid-level blues-rockers Fleetwood Mac into stars upon joining the group in 1975, the "Buckingham Nicks" LP took on a cult-object glow. Record collectors covet vintage vinyl pressings. Forty-five years after its original Sept. 5, 1973 release, the album has never been officially issued on CD or streaming services. But thanks to that WJLN airplay and a handful of shows Buckingham Nicks played in Alabama, including the last live performances Buckingham Nicks ever did, the group remains beloved and revered in the state. "Like, about everybody I knew my age had that album," Wiygul says. "We were all really into that band."
Gary "Hoppy" Hodges played drums on "Buckingham Nicks," as did studio ringer Jim Keltner and Elvis Presley sideman Ronnie Tutt. Hodges also played on drums for the band's final shows, in Alabama. "We'd actually been a band from 1971 to 1975," Hodges says, calling from his Branson, Miss.-area home. "But those shows in Alabama were the biggest reception we ever got and they were the biggest shows."
Hodges, a Dallas native, had first met Buckingham at the hallway water fountain inside Van Nuys, Calif. studio Sound City. "The one thing I noticed when I started working with them was the material was so good," Hodges says. "There wasn't a song they did I didn't like."
When Presley summoned Tutt back to Las Vegas for rehearsals, it opened the door for Hodges to play on 1972 sessions for "Buckingham Nicks." These tracks include, Hodges says, the drums for "Frozen Love," the Lindsey-Stevie co-write that would close the album. Everything else had already been cut for the tune - magnetic harmonies, braided guitars, coda orchestration - when Hodges overdubbed drums, inside Sound City's Studio A, with Buckingham and producer/engineer Keith Olsen watching on. "I put on a set of headphones," Hodges says, "and there was a click track and they coached me through the whole thing, what they wanted."
Hodges also contributed percussion to "Buckingham Nicks" tracks, as did Buckingham and Jorge Calderon. For instance on "Races are Run," he says "the sound you hear is a pair of plyers hitting the microphone base to make it sound like an anvil. We would play on a chair with sticks. They didn't have shakers back then, so we used sand in a matchbox. Lindsey had a real unique way of doing percussion."
Hodges says he was paid a princely sum of $110 for his work on "Buckingham Nicks." "That was a studio union scale for three-hour session at the time."
Olsen first heard Nicks and Buckingham perform with Bay Area psych-rock band Fritz, aka The Fritz Rabyne Memorial Band. After Fritz's management had tried unsuccessfully to get A- and B-list record producers to give them a listen, they moved onto " all the C- and C-minus list producers," Olsen says now. "I was in that category and heard a little demo and I said, 'Sure I'll go up and see them. A free trip to the Bay Area, see a band and come home.' I was picked up by Lindsey and I think the drummer in the band van and I was thrown in the back in between a bunch of amps and drum cases. And then I was asked to carry the stuff in with them help them set up. [Laughs] "
After hearing them live, Olsen invited Fritz to Sound City to record. But the studio's owner had changed locks and forgotten to give Olsen a key, so they had to remove the door from the hinges to get inside. The producer and band made the demo, put the door back on the studio entrance and went their separate ways. After mixing the recording, Olsen called Buckingham and said, "'You know, you and Stevie were really standout, but I think you'll do much better without the band.' Which of course put me on the bottom of their like-list."
Buckingham had been focusing on bass. But he developed a distinctive acoustic guitar style awhile recuperating in bed from mononucleosis for a couple months. "The guitar sounds different when you hit it with the back of your fingers instead of the pick," Olsen explains. "And also during that time Lindsey started recording some ideas on this little four-track machine he had, all these songs he and Stevie wrote that are on the Buckingham Nicks album. He brought them down one day and played them for me and I said, 'Holy crap. Let's do this album.'"
Olsen says no other band names besides the elegant-yet-earthy Buckingham Nicks were ever considered for the project. He worked relentlessly to try to get a label interested. Only Anthem Records, "this little two-room record company in Hollywood," said yes.
"Buckingham Nicks" was tracked through a special Neve recording console, today owned by Foo Fighters musician Dave Grohl and immortalized in the 2013 " Sound City" documentary film Grohl directed.
Nicks and Buckingham's musical chemistry gave the songs an electric appeal. "Because of the voices being what they were," Olsen says, "and the harmony and the style of writing between the two of them, I kind of knew it was going to be real special." All "Buckingham Nicks" vocals were tracked in Studio A, with leads and harmonies cut separately.
"Buckingham Nicks" opens with acoustic Nicks saunter "Crying in the Night." Olsen says from the moment he first heard Nicks sing, her voice exuded the gypsy charm that's become her tonal signature. "That's just her style. The only I had to hold back is where it would be all volume-change instead of vibrato, but other than that, it's the way she was."
Other albums Olsen worked on during this era included Aretha Franklin's "Amazing Grace" and Dr. John's "Gumbo." He played the finished Buckingham Nicks record for Atlanta Records exec Jerry Wexler and says Wexler loved it but couldn't get the rest of Atlantic's brain-trust to buy-in so they passed. In the end Polydor distributed "Buckingham Nicks," of which only 35,000 copies were in the original press, Olsen says.
During the time they were recording Buckingham Nicks, Lindsey and Stevie were living in a floor-level efficiency apartment in the Toluca Lake area. Hodges says the couple didn't have furniture or a TV. "Lindsey was studying this book of 5,000 guitar chords when I met him," the drummer says. Hodges recalls Nicks sitting on the apartment floor in her pajamas, sipping coffee and working on lyrics. " They were young and just vibrant and beautiful kids. And they were in love."
Hodges says eventually when Nicks and Buckingham couldn't afford to pay their apartment anymore, he helped move the couple in his Volkswagen van over to an Orange Drive home where "Buckingham Nicks" assistant recording engineer Richard Dashut resided. Hodges then moved into the Toluca Lake apartment.
"Buckingham Nicks" contained several songs that should've been hits, including Buckingham's twangy raver "Don't Let Me Down Again" and stirring deep-cuts like "Races are Run" and "Crystal" (the later to be given a soft-rock makeover in Fleetwood Mac).
But the album couldn't get traction. "Polydor didn't promote it," Hodges says. "And just three months later they had a little A&R meeting and decided they were too folky for the label, so they dropped them from the label. And this was heartbreaking. Stevie and Lindsey began to feel like they were going to give up and she was doing to go back to school and go back and her folks were going to support here. Things weren't looking too good." Nicks was supporting the couple by working as a waitress and occasionally cleaning Olsen's house but once "forgot to put my car in gear and it rolled off a cliff," Olsen says. "But that's OK."
Then Mick Fleetwood entered the picture. Olsen was asked to meet with Fleetwood, the tall bearded Fleetwood Mac drummer, about possibly producing the Mac's next LP. He gathered up a few tape reels from recent projects, including Buckingham Nicks. Hodges says Buckingham Nicks were in Sound City's smaller Studio B working up material for their group's sophomore LP, including prototypes of future Fleetwood Mac hits "Monday Morning" "Rhiannon" and "I Don't Want to Know," when they heard through the wall Olsen blasting "Frozen Love" in Studio A for Fleetwood.
Olsen made an agreement to start working with Fleetwood Mac on a new album in February 1975. Then on New Year's Eve 1974 Fleetwood called Olsen and said he had good and bad news. Bob Welch, who'd been Fleetwood Mac's main songwriter of late, had just left the band, so they wouldn't be able to start recording in February. "Now back then albums took three months to do and that's 25 percent of my income for the year," Olsen says. "So, I said, 'OK what's the good news? And Mick said, 'You know those two kids you played for me? You think they'd want to join my band?' So I said, 'I don't know but I can ask them.' He said, 'Could you do it tonight?'"
Olsen had a date that night, so he picked her up and went over to Stevie and Lindsey's house and knocked on the door. "They were getting ready to have a party and I said, 'We have something to talk about.' And so from about eight o'clock to about two in the morning I sat upstairs and tried to convince them to join Fleetwood Mac and they just hewed and hawed. 'No, we really want to do our thing' and I convinced them to just go and work with them for say four weeks and see how you fit in. And that was it. They started rehearsing with the band. And it all really clicked."
With Olsen engineering and co-producing, Fleetwood Mac crafted their 1975 self-titled album, their first with Buckingham and Nicks. "Fleetwood Mac" featured "Rhiannon," "Monday Morning" and "Landslide." It also set the table for the group's drama-rock masterpiece, 1977's "Rumours," which has sold more than 20 million copies in the U.S. "I remember once John McVie (Fleetwood Mac bassist) coming up to me during the recording of the 'Fleetwood Mac' album," Olsen says. "He says, 'Keith you know we're supposed to be a blues band.' And I said, 'Well not so much anymore, but it's a much faster way to the bank,' and he did thank me later."
For Hodges, losing Nicks and Buckingham to Fleetwood Mac was "heartbreaking, but they were just...it was getting pretty bad."
Buckingham Nicks had been recording material for a second album at Sound City with Dashut between midnight and daylight, when the facility was closed, Hodges says. So what happened to those recordings? "When the studio got sold, the tape vaults were raided, and people were using the two-inch reel tapes that were in that vault, for other recording sessions," Hodges says. "They'd go in there and grab tape off the boxes and just record over it. It's kind of a sad history."
After Lindsey and Stevie signed on with Fleetwood Mac, the opportunity to do a few last Buckingham Nicks shows came up, Hodges says. "Suddenly after struggling for five years in Los Angeles, we sold 10,000 records a week in Alabama. Promoters called and wanted to book."
The shows included Jan. 29 in Tuscaloosa and the band's Jan. 31 finale at Birmingham's Municipal Auditorium, later called Boutwell Auditorium. (Fansite buckinghamnicks.info also lists Jan. 28 Alabama State Fairgrounds and a Jan. 30 Jacksonville State University concerts.)
Photo of Buckingham Nicks from 1975 University of Alabama Corolla yearbook
Michael Trucks was a University of Alabama Law School student and member of UA's University Program Council, which booked student concerts including Buckingham Nicks. Before the Tuscaloosa show, Trucks took Buckingham Nicks to another student's off-campus house for a homecooked, Southern-style meal. When Lindsey and Stevie talked about their Fleetwood Mac offer, Trucks, later a partner in Alabama music-biz juggernauts New Era Productions and Red Mountain Entertainment, was skeptical. "I didn't see how it was going to work. Shows how much I know."
Trucks thinks Buckingham Nicks was paid $2,500 for their two Tuscaloosa performances. Tickets were $2 for UA students and $ general admission. The university hosted concerts by '70s mega-stars like The Rolling Stones, Elton John and Led Zeppelin in the Memorial Coliseum arena. Less-widely known touring acts like Randy Newman, Frank Zappa, Billy Joel and Jimmy Buffett performed in Morgan Auditorium, a 625-capacity space inside the English department building.
Photo of Buckingham Nicks from 1975 University of Alabama Corolla yearbook
"It was a real elegant place," says William Alford, who was live sound engineer for the Buckingham Nicks concert there. A UA electrical engineering grad student, Alford had custom-built the mixing console and P.A. used for the show. Alford also had a TEAC reel-to-reel to record Morgan Auditorium shows, including Buckingham Nicks. The Buckingham Nicks recording, originally done on quarter-inch analog tape, can now be heard on YouTube. There's also an import CD, titled "Alabama 1975," available online. How the bootleg spread is unclear. Alford says someone with the band patched into his signal. Hodges says someone who worked on the show gave the band. Via email, Buckingham Nicks tour bassist Tom Moncrief respectfully declined to be interviewed for this story. "Other than Gary, I don't have any contact with anyone in that band anymore," Moncrief wrote.
This funky soulful Tuscaloosa recording is a rare document of what Buckingham Nicks sounded like onstage and what makes these songs still so compelling. After sassy opener "Lola" rattles to conclusion, Nicks greets the crowd: "Hello! How are y'all? I don't think we've ever seen this many people - I know we've never seen this many people." Before launching into their set's second song, a hip-shaking "Monday Morning," Buckingham says on-mic, "I've got to tell you how touched we are there are this many people here, and we love you very much. Thank you."
The two versions of Nicks witch saga "Rhiannon" on the Tuscaloosa recording are particularly notable. These are rumored to be the song's public debut, which may or may not be true, and onstage that night Nicks explained the lyrics were inspired by "a lady with two personalities." Before one version of "Rhiannon" on the bootleg, Nicks says to the band to "don't play it too fast." Buckingham promptly replies by kicking off the song too fast. Nicks' hypnotic vocals and Buckingham's string-bending impress throughout the Tuscaloosa recording. "I was impressed," Alford says. "Because usually the sound through the console and the sound the audience is hearing is not the same. But it turned out really high quality for a live recording." Alford, now retired, says he held onto his old Morgan Auditorium tapes for years but they later suffered water damage after a roof leak.
Wiygul and Ned Mudd, roadies for local country-rock group Locust Fork Band, comprised the Buckingham Nicks stage crew in Tuscaloosa. "I don't think they'd rehearsed a whole lot," Mudd says. "To me they were just winging it, but they winged it well. You could tell they were exploring that material that turned out to be so great. They were scrappy. They weren't pop, commercial at all." Not that he was blown away. "They were just another band. I saw Hendrix and The Stones. It was a magical age for music in Tuscaloosa, there were hundreds of bands coming through. "
After helping Buckingham Nicks load-in and set-up, Wiygul and Mudd watched the show from the side of the stage. A few times during Buckingham's longer guitar solos, Nicks would stride offstage "and one of my jobs was to keep a wine glass full" for her, Wiygul says. Mudd says Buckingham wasn't as laid-back. "He wasn't a jerk or anything. He was probably just more serious about getting the sound right and stuff like that, and probably took one look at us and was more worried than he was originally."
Tuscaloosa High classmates Bob Sweeney and David Brown walked over after school that day, a Wednesday, to see the early show. Inside Morgan Auditorium, they found a spot about halfway up and to one side. When the show began with some extended downhome plucking from Buckingham, "I remember thinking this is going to be a good concert," Sweeney says. Now a Mobile resident and University of South Alabama computer instructor, Sweeney remembers Buckingham Nicks "was one of my most memorable concerts ever," not a bad review since he also saw the Allman Brothers and Little Feat in the '70s. Brown was one of those fans who'd heard "Frozen Love" and other Buckingham Nicks tracks on WJLN. "That later became the Fleetwood Mac sound - I think it's a little rawer on the Buckingham Nicks album," says Brown, now a registered nurse. "But the harmonies and the tightness, they seemed to have that when they performed together then. I thought we'd see more of them, for sure."
Peace Concerts was the promoter for Buckingham Nicks' last show ever, in front of 5,000 or so fans crammed into Municipal Auditorium. Shari Graye is the widow of Peace Concerts founder Richard Dingler. Although Graye didn't moved to Birmingham until 1979, she's the keeper of her late husband's extensive Peace Concerts files, detailed in a fascinating 2017 story by AL.com reporter Mary Colurso. Those files contain artifacts from '70s music icons like the Allmans, Commodores, Linda Ronstadt and Lynyrd Skynyrd. These artifacts include photos from an afterparty Dingler held for Buckingham Nicks after their triumphant Municipal Auditorium concert. The afterparty was held at a long-shuttered spot called the Luau Club, located in the Eastwood Mall area. "He threw a party for them because it was a sold-out show, and everybody made a bunch of money," Graye says. " And it's funny. People are like, 'I went to that party' or 'I went to their hotel room.' I think everybody who went to the show also went by Stevie and Lindsey's hotel room too."
Dingler paid Buckingham Nicks $2,750 to perform that night and turned a profit of around $4,000 to $5,000, Graye says. "It was the business man's approach. People were saying we really want to see this band and he got a really good deal on them." According to Graye, who now oversees ventures including event space The Warehouse, her husband's larges profits were around $7,000 to $10,000, for shows involving Lynyrd Skynyrd and Black Oak Arkansas.
Items on Buckingham Nicks' 1975 tour rider included "1 case of cold beer" and "2 bottles Mateus Rose" wine. The latter libation was for Nicks, Graye says. Tickets for the finale show were sold for $4 at local record stores like Medusa, Sound Playground, Music Scene and Good Vibes East.
Looking back on Buckingham Nicks' 1975 Alabama shows, Hodges says it was "bittersweet" the band was finally being appreciated just as it was ending. Still, "the crowds were just awesome. They made us feel like we had arrived. I loved it." Hodges, who was playing a blue Ludwig kit at the time, says Fritz drummer Bob Aguirre also played on Buckingham Nicks' Alabama shows, giving the band a dual-drums attack, a la Allmans and Grateful Dead. " And it worked out really good. It was very, very powerful," he says. According to Hodges, it was important to Buckingham to have Aguirre, a friend since they were teenagers, involved.
Buckingham Nicks previously performed in Birmingham at a 1974 Peace Concerts bill, as support act for power-trio Mountain. Dangler's old files contain correspondence asking for help picking up Stevie and Lindsey from the airport after their United Airlines flight landed. The couple stayed at the Holiday Inn on Bessemer Highway while in town.
Tom Smith was a Huntsville High student who drove over with some friends for that 1974 Municipal Auditorium show, to see Mountain, known for their cowbell-ignited hit "Mississippi Queen." Smith had never heard of Buckingham Nicks. He thought they were probably another of the regional bands, like Hydra and Mother's Finest, frequently brought in to open Birmingham rock shows. Despite the dichotomy between Buckingham Nicks' flirty harmonies and Mountain's hairy wallop, the openers went over well that night, says Smith, who still resides in Huntsville: "Thinking back on it, (Buckingham Nicks) were a lot harder-rocking live versus the studio album."
The day after Sweeney saw Buckingham Nicks live in Tuscaloosa, he purchased the band's album at a local record store, probably The Dickery on University Boulevard. Forty-three years later, he still owns that original vinyl. "For whatever reason this area of Alabama really became some of their biggest fans - and lifelong fans," Sweeney says.
Ashley Vaughn is co-owner of Huntsville's Vertical House Records, located at Lowe Mill, 2211 Seminole Drive and one of the Southeast's best vinyl stores. Vintage copies of "Buckingham Nicks" don't find their way into Vertical House too often, but "when we do get it, it might last in the shop for a few days," Vaughn says. "We get people asking for it regularly. I feel like it's the white whale record of Fleetwood Mac fans." Depending on condition, those LPs go for as high as $30 at Vertical House. They're often much more via out-of-state online sellers on discogs.com - it's reasonable to believe because of Buckingham Nicks' popularity in Alabama, those albums are a little less scarce here.
Although there will always be original pressings purists, Vaughn thinks an official vinyl reissue of "Buckingham Nicks" would sell great. Beyond Fleetwood Mac completists the album's music would likely appeal to fans of contemporary acts like Jason Isbell, Courtney Barnett and Warpaint.
Buckingham Nicks music already connects with today's rising artists. SarahJayne Balash is singer for The Retrovales, a talented Huntsville duo also featuring Corey Travis that released a self-titled LP in 2017. Back in high school, Balash picked up a $5 Fleetwood Mac CD at Walmart. She soon became a huge fan and studied the band's backstory and catalog, including their Peter Green-led early years, which produced riff-rocker "Oh Well." This same exploration led Balash to Buckingham Nicks. "I'm a huge fan of Stevie and Lindsey's songwriting, so it was just cool to find something from when they weren't so popular," Balash says. Besides the obvious girl-guy harmony excellence, she draws inspiration from the clever and direct nature of Buckingham Nicks lyrics and songcraft. "It's very relatable music," she says.
The range of Keith Olsen's discography as an engineer and producer is amazing. Influenced by record-makers like George Martin and Led Zeppelin, he's been behind the board for classics by everyone from Grateful Dead to Whitesnake to Pat Benatar to Santana to Heart to Foreigner to The Scorpions. He's won at least six Grammys.
Even after the other 500 or so records he's worked on, "Buckingham Nicks" remains special to him. "It's one of those things where it stands up today," says Olsen, who now resides near Lake Tahoe, Nevada. Indeed, listening to a vintage vinyl copy now, the music jumps out of the speakers, crystalline yet warm.
So why hasn't the album been released digitally or given a properly latter-day reissue?
Olsen says he thinks Buckingham "wants to bury the album. And I don't know why. All I know is Stevie would like it out. I'd like it out. Supposedly when we made our original contract, everybody owned a third of everything, just down the line, so my hands are tied. Stevie's hands are tied. I wish it would be out for the fans."
According to Olsen, additional business issues cloud the mater. Specifically, Polydor gave up rights to the album by not having Buckingham Nicks do a second LP, so rights reverted to Anthem Records. Olsen says a few years back, Buckingham thought he'd bought back the rights from one of the Anthem's partners, now deceased, but it was the other partner who owned the rights. "Stories like that go around a lot," Olsen says.
An emailed request for comment from Buckingham regarding his take on the Buckingham Nicks album's status was not returned by his publicists.
In the coming months, Nicks (with Fleetwood Mac, Feb. 13, BJCC Legacy Arena) and Buckingham (solo, Nov. 12, Lyric Theatre) will return to Alabama, with separate Birmingham shows. It will be interesting to see if either star mentions Buckingham Nicks' past Alabama glory during those performances. Nicks has done so in the past, at an Oak Mountain Amphitheater show, and she performed "Crying in the Night" on her 2016 solo tour.
The fact Fleetwood Mac and Buckingham have recently parted ways, reportedly due to a disagreement about tour scheduling, probably doesn't help chances for "Buckingham Nicks" being revisited soon.
Still, less likely rock-reunions have happened.
Former Buckingham Nicks drummer Gary Hodges hasn't seen Nicks and Buckingham in decades, but feels he was "very fortunate to know them." He hastens to mention Nicks helped him get a later drumming gig with an artist Don Henley was working with. Now in his mid-60s and upbeat during his phone interview for this story, Hodges says he'd love to get behind the kit for a Buckingham Nicks reunion tour. "And if we ever do have a reunion I hope the first show we do is in Alabama."
Last edited by jeets2000 : 09-13-2018 at 03:42 PM. Reason: added link
what a great find...thanks so much for sharing!
I love the bit where Stevie says "don't play too fast" and Lindsey then automatically starts playing too fast.
And her scuttling offstage and drinking in the wings. Only the chemical changed over the years.
I don't know if Lindsey does want to bury the album.....maybe.....or maybe he wants to do something "meaningful" with it as he was quoted as saying. He didn't see the value in just putting it out as-is unless they were somehow doing something new or unique with it. Honestly, I disagree with him on that.
Always interesting to see who stayed in the inner circle and who got pushed out of it. Stevie relied on Tom Moncrief to help her with demos after she and Lindsey split up. I seem to recall Danny Goldberg telling the story of how he and Fishkin (I think) went to see her and she was working on stuff with Tom and they decided they needed to get her with a producer right away.
I think Tom also helped set up a lot of her recording/audio equipment to work on her stuff.
Richard has posted a number of pics of them with Aguirre and others from the BN/Fritz bands during the early FM days. You wonder if they just got too busy to keep up with old friends as FM took off, or got a little too self-important. I recall Bob Welch saying all of a sudden when he would call Mick he couldn't get through and would have to talk to an assistant who would ask "Who should I tell Mr Fleetwood is calling?" and he would get disgusted and hang up.
Fame does funny things.
Interesting to hear about her Mateus Rose and the Holiday Inn on the highway.
Wouldn’t that be something if they had a reunion with the same drummer?? Great ending to a good read, thank you for sharing. Lots of good details in there.
LB wanting to bury it doesn’t ring true for me.