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The Organic Pick of the Week

Lindsey Buckingham

Each week, a different artist is spotlighted as "The Organic Pick of the Week." Hourly segments of "The Organic Pick" feature the artist's music along with bio information and sound bites.

Lindsey Buckingham first appeared on the music scene with the San Francisco band Fritz, which featured a young vocalist by the name of Stevie Nicks.  After recording an overlooked album together, Buckingham and Nicks joined Fleetwood Mac. The new-look Fleetwood Mac came on strong in 1975 with the self-titled album, and two years later "Rumours" confirmed their status as a world-class band.

The Organic Tracks Interview

While relaxing on a couch in a dressing room of the theater where he would be performing in concert later that night, Lindsey reflected on his solo career, his days with Fleetwood Mac, and growing up with a love of music.

ORGANIC TRACKS: Who were some of your musical influences and inspirations, and what really made you decide you wanted to become a musician and singer songwriter?

LINDSEY BUCKINGHAM: Well you know, when I was as young as four I think I was very aware of being engaged by music in general. Of course, when I was four the only music I had to listen to in the household were my parents records, which would’ve included “South Pacific,” which I still love...I don’t know, “Nutcracker Suite”, Patti Paige. So, when Elvis suddenly shows up in the household, because I have an older brother who’s seven years older, and was old enough to buy 45’s, as with many kids, that was a revelation obviously, as it was also a role model for picking up a guitar. Rock and roll was the role model, you know. It was the transition, you know, from having your parents’ music to having your own music. And again, that’s not an uncommon story. 

With me, I can’t say I was really listening to any musician in particular in order to become a guitarist. I taught myself to play guitar. I don’t read music still. I just got a chord book and learned chords and learned how to play songs. It was always song-oriented. So you know, rock and roll had an impact to a certain point, then folk music kind of displaced that for a while and I got into some finger-style guitar and it was never something I thought about doing necessarily professionally. Certainly my parents did not encourage that, rightly so, and, you know, only after high school did I get into a band and start to think of it as something that might be worth pursuing. 

OT: Maybe the fact that you don’t read music has been a good thing since you were able to organically draw upon your own resources and inspirations. But as a guitar player, did you listen to anybody in particular that helped you along?

BUCKINGHAM: Well again, not necessarily. I mean I listened to the styles of say Scotty Moore… people who were playing guitar. Even Chet Atkins, who I think was playing guitar on some early rock and roll stuff that Elvis did. I listened to any number of folk musicians who were employing the Travis Pick... no one in particular. And as I say, it was never so much based on the instrumentation aspect of it. It was always based on the guitar as it relates to the song. And in many ways, that still holds true. I mean I’m a guitarist who holds the art of, quote, Record Making. Record meaning not a vinyl disc but, you know, a finished presentation of the song, production-wise. I hold that to be very important and I hold the idea of the guitar as an implement in the fabric of that, to be very important. I’m not the kind of guitarist who's interested in showing off what I can do for its own sake. That’s not my thing. It’s always about songs.

OT: One of your early bands was a group called Fritz. Was that how you met Stevie Nicks?  

BUCKINGHAM: Well, that was the only band I was ever in. I met Stevie for the first time when I was 16 and I was a junior in high school. She transferred into my high school as a senior and we only had very brief interaction, just enough to know each other and be aware of what we were interested in. She graduated and went on to junior college. I spent another year in high school and didn’t get into a band until the summer after high school. When the members of that band all arrived at the same junior college the next fall, we were interested in looking around for a female singer. So we asked Stevie and that’s how that came about.  

Stevie and I were never romantically involved at that time. I was not writing songs at that time nor was I really employing my guitar talents, I was playing bass in that band because I didn’t really play lead, and Stevie who was probably a fledging writer at that time, was not using her songs in that group either. There was someone else who was writing the songs. So that went on for about four years in the Bay area up and down the peninsula, and it was only after that band broke up that Stevie and I thought that possibly we could be a duo and that also fueled the idea of being romantically involved. That was probably 1973 or ’72, and so we worked on that concept for a while and eventually moved to Los Angeles and eventually got a deal on Polydor Records.  

OT: Then of course came "Buckingham/Nicks", the long-lost, one and only Lindsey-Stevie album. There’s some great material on there that I think a lot of folks would love to hear if it were on CD.

BUCKINGHAM: Yes, we’ll get around to that. I don’t know, it’s just inertia I think, you know. There may be a time where it seems appropriate in terms of whatever you can market around it to make it an event of some kind and we just haven’t talked about that yet. But we’ll get around to it.

OT: Maybe as part of a box set or retrospective?

BUCKINGHAM: Could be. We’ll see. 

OT: Let’s move on to when you joined Fleetwood Mac. You were really coming of age as a songwriter, so the timing was pretty good wasn’t it?

BUCKINGHAM: Yes, I was also coming of age as a producer and they needed that. They needed someone who could have some sort of vision… to put it all together because really if you look at the three writers and the collective that existed, it was a pretty unlikely group of people to be together and it was really one of those situations where on paper maybe it shouldn’t have worked, but somehow the sum created something greater than its parts. And so that was just the way it worked. I think from the first rehearsals, before going in to do the first album, we realized that there was something unique and a little unusual going on with what we were doing. There was a downside to it too. I had built up a certain style as a guitarist, some of which had to be modified or even let go of, because you join a group (especially a group which has a pre-existing sound) and you are sort of the junior member at the beginning, you know. You have to adapt to that sound and to some degree, if you have a keyboardist and a bass player who are quite melodic there isn’t a lot of space left so, you know, I had to do what needed to be done to work with what was already going on, and that was sometimes frustrating for me but, again, you make a decision and you do what you gotta do.  

OT: You have such a distinctive guitar sound. Crisp is a word that comes to mind, and “Never Going Back Again” is a good example. How did you develop your style?

BUCKINGHAM: Well, songs like “Never Going Back Again” come from, again, a folk idiom. I think possibly what I did was to just broaden or enhance or enlarge the context of how the guitar was being used. I wasn’t just using a thumb, index, and middle finger. I was also using the fourth finger, much as a classical guitarist would and I think I was able to cover more ground on an orchestral level and so that was something you can hear on those kinds of songs.  

In terms of overall development, again, things go in cycles. You can talk about even the “Buckingham/Nicks” album and see that there’s more relevance to what I am now doing in some ways without all the different instruments, you know, without the drums and the bass, but as a guitar approach which had to be modified and sort of put on hold. Then you learn about other things and then you pick it up again. And that’s the evolution to my guitar playing. And it’s come into a situation now where over the last few years I have taken songs that might have started as ensemble pieces and presented them on stage as single guitar and voice. “Big Love” would be one of those. “Go Insane” would be one of those… and I think it got me thinking about the effectiveness of that presentation because all of those kinds of songs connected always heavily with a audience. So, I thought, 'Well how can you make recorded music… how can you put together a collection of new songs with that sensibility…where there is no drums no bass there is to speak of.' It’s really about only one or two guitars. There’s really no lead guitar to speak of, and yet keep the idea of production values so that it isn’t like just setting up a mic and a guy playing in a room. So, that’s really what I’ve gotten to and what I’m interested in right now.  

OT: You mentioned “Buckingham/Nicks” and there's a beautiful instrumental, "Stephanie” that stills gets played every so often on The Acoustic Storm.  

BUCKINGHAM: Well, you know she made me name it that.

OT: Well, yeah I figured there was something going on there. You mentioned "Big Love" earlier. It was quite a revelation what you did to re-work that tune, sort of like putting a new spin on an old song and almost reinventing it, if you will.

BUCKINGHAM: Yeah, I mean it just is sort of a reinforcement of the idea that you can do very much with very little. If you’re thinking in those terms…and that’s, in some ways, what I do best… is finger-style guitar and produce. Those are the two things I would probably think of as my two best gifts that I have been able to put out there and to put them together in a very pure way, and it’s been kind of satisfying. 
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