Buckingham is a brilliant craftsman of innovative and radio-ready gems, but he also explores the darker side of the pop single with a creative ferocity akin to John Lennon and Brian Wilson. (Legend has him attacking live versions of “I’m So Afraid” with such intensity that his fingers bled.) He’s a consummate producer and sideman, as well as a genre-bending technician who has honed strains of flamenco, rockabilly, blues, and rock into his own powerfully expressive lick vocabulary.
Buckingham cut his teeth in the late-’60s Bay Area scene with the band Fritz. In 1972, he and Fritz vocalist Stevie Nicks released their own album, generating industry buzz, but little sales. The album did, however, catch the ear of Mick Fleetwood, who was eager to replace departed Fleetwood Mac vocalist/guitarist Bob Welch, and embark on a more commercial path. Buckingham and Nicks were recruited, and—on the strength of the mega-selling, Grammy-winning albums Fleetwood Mac and Rumors—the duo became star players in the world’s biggest band.
By the ’80s, Buckingham—sporting a clean-cut look, Armani suits, and his trademark Rick Turner Model 1—became the new guitar hero prototype, equally lauded for his tasteful licks, killer hooks, and inspired production. So great was his talent that when he left Fleetwood Mac in 1987, singer/guitarist Billy Burnette, slide whiz Rick Vito, and producer Greg Ladanyi were needed to fill the void. Since then, Buckingham has reunited with Fleetwood Mac, while continuing to expand his cadre of solo and soundtrack recordings.
Fleetwood Mac, 1975
One of my earliest musical memories is the “Thunder only happens when it’s raining” chorus of “Dreams” blaring through the AM radio in my dad’s Dodge. Listening 30 years later as a professional musician, I’m struck by how the song’s mystique derives as much from Buckingham’s ethereal volume-swelled bends as Nicks’ haunting vocal melody. And so it goes for the rest of these two iconic records. They’ve become so ubiquitous that their genius is hidden in plain sight. Forget the televised image of the ’92 Democratic Ticket awkwardly boogieing to “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow” during Bill Clinton’s Inaugural Ball. Instead, dig Buckingham’s ten-bar lead break cutting in with the same laser-like intensity of Paul McCartney’s fabled ‘Taxman” solo. And though Nicks’ whirling-dervish scarf routine is the image conjured when the thumb-thumping “Rhiannon” intro kicks in, it still ranks alongside “Johnny B. Goode” and “Smoke on the Water” as one of the coolest double-stop riffs of all time.
Under the Skin, 2006
Tracked mainly around solo acoustic performances, Buckingham applies one of his greatest musical attributes—the innate ability to austerely interpret, arrange, and underscore the songs of his peers—to his own material. But lest you think this is a singer/songwriter collection of only marginal interest to guitarists, listen to the rippling nylon-string sextuplets on “Not Too Late,” and be awed.
Buckingham Nicks, 1973
There’s no major detective work needed to trace Fleetwood Mac’s late-’70s sound to this early duo effort from two of its future members. Here, though, Buckingham’s guitar is given free rein, and he responds with lushly layered acoustic tracks, Leslie-drenched arpeggios, the fingerstyle steel-string instrumental “Stephanie,” and a nylon-string chord-melody reading of the classic hard-bop ballad “Django.”
Many regard this dark and exploratory two-record set as the Mac’s answer to The Beatles, as it plays out as a collection of solo experiments by the group’s various writers, rather than a full-fledged band statement. Inspired by new wave, Buckingham tracked lo-fi rave-ups “Not That Funny” and “The Ledge” in his home studio, handling most instrumentation himself. In a daring gambit, he overdubbed the guitar riff on the title track with the USC Trojan marching band playing along in unison! Ah, to be a fly on the wall when this subversive pop-noir masterpiece was presented to Warner Bros. execs as the follow-up to the gazillion-selling Rumors.
Fleetwood Mac Live, 1980
Despite stories of excessive drug use and infighting, the Mac apparently left their personal issues backstage as this concert recording ably attests. Their songs were so strong and logically arranged that they easily translated live, and—stripped of some studio sheen—emerged with a heightened sense of drama. Buckingham’s Travis-picked accompaniment gracefully shadows Nicks’ emotional reading of “Landslide,” and he proves his blues mettle, ably tackling the Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac classic “Oh Well.”
Tango in the Night, 1982
Retreating from the backlash that followed Tusk, Fleetwood Mac headed toward more commercially viable waters on the two albums that rounded out Buckingham’s original tenure. Notice how a simple rolling four-note lick weaves a sparkling web around “Big Love,” and on the extended fadeout to “Gypsy,” one of Buckingham’s greatest collaborative skills—playing the perfect solo that turns a great Stevie Nicks track into a bona-fide classic—is in full effect.
Law and Order, 1981
Buckingham’s first solo album is a collection of multiple guitar sounds and musical genres awash in alchemic studio wizardry—and that’s its problem. All the skills that were an asset in Fleetwood Mac tend to overwhelm here, as the balance provided by the compositions of Nicks and keyboardist Christine McVie is lacking.
The Dance, 1997
Tracked live on a soundstage for a television special and accompanying CD soundtrack, this was the first full-fledged reunion of the vaunted Rumors-era lineup. The band’s performance is fine, but subdued. Factor in the Mac’s decision to use this as a vehicle to showcase new songs alongside old favorites, and we get something that’s not quite a live album, not quite a new CD, and not quite satisfying.