Rolling Stone interview series Unknown Legends features long-form conversations between senior writer Andy Greene and veteran musicians who have toured and recorded alongside icons for years, if not decades. All are renowned in the business, but some are less well known to the general public. Here, these artists tell their complete stories, giving an up close look at life on music’s A list. This edition features keyboardist Brett Tuggle.
Keyboardist Brett Tuggle was traveling through Europe on a 1997 tour with Toto’s Steve Lukather when he heard that Mick Fleetwood was trying to get in touch with him. “I called him from the airport and he said, ‘Brett, we’re putting the Big Five [members of Fleetwood Mac] back together,’” says Tuggle. “‘We’re going to augment the band with a couple of great musicians and you’d be great with Christine [McVie]. Are you in?’”
“Let me check my calendar,” he joked. “Of course, I’m in.”
The single television special that resulted kicked off a two-decade stint for Tuggle as the go-to keyboardist for all Fleetwood Mac tours along with solo treks by Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham in addition to the Buckingham McVie side project.
Tuggle is also an original member of the David Lee Roth Band and co-writer of Diamond Dave’s 1987 hit single “Just Like Paradise.” Over the years, he’s also played with Rick Springfield, Coverdale-Page, John Kay and Steppenwolf, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, Tommy Shaw, Belinda Carlisle, and many, many others.
He phoned us up from his home in Los Angeles to share his incredible story and reveal why he was let go from Fleetwood Mac in 2018 shortly after they fired Lindsey Buckingham.
How are you adjusting to life during quarantine?
The best I can. It’s weird not doing gigs. It’s weird to be on the sidelines this long. But you just adjust. There’s been times in all our careers as musicians where it’s feast or famine. I’m really doing other things, some musical stuff and some writing. I’m trying to work on my own project and I’m doing sessions from my house where I’m putting keyboards on other people’s tracks.
I want to go back and talk about your early life. What first drew you into music as a child? What bands and artists grabbed your attention?
In those days, it was all about hearing things on the radio. Real distinctly, I remember being blown away at hearing “Pretty Woman” by Roy Orbison on the radio. I thought, “What the hell is that guitar? And that voice? Holy shit.”
I grew up in Denver. Like everyone else in the country, we got sucked in by the surf scene. The Beach Boys were a huge influence in junior high. I got sucked into the harmony thing with them. And like everybody else, pretty much, I saw the Beatles on TV and things were never the same.
Tell me some great concerts you saw in your early years.
I went to the Denver Pop Festival [in June 1969]. I actually got to see Jimi Hendrix. It was a three-day pop event at the stadium and he closed the show. It was insanely amazing to see Hendrix live. He was a major influence on me and there he was. Three Dog Night was on the bill. Joe Cocker was on the bill. It was an amazing day of music. I’ll never forget that day.
We had smaller places in Denver too. I went to see Janis Joplin with Big Brother [and the Holding Company] and the Doors after their first album. I got to see Led Zeppelin on their second tour [on March 25th, 1970].
Tell me about that one.
We had the shittiest coliseum in Denver for sound. It was just a concrete mess. It wasn’t made for music, obviously. But that was where bands played. Zeppelin came through on their second tour. I remember getting into that show. I somehow got down to the front and just stood in awe. It changed my life. Those were the first arena rock shows with real PA systems. You could hear the kick drum. There was [Jimmy] Page with all his Marshall [amps]. They were just loud and great.
How did you start playing the keyboards?
My grandma played piano and my mom did too. My grandparents were ranchers and farmers. In the farmhouse they had a spinet piano and also an organ. I’d listen to my grandmother play in the early Sixties and she’d play church music or hymns. I heard them, but I started real, proper piano lessons in the first grade.
I took piano lessons once a week. I did that all the way up to the middle of junior high school. But when I started listening to rock & roll on the radio, I’d start hearing things I could play keyboard-wise. I’d hear bands that have organs or pianos in them. I’d hear organ parts like “96 Tears.”
The band that really freaked me out was the Spencer Davis Group. Stevie Winwood was life-changing for me. First of all, there was that killer Hammond organ on “Gimme Some Lovin’.” I was about 17. I was like, “I can do that. I can play that. But what is that sound?”
I struggled until I could get a used Hammond. I listened to keyboard parts by bands that had B3 and pianos, all the classic-rock guys. Winwood was a huge influence because he played keys, he played guitar and he sang. He was kind of my template.
In 1970 you toured with Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels. How did that happen?
That was the band that got me out of Denver. The quick story was I played locally in Denver in clubs and things. In those days, you could make a living playing in clubs. We opened for Mitch Ryder and they had lost their rhythm guitar player, Mark Manko. He had some drug problems, or whatever. They had a really great keyboard player, Harry Phillips from Catfish.
They had a great band, but they just had one guitar player and they wanted a second guitarist. In my band, I played half B3 piano, half guitar, and I sang. They liked what I was doing with the rhythm guitar and singing. They came back the next night because they had the night off in Denver. They watched our band and then right there on the spot said, “Hey, we’re going to make a record with Bob Ezrin. We got a gig in Colorado Springs. Do you want to come and sit in with us tomorrow night?” I was like, “Sure!”
I took my Les Paul down to Colorado Springs to the club they were playing. I got onstage and played a set with them, not really knowing any of the music, but just standing over to the side and playing and following the best I could. They said, “Look, we’re going to Vancouver to rehearse. We’ve got a gig up there and then we’re going to make this album called Detroit.” It produced a pretty local hit for them called “Rock and Roll” by Lou Reed. I think it came out around 1971.
That was it. That’s how I got out of Denver. I was asked on the spot to go play with them. I just kind of picked up and moved.
How long were you in the band?
It was just the one album. I wish it was longer. It was a really crazy time because of everything going on with John Sinclair and the MC5. In those days, Dave Marsh from Creem magazine was Mitch’s manager. Me and Steve Hunter would get 100 bucks a week. We got a house on a lake. He’s a guitarist that played on all the Alice Cooper stuff. He played on [Peter Gabriel’s] “Solsbury Hill” too. He’s an amazing guitar player.
Him and I got to be buds and we had a house on a lake. We’d drive into Marsh’s office once a week and get $100.
To flash forward a bit, how did you wind up playing with John Kay and Steppenwolf?
I only spent about a year and a half with Mitch Ryder. And then it was back to Denver. I started up another local band. The break came to get to Los Angeles when I met a record producer named Keith Olsen, who also produced a lot of huge hits in the Eighties like Heart and Fleetwood Mac. He saw the band I had and suggested I go to L.A. to meet a friend of his that needed a singer and a player. This was 1978.
He said, “You really should come to L.A. That’s where everything is happening.” He wanted to introduce me to some people, and so I flew out and met with this guitar player. I wound up just moving out here. We kind of worked our way around the local studios here like Sound City and different places. We were trying to get a record deal.
We didn’t actually get signed, but I heard about John Kay doing auditions for a keyboard player. I was living hand to mouth. There wasn’t a lot of money coming in. I went and checked out the gig and was surprised how good they were. I took the gig and I went off immediately on the road with them in 1981. That started my career as a side guy to people.
How was that experience? He wasn’t exactly landing hits at that point in his career.
His glory days were behind him, but he had a really great working situation with the band. He ran a tight ship. He had agents and real gigs booked. He was very professional. It was a lot of Holiday Inns and traveling by van. John was legally blind, so he’d sit in the captain’s chair and the rest of us in the band would rotate driving. We’d go to different towns and play a lot of theaters.
Most people probably in the audience probably just knew “Magic Carpet Ride” and “Born to Be Wild.”
That’s exactly right. But I spent a year with John and have a lot of great memories since I learned so much from him. I got to travel and he ran it really well and paid his band great. I was making decent dough and I was on the road. That led right into Rick Springfield.
That’s the complete opposite of John Kay. He was the hottest thing in the country at that moment in 1982.
He was on fire. And it’s all about being versatile. What happened is, I was working with this guitarist in L.A. We were beating the pavement trying to get a record deal. I got to be real good friends with the people that ran Sound City. They were managing Rick and got him a deal on RCA. “Jessie’s Girl” broke and it was a huge hit. I met this girl Barbie [Porter] who worked at Sound City behind the desk. Unbeknownst to me, she had become Rick’s girlfriend. When Rick hit it with “Jessie’s Girl,” he wanted to put a new band together. He wanted a keyboard player that could sing. She said, “You need Brett Tuggle.”
She ended up calling or giving Rick my number somehow. Rick called and said, “I’d like to meet you about playing in my band.” I drove out there and he still had a little, modest house out in Glendale. He had a new album he was working on that he wanted to play me. He played me some of his music. I played him some of mine. And I joined his band right then.
These days, you basically just hear “Jessie’s Girl” when it comes to Rick. People forget just how many other big hits he had in this time period.
Unbelievable. Rick is so undervalued as an artist, singer and showman. He’s still out there killing it at 71. We’re still good friends. We really set out to conquer the world back in 1982. Some of the best memories of my life are of playing with Rick and his band. It was such a great band.
It must be a weird thing to be onstage and women in the crowd are screaming like maniacs, but it’s all directed at him. What’s that like?
[Laughs] That’s hysterical, but you’re absolutely right. I’ll never forget that feeling. Growing up in the Sixties and listening to the girls scream for the band back then … I remember the first show with Rick up in Sacramento. We’d been rehearsing for a month. He was still on General Hospital, so we’d fly up and do Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays and fly back when he read scripts on the plane.
I’ll never forget walking out onto the stage at this auditorium in Sacramento. The noise was like a jet engine. It was unbelievable. It was kind of scary, it was so loud. It was such hysteria. I’d look down at the audience and these little girls were going ape over this guy, just completely losing it. They were so loud. I wasn’t prepared for it. It was a strange feeling.
I think of it a little like Elvis and his band or Ricky Nelson. You think of the good-looking pop stars with their bands and all the focus is on them, absolutely. I think that helps you become a good supporting-cast person.
He mentioned you in his book in a pretty funny way. I want to read it to you. “Brett and I discover a special camaraderie out there on the road, where we will laughingly dub ourselves ‘the Boner Brothers,’ and eventually seek an answer to the BIG question: Why can’t we stop having illicit sex?”
[Laughs] Yeah. Rick and I bonded instantly as friends and musically we grew up with a lot of the same influences. We hit it off immediately. We also had this thing about girls. We both liked girls. What’s funny about Rick is that he was really shy. He could get onstage and run around and be that guy and have all that energy and confidence. You get him offstage and he was more shy, quiet and withdrawn.
We also had a similar liking of girls and there were so many. A lot of these girls were super young and it was forbidden. We wouldn’t go there. But there was a lot that weren’t as well. We did form, jokingly, this “Boner Brothers” club. Even still when he talks to me he goes, “It’s Rick Boner. What are you doing Boner Brother?” We still have that little exclusive club and we wink at each other. It was a lot of fun, let’s put it that way.
I see you have credit on a song in The Terminator. How did that happen?
Funnily, that is kind of a fluke too. In different periods of downtime between Rick tours, which we’d do on weekends when he wasn’t on General Hospital, I would take little gigs when I had time. One of the gigs was for [Journey keyboardist] Jonathan Cain. I played keyboards for his wife Tané Cain, Doug McClure’s daughter. They did an album and they wanted to do some shows, but Jonathan didn’t want to be onstage with his wife.
I had been doing live shows for Tané Cain and we did things like [the TV show] Solid Gold. We’d do little tours and stuff. We wrote a bunch of songs with that band in rehearsals. A group of those songs wound up in The Terminator, either through Jonathan’s connections or Tané’s connections.
I didn’t even know it was in the movie. On days with Rick, we’d watch movies and they’d rent a theater for us. We went in to watch The Terminator, but we missed the very beginning. At the end, we’re watching the credits and Rick goes, “Brett Tuggle?”
It was my name at the end of a song. I was like, “What the hell is that all about?” I had to investigate and realize some of the music was from Tané’s band Tryanglz. Funnily enough, right now they are negotiating some sort of game for The Terminator. It still kind of lingers around.
Let’s move ahead to David Lee Roth. How did you wind up in his touring band in 1986?
Here’s another offshoot because his music is nothing like Steppenwolf or Rick Springfield. Again, it was kind of right place at the right time. And a lot of rock bands need singing keyboard players that play guitar. Luckily for me, I was earning a reputation as kind of a rock keyboard player. My name had come up when they had done Eat ‘Em and Smile.
I get a call that they were auditioning keyboard players. I say, “Of course. I want to check it out.” I realize that a lot of his Van Halen music has a lot of guitars, obviously, but a lot of keyboards, too, that Ed did. It was brilliant. I loved Ed’s keyboard playing. Dave added a bunch in his solo stuff with Edgar Winter on keys along with brass and synths.
I had a lot of great horn samples and synthesizers. I went in and really studied pretty hard for the audition. I worked out all the brass arrangements for “Just a Gigolo” and stuff from Dave’s EP Crazy From the Heat. It was getting parts nailed and keyboard parts, obviously like “Jump” and “Cradle Will Rock” and “California Girls.”
When I went into the audition it was at Perkins Palace [in Pasadena]. I’ll never forget that day as long as I live. As I was pulling up to the building I heard this rumble, this noise, coming from inside. It sounded like that building was going to take off. It was [Steve] Vai and [Billy] Sheehan and Gregg [Bissonette] all blasting away in there on something. I pulled the van right up to the stage door and I’m going, “Holy shit! This is going to be something.”
I really prepared for that one. I went in and did the audition and they couldn’t have been nicer to me. I had the keyboard set up and I played the obvious keyboard stuff with them. Everything was going fine. Dave was blown away that I had all these samples. He couldn’t believe I could play all these horn parts out of keyboard. He loved that. It kind of freaked him out. I had the intro to “California Girls.”
I’ll also never forget Gregg running over from the drums to my side next to Billy. He goes, “Tuggs, he wants to hear you sing. Can you sing something?” I said, “Yeah. No problem.” And Dave is sitting in the audience. I called for “I’m Down” by the Beatles. Gregg and Billy knew it, but I don’t think Vai knew it. Anyway, we launched into it and I started singing in a screaming rock voice: “You tell lies thinking I can’t see …” Halfway through the song, Dave throws his hands up like, “Stop. Stop. OK. Gotcha.”
He came up to the stage and told us to sit at the end of the stage and kind of started talking about the tour and whether or not I’d be interested. I just came by recommendation of people, but I came in prepared.
Did you guys feel a sense of competition with Van Halen when you went on tour?
I didn’t. I don’t think the band did. We all had nothing but super respect for the Van Halen brothers and Michael Anthony and their body of work. We were all fans. I was maybe a bit less so since I wasn’t a shred guitar player, but I loved the band and I appreciated the band. It was nothing but respect.
What happened is there was a lot of bad blood in the press between the two camps and it got very heated. We had security guards when we went places, especially on the first tour. There was a lot of verbal stuff in the press and bad things being said in each camp, from the [Van Halen] brothers or by Dave. We never really said anything. We always spoke about them in high regard, but we never talked much in the press about them.
Vai got probably the most press being who he was and he’d just come off the movie [Crossroads]. He was just blossoming at that time. It was never a competition. It was more politics and unfortunately part of that was ugly for a while.
Tell me about writing “Just Like Paradise” with Dave.
We had just done the first tour behind Eat ‘Em and Smile, and it went great. It sold really well. David always called the band in for meetings every week on a day off. “Let’s make some tracks. Tuggle, I want you on this.” More than any other band I’d ever worked with, Dave was very open to your musical ideas. He encouraged it. He wanted you to give him stuff.
I took to heart what David said about everyone writing music and I ripped off a few demos. “Paradise” came to me by just literally sitting down at my keyboard. I could record MIDI tracks on my computer and I had a reel-to-reel tape. I remember laying down this chord sequence with this drum groove. It was that simple groove. I played it out of nowhere with my hands on the keys. I don’t know where it comes from, but I played the chord progression that was “Just Like Paradise.”
I’ll never forget having my little demo of it at home and calling Vai and saying, “Steve, I’ve got these three tracks. I’d really like to get you to play guitar on them.” He said, “Well, come on over.” I brought it over and pulled up the track. He just started playing over the track, just doodling around. We taped it and he laid down the guitar part.
I took the cassette out to Dave’s house in Pasadena a couple of days later. I remember going down to his basement where Van Halen rehearsed and were we rehearsed. We had a little PA set up and I put the cassette in. It was my keyboard, drum machine, and Steve Vai’s guitar parts. He took a big hit [from a joint] and said, “Play that again.” He had the lyric for it at the next rehearsal. It was interesting to see how fast that happened, and then to see it become the leadoff single from the second album was very exciting and thrilling for me.
By the 1991 tour and especially the 1994 one, I imagine it was apparent that his audience wasn’t exactly growing.
Absolutely. It was going the opposite way for Dave.
How did it feel for everyone when you’re watching it shrink?
I think it was disheartening for everybody to see him lose or be on a downward flow there. Really, a lot of it was that he had a hard time figuring out who he was. He’s a solo artist, but he wasn’t exactly Sting vocally or Rod Stewart. Then things happened with the band personnel. Billy dropped out after Eat ‘Em and Smile. David put this great thing together and then almost turned and changed his mind later and wanted something different, sometimes to a fault.
I think had he kept that band together somehow, it might have worked out a little better. But who knows? Things were changing. Seattle music was coming in. The long-haired bands were fading. A lot of it was the timing and he lost … there was no more Steve Vai. There was no more Sheehan. It was Dave and some band people. They were good musicians and all that, but it was more about Dave trying to be this solo artist. I think he came off stronger as a pirate with his well-known pirates with him.
I know that Coverdale-Page was just a few weeks in Japan, but that must have been a lot of fun.
My God. That was a highlight for sure. I owe that to Vai. He introduced me to Coverdale when he went off to Whitesnake for that album [Slip of the Tongue]. David was looking for a keyboard player that could sing. Steve introduced me to David, and David ended up calling and asking me for some stuff. He wanted to send Jimmy Page stuff something of me playing keyboards, guitar and, singing. I put together a little CD for Coverdale.
I give huge credit to Gregg Bissonette here. I said to him, “I have a chance to play with Page. Can you imagine how great that’ll be?” It was super exciting. Gregg said, “You know, Tuggs, you oughta go into the studio, and I’ll play drums, and we’ll lay down some Zep keyboard parts with me playing drums. We’ll do 60 seconds of ‘Kashmir’ and ‘Rock and Roll’ and other Zeppelin songs with keyboards.”
It was a brilliant idea. We did that. I laid down all the keyboard parts to some of the well-known Zeppelin songs and had some Hammond B3 stuff I put in there and played guitar. I learned Jimmy’s guitar parts from their album [Coverdale-Page]. I sent that off to Coverdale and he sent it over to Page. Page said, “Yeah, thumbs up. Let’s get this guy.”
There was talk of the tour coming to America. Why do you think that didn’t happen?
I think a lot it was timing. They released the album and then waited too long for the tour. There was a lot of variables there and speculation. But what they did was they released the album and a video. They had kind of a buzz. It was like, “Wow, wow. New project with Jimmy and David.” And then they waited to book a tour. When they booked the tour, they booked too large of venues.
They were selling like 3,600 tickets in Detroit initially. It was going to cost too much and they just pulled it. We ended up rehearsing in L.A. for the Japanese deal, which was a blast. But it really did deserve a better shot. It was too bad. It was a one-off album anyway, but it would have been great to take it to the States. The band was slamming. It was really good. Everyone was firing on all cylinders. It was just a great experience to play those songs. It was just legendary.
How did you first enter the world of Fleetwood Mac?
It was because of Mick Fleetwood, his majesty. I was in a band with Mick called the Zoo. We did an album in the Nineties. David Lee Roth wasn’t doing much. I think that was already over. I had gotten a call that Mick was looking for a keyboard player for his band the Zoo, which I had heard of. I didn’t know much about them, but I thought it could be interesting. It had a pretty good lineup of people. It was Bekka Bramlett on lead vocals. She’s Delaney and Bonnie’s daughter. There was also Billy Thorpe from Down Under. He was a big star in Australia.
Mick put together a great, little band and needed a keyboard player. I took the gig and we ended up doing this album for Capricorn Records, which was a good album. A lot of it was with Billy Thorpe at the helm. We did a bunch of gigs, but they were small gigs in clubs and theaters. We did a run in the States trying to break the band. We did Arsenio Hall and got close to breaking the single “Shakin’ the Cage.” It seemed like it might break, but it actually didn’t.
Mick asked you to join Fleetwood Mac for the Dance TV special. The model for that was clearly the Eagles’ Hell Freezes Over.
It was. I can 110 percent guarantee it.
Tell me how you and Christine McVie figured out how to share the keyboard duties.
It was really easy with her. First of all, she’s the sweetest human ever. I think she’s a really great keyboard player. She’s a blues player and such an amazing writer and voice. It was not hard. On the Fleetwood Mac records, there are so many keyboard parts, layers and things, overdubs, because they were doing that.
I knew the old Fleetwood Mac because I had the Peter Green records back in the day. I didn’t know much about the Stevie and Lindsey version beyond the hits that everyone would hear on the radio. But I started listening to all the albums with Stevie and Lindsey. There’s a lot of guitar stuff that I didn’t even realize was guitar because Lindsey would slow down the tape. Then he’d play these little arpeggios or beautiful, melodic phrases and bring the tape to a normal speed and get these twinkly, chime-y little parts that I thought were synthesizers. A lot of them were, but plenty are Lindsey’s guitars.
There’s plenty of keyboards. Basically, we shared them because Christine had to sing. She’d play her main keyboard part on either the piano or the organ. I did all the colors and synthesizers and other stuff. There were so many parts on things, so it was really easy.
On the Dance tour, did you sense that she was ready to get off the road and make that her last tour?
Everybody could feel that as we were winding up. It was huge, but Chris wasn’t enjoying it. She didn’t like to fly, first of all. She had a few issues going, too, and she was unhappy. You could sort of feel it.
They pleaded with her to stay and at least do another leg because the three months was like a blip. We did all this work. We did the filming of The Dance and then went out and did sold-out shows everywhere with that lineup being back. It was amazing. But she was like, “No. I’ve contracted for three months. That’s all I’m going to do. I’m done.” She just stuck to her guns. It wasn’t about money. No matter what they said, she was just over it. She needed to stop for her sanity.
Luckily for me, I got to step right in. But I tell everybody, “You don’t replace Christine McVie. You just play the parts that are there and honor the work and play the cool parts she played.” It was sad to see her go like that, but we did a whole lot of years without her.
What’s it like as the keyboardist on the road in a big band like Fleetwood Mac? Are you staying at the same hotels as the principals? Are you on the private plane?
It’s changed a little bit over the years. We usually stay in the same hotels as the band and we usually travel together. Things got a little more isolated when Chris came back in terms of what size jet we’d use. We used to get the 737 jet that U2 and the Stones would use. Then they got more into a couple of private jets.
When that started happening, the band guys started bussing more and flying commercially. But we were treated really well. We got pretty deluxe accommodations everywhere. It was good touring. It was country-club touring, pretty much. In the early years, with The Dance and Say You Will, we all hung together.
How were your experiences on the Stevie solo tours?
It was great. I had a wonderful time. Stevie likes to work. The good thing was, we came off The Dance and she asked me to be in her band. She put out the box set Enchanted in 1998 and we went out and hit the road right on that to promote it. We did a lot of sheds. She would do a tour every couple of years. I loved working with her.
You backed Lindsey also on his tours. How were those tours different for you than the ones with Stevie?
I did 10 years with Stevie. Around 2006, Lindsey started making little boutique records he’s been putting out over the past 14 years. He didn’t have a band. Stevie has her nine-piece band and lots of players. We did a thing called Soundstage. That was the beginning of Lindsey trying to do some solo stuff again.
We had gotten to know each other fairly well and I think he trusted me, so he asked me to play with him, too. I was walking the fence for a while in both camps. I thought it was fine with everybody for a minute. In the end, I think, Stevie thought I was more in Lindsey’s camp. But I tried to be Switzerland to all the principles in the Mac. I felt like that was my job.
That’s a tricky thing. It’s Mick’s band, but Stevie and Lindsey carry a ton of weight too. And then you’re in the middle of all that.
Exactly. There were times it got to be very challenging. It came to a point where Stevie said, “You’re going to have to decide.” I said, “You know, Stevie, I love playing with you. I support you. But Lindsey doesn’t have a band.” She said, “I know he needs good people.” She seemed to be OK with it when I went off to do Lindsey’s thing. But think in the end, she looked at me a little as abandoning her and going over to Lindsey’s camp. It really wasn’t that. I wasn’t all “pro-Lindsey.” I’m “pro” all of them.
Before Say You Will, did the band worry that it might not work without Christine?
I think they felt it would work without Christine because she would dabble in and out of various projects anyway at times. When she officially retired, I think they realized that they weren’t ready to stop. They proved, even on this last tour, that the brand is bigger than any of them.
But I think that Lindsey is really the one that is driving the ship. He’s the instigator and the architect of the music. He’s the one with the vision when it comes to writing new music and putting out new stuff. He’s the one that champions all that. To me, that’s super important. At times, I think other band members have lost sight of some of that. You’ve got to put out new stuff to remain viable even if it’s not going to sell 12 million copies. Lindsey is all about putting out new art.
I presume that Buckingham McVie started as a Fleetwood Mac project that didn’t happen.
I’m going to be totally honest with you. Stevie wouldn’t commit. It drove Lindsey out of his mind. He just wanted to keep going. To his credit, he just kept making music. When Christine came back … those two have a very special bond and a great working relationship. Christine was able to take some of her bits of songs that she had and give them to Lindsey and have Lindsey nurture them and bring them to life with this Buckingham McVie thing. It was a great record. If you closed your eyes, if Stevie would have given up three songs, it would have been a Fleetwood Mac record. It’s just super sad.
What was it like to be in the middle of the Buckingham McVie tour and go straight back to Fleetwood Mac for two stadium shows with Classic East and Classic West?
That needed to happen in terms of the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac finally doing something together. They had been talking about it forever. Glenn Frey’s passing obviously changed everything. And then the opportunity to came about for them to do these two big shows. … It was a big deal. We were on the road with Buckingham McVie and went back and rehearse with Fleetwood Mac here at Sony in L.A. Everybody was excited. I felt we were energized by it. Everything was sort of feeling like it was working.
Tell me about MusiCares and what happened that night.
Tensions had been building a lot over the past year regarding this tour that was going to happen with Lindsey still involved. There were some key things that had caused tension between Lindsey and Stevie regarding this thing at MusiCares. There had been some meetings that didn’t go well and people would walk out. There was some pretty upset people at other people. A lot of this was coming from Stevie and Lindsey’s differences about how they viewed this next tour.
We were all on board for this tour. Everyone had signed on for it. They were booking it. Everything was going fine. And what Lindsey originally wanted to do was have three or four months to do some solo touring and get that out of the way because he had a new record he wanted to put out, and then do the Mac.
They framed it in the press that he didn’t want to tour. That isn’t true. He wanted to tour. But there were a couple of bad exchanges in meetings and other things that lead to some high drama with Stevie. After the Pretenders tour and the success of that, she had gotten to a place where she wasn’t going to bend on things. She wanted it to be her way more than the rest of the people did in the band. It wasn’t John McVie. It was really between Lindsey wanting time for a little short run of his solo work and then get back to the Mac.
You must have been shocked when you learned he was out.
Oh, yeah. I was there the night of MusiCares. We did rehearsals across the street the day before. I could feel there was some tension there, but it didn’t feel like it was going to blow up. When Stevie came out and did her speech and talked about Tom [Petty], I felt that she did a wonderful job. But they were there to celebrate the legacy of Fleetwood Mac. I think Stevie felt that Lindsey was rolling his eyes behind her and not being respectful. And he had a little outburst over the house music they played before we went on. He was a little short with some people. That’s the only thing I saw happen. It wasn’t worth someone getting a life sentence and getting fired for it.
When they walked back after their speeches, we got to our gear, got in place, and fired off a few songs. I thought it went down well. I know there was tension. It would be crazy to say I couldn’t feel it. It was coming from Stevie and Mick both when we were standing there and waiting to go on and play. Something was definitely up. I could feel there was bad vibes going on.
How did you find out that you weren’t going to be on the tour?
Funnily enough, Lindsey called to tell me that he’d been fired the week after MusiCares. He calls me and goes, “Brett, I’ve had the weirdest week ever.” He was on the phone with Irving [Azoff], who basically chewed him out on the phone. He was fired per Stevie’s request.
I didn’t know how that would affect me, but I thought my gig was probably safe only because I got along with everyone so well, especially with Christine since I was there to support her and her keyboard role. I actually went down to Hawaii to rehearse with them with Mike Campbell and Neil Finn.
We got down there and did a couple days of rehearsal, but something felt weird with Stevie. I could tell something was off with her. I think she had already made up her mind about me being Lindsey’s guy. I think my fate was already sealed whether I was there or not.
I was really shocked when I got the call that they weren’t going to use me. I also realized that I was in the middle of the politics of Lindsey and Stevie and this band and there was nothing I was going to be able to do about it. I had become Lindsey’s guy and that was it and I had to accept it. There was nothing else I could do.
I just jumped into music and doing a tour with Lindsey, which was refreshing and at least gave us some common ground together. I grew even closer to Lindsey in terms of friendship and music. All of a sudden, we were both outcasts and he was on my side.
Before the heart attack, you guys were set to tour.
Oh, yeah. We were absolutely going to tour. But it was kind of one blow after another. It was pretty rough there for a while. Luckily, his recovery has gone real well. He’s in great shape. He auditioned some drummers back in early March before the pandemic really kicked in. We found an awesome drummer for the tour and he’s got a new album that is amazing and ready to go. We’re really exited about the future and being out there on tour with this new album. We keep in touch and look forward to doing it again.
He regained his singing voice, which is amazing.
Yeah. We were really worried about his voice because one of his vocal cords was screwed up when they went in to save his life. But he’s healed up almost completely. I look at him and he looks better — the motherfucker. The guy is in good shape. He’s looking good and he sounds good.
I know Stevie wrote a letter to him after his heart attack …
She told the L.A. Times that she did.
Her assistant may have sent something to Kristen [Buckingham], I don’t know. Lindsey was disappointed he didn’t hear anything from the band. They’re still family.
Do you think there’s any chance they’ll bring him back in the next few years?
That’s the $65,000 question. I wish I knew, man. I would love nothing more than to see them have one more shot to do a tour again and maybe put some music out. But this bitterness has run so deep. I really don’t know. I remember saying to both Mick in Hawaii and in an email to Stevie that I hoped there was redemption for Lindsey some day. I think they just realized that I support him and figure I’m basically committed. The thing is, I care about them all. They’re all a big part of my life.
A reunion would make sense. Each tour needs an angle to sell it, especially when there’s never new music. In the past it’s been “Christine is back!” or “Check out this new lineup!” Another tour with that last lineup won’t feel like a big deal to people. “Lindsey’s back!” however …
I absolutely agree. I think right now what you have is a great band with Neil and Mike, but it’s not the same band. You really don’t have the tension that makes that band so great, which is Stevie and Lindsey, ex-lovers and everything, looking each other in the eye and giving you chills from the emotional context. You won’t get that from this band. You’re going to get the Stevie Mac, the people she wants there. And it’s going to be a Mac Lite, no offense. You’re not going to get the full goods.
One thing you will get is the older, bluesy stuff they could bring back. That’s great. I don’t think they did enough of that with Lindsey. I think he needed to do more even though he did a great version of “Oh Well.”
Mike Campbell is one of my favorite guitar players. And I truly love Neil Finn, but it’s a little weird to watch him sing “Second Hand News.”
It’s not right, man. I was in that room for two days with this lineup when they first started. I just knew, “This is not right. This is not right.” I was heartbroken.
Did they audition someone besides Neil Finn?
There was another singer on day one. I can’t think of the name of the band. The guy from Civil Wars, maybe? I’m trying to think. But Neil and Mick had been friends, so that was already set up, and Campbell and Stevie, of course, from the Heartbreakers. But my heart is broken for all of them.
It would be great if you and Lindsey tour next year.
Stranger things have happened, my friend. I’d like to see that happen. What’s mind-blowing is that Lindsey has been so great about his attitude towards this. I know he’s been hurt. At the same time, he’s remained open about going back. He’s tried to reach out. He gets radio silence, but he’s trying. He may not always be as sensitive as they want him to be, but I know that he is open to working with them again.
If his wife had anything to say about it, he’d probably never go back. That’s because of all the pain that’s been caused. At the same time, I know that Lindsey, deep down inside, wants to have a chance to finish that legacy the right way, with him involved. I know he’d be up for it.
It could be 2024 or something.
You never know. If they can all stay alive
Hopefully they’d bring you back, too, in that instance.
I hope so. I like to think that someday that could be a possibility.