STEVIE NICKS & THE BIG MAC - Recording Rumours

The first part of an extract from Stevie Nicks: Visions, Dreams & Rumours by Zoë Howe, published in October by Omnibus Press.
         It is 1976 and Fleetwood Mac – Stevie, Christine McVie, her husband John, Lindsey Buckingham and Mick Fleetwood – have gathered to record the follow up to the big sell-selling Fleetwood Mac album of 1975. While the personal relationships within the group are untangling the record that results from these sessions, Rumours, will become one of the best-selling albums in history.

On the first morning of recording, (engineer) Ken Caillat recalls driving to the studio, his beagle Scooter by his side, and observing ominous-looking storm clouds gathering as he approached Sausalito. Portentous indeed. Even Scooter would have to deal with some angst; he was about to meet Stevie’s poodle Ginny, and his high-octane friendliness would unfortunately be as unwelcome to Ginny as it was to Stevie. Meanwhile, roadies bustled past, bringing in the daily haul of booze: Heineken, champagne, Courvoisier and honey for Stevie... Alcohol was generally eschewed by the technicians because it made it difficult for them to do their job, and coffee was the order of the day, or at least it was at first. Cocaine would soon take its place. Stevie would drink and smoke pot. “She had the most time on her hands of anyone and was always looking for the right inspirational input,” writes Caillat in Making Rumours.
         The Record Plant might as well have been chosen by Mick with one person alone in mind, subliminally at least. It had ‘Stevie Nicks’ written all over it. A wooden building nestled at the bottom of a steep hill, it was hard to find, hidden by trees like ‘a secret haven’ as Caillat observed. The only thing identifying it as the right place was the giant number – 2200 – painted on the wall by the front door, which also featured a carved ‘band’ of wooden animals playing instruments in a forest like something out of a fantastical Kit Williams illustration. It was a rabbit warren to get lost in. Hobbit holes sprang to mind. The whole idea of the studio was to make it a ‘getaway’, far from the rest of the San Francisco music industry.
         It would, however, become a prison in its own way. At the same time as the Mac’s sessions there, the Eagles were recording in an adjacent studio – two bands with destinies very much entwined even if they didn’t connect at this point. Some have opined that this claustrophobic period holed up and coked up, ‘trapped’ in this dark, secret studio was one of the key inspirations behind Hotel California, which was recorded right there. The studio door opened out onto the street, glaring sunlight suddenly streaming in every time it was opened, a sudden, rude sense of the outside world rushing into this strange, stuffy twilight world of darkness and music and no small amount of mental torment.
         Weeks would go by without sleep. From time to time, they thought they were all going insane. “They had brought amazing songs to the table,” says Dashut. “But the sound needed to be coherent and arranged. One theory as to why (the album) took so long was that, because of the amount of cocaine being snorted, what felt like their ‘best work’ one day sounded dreadful the next, and everything would start again.”
         Something that would please Stevie, however, would be the fact that the mics they were using had been used previously on Joni Mitchell’s live album Miles Of Aisles. Joni was a heroine in Stevie’s eyes. No one was allowed to approach her room when a Mitchell album had just been released. Stevie would be in there, lying on the floor, blasting the much anticipated record out of her trusty speakers and was not to be disturbed. Any connection to Joni had to be a positive sign. Other than that, good omens were thin on the ground.
         Thankfully, Stevie found somewhere to retreat. In the studio just next door, owned by Sly Stone, there was a dubious-looking ‘pit’ which contained a black velvet bed, surrounded by drapes. The entrance was two giant red furry lips, and Mick Fleetwood for one found it “revolting, bordello-like”. It was often occupied by coke-chopping hangers-on whom nobody seemed to recognise, but Stevie, who had far less to do than the others in the studio, often treated it as a little den, a secret place where she could think and write and get away from the others once the strangers and opportunists had left. And for all its porno chic, Fleetwood himself admits that some of the band “went in there to pray from time to time”.
         It would be in Sly’s pit that “in about five minutes” Stevie conjured the song ‘Dreams’, although it was originally known as ‘Spinners’, simply because it reminded the band of a song by the band of the same name. She’d brought in her Fender Rhodes, set herself up in the darkness of the pit and “it just flowed out”. This slow, sad song detailed tenderly but honestly a kind of dialogue between herself and the subject of the song – clearly Lindsey. The lyrics instantly take us to the heart of the conflict: the desire for freedom and yet the crushing loneliness, remembering what you had and what you lost...’  This may not have only been a dig at Lindsey, however, but a confession of her own turmoil too. But there would be comfort and trust in a kind of spirituality, those intuitive ‘crystal visions’ Stevie is so fond of (although ‘I keep my visions to myself’ perhaps hints that Lindsey had heard one too many of these crystal visions for his liking) and some sense of anticipated healing, if not a resolution, by the end of the song. ‘When the rain washes you clean, you’ll know...’, a reference to a Native American belief that the spirit is set free when the rain falls.
          Having recorded her demo on cassette, Stevie was apprehensive about playing it to the rest of the band; she knew the themes within the song would resonate with them all. As it turned out, “everybody really liked it and we recorded it right away”. Lindsey knew exactly what the song was about, of course, and even later would damn it with faint praise, describing it as “an interesting outcome for something that didn’t have a lot of variety in terms of its chord structures, but tons of variety in terms of its melodic left and right turns…”

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