If you’re headed to the Fleetwood Mac tour that began just over a week ago, “don’t stop” thinking about the bad vibes that exist between the four long-standing members on stage and exiled Lindsey Buckingham. That may be the effect, anyway, if not the actual intent of the lawsuit that the banished singer/guitarist filed against the rest of the classic lineup Tuesday in L.A. Country Superior Court.
Variety took a look at the filing Thursday, and it’s plenty revealing. Okay, maybe not quite as revealing as “Rumours” was back in the day. But if what Buckingham and his attorneys, Loeb & Loeb, paint is a portrait of a band whose members didn’t do much communicating when they were off-stage, culminating in Buckingham getting the silent treatment before he was axed, allegedly without cause or warning, at the end of January. The four being sued will surely offer an alternate point of view, in or out of court — although probably not immediately, since right now they’re trying to sell tickets for a tour, not a boxing match.
One immediate irony: It appears that the MusiCares dinner that served as a tribute to the group in late January was actually the event that drove a stake into the heart of the band… or at least the version with Buckingham in it.
Here are 21 of the most interesting assertions, or accusations, that arise in the 27-page document:
Buckingham contends he would have made $12-14 million from the tour. He still wants to collect. Buckingham’s suit says preliminary discussions for a tour with Live Nation established that each of the five members would have received $12-14M just from touring in America in the last two months of 2018, before moving onto European and Australian legs next year. He wants that much for the work he says he remains ready and available to do, and also wants a fifth of merchandising and any other money they might bring in without him put into a trust.
Everyone else in the group has forwarded his calls to voice mail, ever since their last performance together on Jan. 26 at the MusiCares benefit. “After 43 years of camaraderie and friendship, not a single member of the Band called Buckingham to break the news to him,” the suit says. “In fact, not a single member of Fleetwood Mac has returned any of Buckingham’s phone calls to provide him with an explanation for his purported expulsion from Fleetwood Mac.”
He’s gotten only two terse, un-explanatory emails from other band members since their final show. The suit says Buckingham “receiv(ed) only two cryptic responses” from bandmates in the days right after MusiCares, when he realized something was up and started to make inquiries. One was from Fleetwood, “explaining that he needed some time to reflect.” The other was from John McVie, who is mentioned as “respond(ing) that he had been instructed not to speak to Buckingham.”
Buckingham gets specific with timelines to suggest other members lied when they publicly stated that his insistence on delaying a tour was the reason for going on without him. In fact, he says he buckled and gave into their demands, then got fired anyway. Buckingham allows that in initial discussions late last year, he did request that the tour kick off in November 2018 so he could release and promote a solo album in the interim. But then, the suit goes on to say, “While Buckingham was initially frustrated by the refusal of the other Partners to accommodate his request,” by Dec. 15 of last year, he “agreed to delay the release of his solo album for a year to permit the Fleetwood Mac tour to commence in August, 2018, as the other partners had requested.”
So where’s the beef, then? Whatever the real reasons Buckingham thinks exist that he got kicked out of the band, they’re not included in the lawsuit. He just contends, repeatedly, that it couldn’t have possibly been the tour schedule rationale. Did they want to make more money having a four-way split instead of dividing things five ways? Did they just stop liking him? The suit doesn’t spell out anything he really suspects, although he did lay it out in a Rolling Stone interview (more on that later).
Buckingham hadn’t completely given up on being a solo artist this year, after all. The suit says Nicks was insistent that they schedule no more than three shows per week in a 2018-19 tour. It was upon learning that that Buckingham decided that he could be “potentially playing solo shows, highlighting Buckingham’s career outside of Fleetwood Mac, at small theaters, on some of the off days between the Fleetwood Mac performances.”
The band’s managers were thinking about announcing the Fleetwood Mac tour — with Buckingham included — at the January MusiCares show. Buckingham told his manager he was open to making that announcement, “but first needed to get the permission of the other Partners for his solo performances on the off days.”
The Lindsey/Stevie part of the plot thickens. “Buckingham was told by his manager that Nicks’ manager had not yet told Nicks about Buckingham’s possible solo shows or asked for Nicks’ approval for Buckingham’s solo shows during the tour.” It may not come as any surprise that Nicks and Buckingham communicated only through their reps in their off time — and what we had here, the suit suggests, was a failure to managerially communicate.
The week after MusiCares was deeply mysterious for Buckingham… then, traumatic. On Jan. 28, two days after the gala tribute, he was told by his manager that the tour they’d been planning and had even come close to announcing was being canceled, with no reason offered.
Before being fired, Buckingham believed the problem had to do with Nicks, not him. When he was told the tour was canceled, a “blindsided” Buckingham “initially believ(ed) that Nicks had decided not to tour with the rest of the Band and that this was the reason the tour had been canceled.” He expressed his desire to tour anyway… although it’s not clear if he meant with or without Nicks.
Less than a week after MusiCares, days after hearing the tour was canceled, he was informed that it was totally bad on — with “contract players” and without him. And the landslide brought him down.
A month after his dismissal (and a month before his replacements were announced), he wrote a plaintive email to Mick Fleetwood, in vain. The Feb. 28 email is attached to the lawsuit as Exhibit A, in its sent-from-an-IPhone form. “Hi Mick,” it begins. “In the month since MusiCares, I’ve tried to speak to both you and Stevie, to no avail. I’ve only gotten radio silence this whole time. (I haven’t tried Chris as I thought she might be feeling a bit fragile.) I even emailed John, who responded that he couldn’t have contact with me… All of this breaks my heart… After forty-three years and the finish line clearly in sight,” he wrote in the email — suggesting that there might have been thoughts of this as a farewell tour, or maybe just intimations of mortality — “it’s hard to escape the conclusion that for the five of us to splinter apart now would be doing the wrong thing. Wrong for the beautiful legacy we’ve built together. Wrong for our legions of loyal fans who would hate to see the final act be a breakup. Wrong for ourselves, and all that we’ve accomplished and shared together… If there is a way to work this through, I believe we must try. I love you all no matter what.”
Thus further shunned, he quickly moved on to a “know your rights” attitude. “Buckingham authorized his attorneys to protect his rights to the proceeds from the tour offer that had been presented by Live Nation to the Partnership, an estimated $12 million to $14 million for each of the Partners.” Said partners “have sought to enrich themselves at Buckingham’s expense,” the document claims.
The lawsuit goes on to read like the world’s greatest skewed Wikipedia entry. During the band’s seminal 1969-74 blues-rock period, before Buckingham and Nicks both joined the band, “not one of Fleetwood Mac’s albums achieved Gold status in the U.S. during this time period.” When it gets to their 1988 best-of: “Notably, ‘Greatest Hits’ did not include any recordings from the pre-Buckingham incarnations of the Band.” (Sometimes you’ve just got to throw Peter Green and Bob Welch under the bus.) “After Buckingham’s departure from Fleetwood Mac in 1987, the Band’s fortunes and popularity declined precipitously.” The lawsuit is not a big fan of the Dave Mason/Billy Burnette/Bekka Bramlett years.
The members of Fleetwood Mac do read reviews… at least when they’re no longer in the band anymore. One passing highlight of the lawsuit is the mention that Fleetwood Mac’s first album after he quit the band in ’87, “Behind the Mask,” received a 1.5 out of 5-star rating in Allmusic. Their critic said “the songs are the least inspired the band ever recorded,” as quoted approvingly in the legal document.
Did you know the “Time” album never entered the top 200, even? Maybe you did. But we didn’t believe it till we looked it up. Sure enough, the album the group recorded when both Buckingham and Nicks were out, leaving McVie as the sole representative of the classic three-person lead team, never even registered as a blip. The suit mentions FM touring as opening act for CSNY as the ultimate diss.
A band member became “seriously ill” on the last tour, and Buckingham says he resisted another member’s suggestion that person should be replaced, playing caretaker. During the 2015 tour, another member “was diagnosed with a serious illness. When another Partner proposed replacing the unwell Partner and continuing the tour, Buckingham insisted that the Band postpone the remaining dates until the other Partner could perform with the Band. This was consistent with Buckingham’s history of taking care of the other Partners in Fleetwood Mac during their times of need and standing up for the legacy…” Neither the sick member nor the one suggested they carry on without that person are named. (In any case, a search on that tour reveals that only a week’s worth of gigs got put off.)
Nicks continued to nix new Fleetwood Mac albums. This is well-known stuff. But not so explicitly before now did Buckingham declare that the sole reason last year’s “Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie” duo album wasn’t a Fleetwood Mac album was not just because Nicks refused to participate, but because the two of them “decided not to record it as a Fleetwood Mac album out of respect for the legacy of the Band.”
Everything has (or used to have) to be unanimous in the group — with one exception. The suit says all five band members had veto power over any decisions, except when it came to synch rights, in which it was left to the songwriter to approve or deny licenses. But evidently that all-for-one rule was never written into any contract, since Buckingham was obviously never allowed veto power over his own dismissal.
The band’s contracts with one another appear to have been mostly oral. “There has never been an overarching band agreement detailing the band members’ rights and obligations,” the suit points out. Elsewhere, it says Buckingham “contends that an oral contract existed between him and Live Nation” that would have given him a 20% share of the band’s tour proceeds.
Isn’t it ironic? The fall tour started later than it would’ve if he hadn’t been ousted, he argues. “In a cruel final twist, having falsely claimed that Buckingham’s request to delay the start of the tour from August till November was the reason for his expulsion, the Band announced that it would delay the start of the Fleetwood Mac tour until October to accommodate the addition of Buckingham’s replacements” — Neil Finn and Mike Campbell, whose membership was revealed April 9.
So why did Buckingham get forced out? Loeb & Loeb evidently decided the lawsuit was not the place to go there, even as they attempt to methodically knock down all the official explanations that Nicks, Fleetwood and the two McVies have offered up in interviews. But Buckingham did offer further theories or clues in an interview published by Rolling Stone Wednesday.
There, he started off by saying that he got a call two days after MusiCares from band manager Irving Azoff saying that Nicks never wanted to be on stage with him again. She was upset that he’d disrespectfully played guitar over some “Rhiannon” entrance music and then later on smirked in apparent mockery over the length of her speech, though he claimed it was part of a running joke among all the band members. Two days later, he checked back in with Azoff and was allegedly told that Nicks had given the other three members a him-or-me ultimatum.
Fans are still mourning the split, but whichever individual or faction of the band ends up having the more convincing or widely accepted account, there’s one thing most of the Fleetwood Mac faithful can agree on: The differences between Buckingham and Nicks have appeared irreconcilable for about 40 years. How they stayed together as long or often as they did may be the mystery that still requires the greater explanation.