No sooner had Variety confirmed that he’d left the band than word came, literally minutes later, that they’d already replaced him — with longtime Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell and Crowded House frontman Neil Finn. The confirmation sealed several days of speculation after Billy Burnette — one of two guitarists hired to replace Buckingham last time he left the band 31 years ago — wrote in a hastily deleted tweet on April 4: “Breaking news: Lindsey Buckingham is out but I’m not in. A little pissed off but I’ll get over it.”
While sources told both Variety and Rolling Stone that Buckingham was fired, a source close to the situation says it’s a matter of semantics that requires some backstory.
Even by the quintet’s standards — and Fleetwood Mac is a group in which every member got divorced (legally or otherwise), four of them from each other, at the height of their popularity in the 1970s — the past few months have been dramatic. Last summer, the group coheadlined with the Eagles the “Classic West” and “Classic East” festivals in Los Angeles and New York, respectively. The dates landed smack in the middle of a tour by Buckingham and Mac keyboardist/singer Christine McVie — who were supporting a new album they’d made together after reports that Mac singer Stevie Nicks no longer wanted to make albums with the band.
Asked by the Los Angeles Times about the nostalgic nature of the “Classic” concerts, Buckingham said, “It doesn’t necessarily speak of the aspiration to present anything in the way that Fleetwood Mac would want to present it on its own terms. I was going to put it less diplomatically, but I stopped myself,” he said.
“Do the undiplomatic version,” McVie said. “What were you going to say?”
“I was going to say, ‘Just close your eyes and take the money,'” Buckingham answered.
In January, the band was honored as MusiCares Person of the Year with a concert at New York’s Radio City Music Hall during Grammy Week. Former President Bill Clinton inducted the group (pictured above) and a number of acts covered their songs, including Miley Cyrus, Keith Urban, Lorde, Alison Krauss, Imagine Dragons, Little Big Town, Zac Brown Band, Jared Leto and Harry Styles, who not only introduced the band but joined them for “The Chain.” The group then played a short set to close out the night — which apparently was Buckingham’s last performance with them for the time being.
Regardless of his comments, Buckingham was enthusiastic onstage during last summer’s concerts and at the MusiCares event.
So was he fired or did he quit? Or, as is often the case with relationships that stretch back nearly 50 years, was it both and neither?
A source close to the situation tells Variety that although the group was on a high note after the MusiCares event, and had announced last spring that it planned to tour this year, Buckingham was reluctant because he wanted to focus on solo material. The other four bandmembers — Nicks, McVie, bassist John McVie and drummer Mick Fleetwood — were eager and ready to tour, and after failing to obtain a commitment from Buckingham, told him they were proceeding with plans to tour without him. Suggestions that the group make an announcement along those lines were not acted upon.
Does that mean he was fired, which is defined by Merriam-Webster as being “dismissed from a job”? Well, yes and no.
The parting is at least outwardly amicable, with the group wishing Buckingham “all the best” in its announcement. Yet a Fleetwood Mac tour is not a financial proposition to be considered lightly. The group’s 2014-2015 tour, which sprawled over 13 months and 120 dates, grossed nearly $200 million, according to Pollstar. And while that represented the classic lineup’s first tour together since 1997, the two-day Classic East and West shows, which saw the group headlining with the Eagles, grossed $16 million and $17 million respectively, according to Pollstar.
Clearly, given the speed of today’s announcement and the fact that Burnette announced five days ago that he was not part of the latest incarnation of the band, today’s news has been in the works for several weeks at least.
And it all adds another chapter to a five-decade-long dance that, after drugs, divorce, disillusion and lots of other dramatic words beginning with “d,” continues to unfold.