Singer Stevie Nicks reunites with Fleetwood Mac and her Salt Lake roots.
By Lori Buttars
Where Fleetwood Mac goes, rumors are sure to follow. Take, for example, the one that says the band's singing fairy-rock goddess Stevie Nicks went to school in Salt Lake City.
Well, that one is true.
Though she could not remember the exact name of the school, Nicks declared that "I did, indeed, live and go to school in Salt Lake City -- eighth, ninth and one month of 10th grade. I was absolutely devastated when my dad told me we were moving."
Nicks was calling to talk about the Fleetwood Mac reunion tour, which will stop at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City on Oct. 28, three days before her favorite holiday, Halloween. "Of course, we have to come to Salt Lake," she said in that trademark scruffy voice. And though it is a rock 'n' roll cliche', Nicks sounded like she meant it when she added, "Salt Lake is one of my favorite places to play."
The world came to know Nicks as the whirling songstress whose dramatic lyrics about a Welsh witch named "Rhiannon" helped bring her to the eye of the hurricane that became Fleetwood Mac in the 1970s. Her Utah friends say that her icon status and stage antics can be directly traced to the one month she spent studying at Salt Lake City's Judge Memorial Catholic High School. For the record, NIcks attended eighth and ninth grades at Wasatch Junior High before a bad math grade prompted her parents to send her to Judge. "Because she had gone to a private school, we would get together after school and talk about our different classes," said Karen Thornhill, who remembers Nicks when she went by Stephanie Lynn Nicks and twirled the baton at junior-high football games. "I distinctly remember her waving these capes around, imitating the nuns who taught her classes."
The Nicks family resided in Utah from 1961 to 1964. Thornhill's family lived two blocks away in Olympus Cove hills east of Salt Lake City. Not only were the two girls friends, their families became acquainted because their fathers worked in shipping and transportation. Nicks' father's work as a vice president for Greyhound, president of Armour & Co. and chairman of Lucky Lager Brewing meant that the family moved a lot during Stevie's childhood. Salt Lake City was one of the longer stints in a string of residences. "We had been in Salt Lake long enough for me to get settled and make friends," Nicks said. "I really thought I was going to make it through high school without having to move again, and when we did, it was quite traumatic." She recalled sitting with her friend Karen on the steps of the Nicks family home, crying over the news that her family was going to move. Thornhill, who lives in Salt Lake City and helps operate her family's finance business, has kept in contact with NIcks over the years. Just after the Nickses left Salt Lake for Arcadia, Calif., the two made plans to get together over summer vacation: they have traveled together on numerous occasions since, including a number of Nicks' concert tours. The two share an uncanny likeness -- both are just over 5 feet tall, and both are left-handed. On several occasions, when traveling with Nicks, Thornhill has donned a coat and hat and even signed Stevie Nicks' autograph while acting as a decoy so her rock-star friend could escape through the back door. "I've seen enough to know that I wouldn't want to trade places," Thornhill said. "When we were little, we would go to the mall and spend hours at makeup counter after makeup counter. She was always writing songs and poems and creating things. Life for her hasn't really changed. Her dreams just became reality." Those dreams also had roots in Salt Lake City, where Nicks took informal guitar and dance lessons. "I would have to say that moving from Utah made me take all the guitar lessons and the stuff I'd written on the side and get serious about my music," Nicks said. "I was depressed and hurting, and that's usually the best time for a writer."
The family would move one more time before Nicks got her big break into music. In 1966, just after the family relocated to Atherton, Calif., NIcks met up with a coffee-drinking patron by the name of Lindsey Buckingham at the Big Boy restaurant where she worked. Their friendship led to a romantic as well as professional partnership. Performing as a duo, Buckingham-Nicks, the two landed a contract with Polydor Records.
In the meantime, two Britons, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood, had been making the rounds with their band. Fleetwood hired Buckingham and Nicks, sight unseen, to be a guitarist and vocalist, respectively, in his band. The musical combination sent the group to the top of the charts in 1975. The group became known as the band whose members wore their emotions on their sleeves. Back then, there was much to talk about. John and Christine McVie were divorcing, kissing-collaborators Nicks and Buckingham were breaking up, and Nicks and Mick Fleetwood might have had a fling. It seemed the band provided never-ending fodder for the gossip columnists. "Rumours," the ensuing album, has since become the third-highest-selling record of all time.
It is upon the 20th anniversary of that album that the most popular lineup of Fleetwood Mac is putting differences aside for a new concert tour. Just as the Eagles, another '70s musical powerhouse, did several years ago, the Macs are putting out an album of new and reworked old material and a related concert special for MTV. Not even after the members got together in 1992 to perform "Don't Stop" at President Clinton's inagural festivities could they come in terms on plans for a reunion. "Working together is something we've talked about every year since 'Tango in the Night,' which was an album that we recorded piecemeal with no more than two of us in the same studio at the same time," NIcks said. "The MTV thing gave us something to work around and a reason to do it."
Older, wiser, more business-minded, Nicks said the band members are able to overlook problems that would have sent them into a fighting frenzy in the old days. "You wouldn't believe what a big issue something like what time the plane is going to take off is when you are traveling with seven other people," she said. To counteract that, on this trip, Los Angeles will serve as home base. The band members will perform in Las Vegas and Salt Lake City and return to L.A. every night.
Nicks said she wrote "Sweet Girl," her contribution to the new album, as a commentary on the sacrifices one makes to live the rock 'n' roll life. "It sounds autobiographical, but I wrote it for the whole band," she said. "We've all sacrificed a part of ourselves to be in this band."
Even so, NIcks said she harbors no regrets. She remained single and childless by choice. People from her past, such as Karen Thornhill, have had the opportunity to raise a family, and her brother, Christopher, with his wife and 6-year-old daughter, lives with NIcks in her Phoenix home. "It's not that I don't want to be a wife and mother," she said. "It's that I can't be a half-[expletive] wife, a half-[expletive] songwriter and musician. Music has taken up my whole life, and that's OK. That's what I am and all I can be."
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