What makes Stevie Nicks “The Queen of Rock and Roll”? For more than 40 years, singer-songwriter Stevie Nicks has captivated audiences around the world with her unforgettable music. Nicks has the distinction of being one of the most prolific songwriters of her generation, which has paved the way for other female singer-songwriters to excel in a male-dominated industry that often dismissed their ambition to be serious performing artists. She has influenced the work of countless other artists and musicians, such as Tori Amos, Vanessa Carlton, Sheryl Crow, Dixie Chicks, Courtney Love, Maroon 5, Sarah McLachlan, and Smashing Pumpkins.
As a member of the legendary band Fleetwood Mac and as a successful solo artist, Nicks has sold more than 150 million albums worldwide. She has earned five Grammy Award nominations for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance and one nomination with Fleetwood Mac for Best Album, which the band won in 1978 for Rumours. Nicks was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with Fleetwood Mac in 1998.
Stephanie Lynn Nicks was born to Jess and Barbara Nicks in Phoenix, Arizona on May 26, 1948. Nicks’ nickname became “Stevie” after she had trouble pronouncing Stephanie as a young child. From an early age, Nicks recognized that she wanted to be a performer.
“I danced around like Isadora Duncan at four years old, and my parents said, ‘What are we gonna do?” I’d pay my brother 50 cents a week just to dance with me just because I loved to dance so much. But, see, I didn’t want to go to ballet school every day and study and kill myself either because I knew I couldn’t bluff my way through, say Russian ballet, so I had to figure out another way to do something wonderful without working at it. So as a real little girl, I started singing along with the Beach Boys, learning all the words, working out my routine, sort of. And that’s not easy to do when the mirror starts at right where your chest starts, and you’re trying to work out the whole stage show. But that’s what I did.”
Because of her father’s frequent job promotions, the family often relocated to different cities. Nicks spent her early years in Phoenix, Arizona; a year in Albuquerque, New Mexico; five years in El Paso, Texas; and two years in Salt Lake City, Utah (where she attended junior high school in the Wasatch school district).
On Nicks’ 16th birthday, Jess and Barbara Nicks presented their daughter with a Goya guitar, with which Nicks wrote her first song “I’ve Loved and I’ve Lost.” Nicks took guitar lessons for about a month. When Nicks was a teenager, the family moved west to the California suburbs; first in Arcadia, where she attended Arcadia High School and become active in a singing group called The Changing Times, a four-member folk rock group fashioned after The Mama & The Papas.
In 1966, The Nicks’ relocated to Palo Alto, where Stevie attended Menlo-Atherton High School. It was at a church social that she met guitarist Lindsey Buckingham.
“I went to a kind of church meeting that nobody really went to for church. Everybody went to get out of the house on Wednesday night, and it was fun. Even I went, and I didn’t go anywhere. Lindsey walked into the room and sat down and started playing a song that I just happened to know every word and harmony perfect, ‘California Dreaming.’ And I thought he was absolutely stunning, so I kind of casually maneuvered my way over. He was somewhat, I guess, ever-so-slightly impressed, not to let me know it. But he did sing another song with me, which made me know he did like it.”
After graduating from Menlo-Atherton High School, the Nicks family relocated again, this time to Chicago. But Nicks decided to stay in the Bay Area, where a vibrant music scene had emerged. Nicks attended San Jose State College (University) during this time.
At the age of 18, Nicks tentatively signed a five-year recording contract with 20th Century Fox to record a country album. But Buckingham persuaded Nicks to join the psychedelic rock band Fritz ( Fritz Rabyne Memorial Band) instead. Nicks agreed and had her father Jess work with 20th Century Fox to release her from the contract. With Nicks and Buckingham on board, Fritz opened for headlining acts Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Santana, among others, in the vibrant San Francisco Bay Area music scene. But creative differences led the group to break up.
In 1971, Buckingham and Nicks, now a couple, relocated to Los Angeles to began their professional musical career as the duo Buckingham Nicks. But financial setbacks often led them to travel back and forth between their new life in Los Angeles and family in the San Francisco Bay Area, who still provided financial support for the fledgling duo. In 1972, the duo recorded demos for its first album with inheritance money that Buckingham had received.
“It was a goodly amount of money, especially then, and especially for two people who had no money. Lindsey bought an Ampex 4-track with it. He is very brilliant, and I can’t even plug in the stereo. His dad let us have this tiny little room in his coffee plant. All the workers would leave around 7:00, and we’d get there at 7:30 and leave at 6:00 in the morning just before they’d come in. It was this big, huge building. It was scary, and we’d lock ourselves in, just me and Lindsey and the Ampex, everything we owned on the floor in this tiny room, and just sing and play and record. We did seven songs, and it took us a year. They were really good, and when they were finished, we got in Lindsey’s car and drove to L.A., where every record company in the world passed on us. We were devastated, but we still knew we were good.”
Buckingham and Nicks’ fortunes changed when Polydor Records agreed to sign the duo. In 1973, Buckingham and Nicks released a self-titled debut album and toured the country to promote it. Although the album was a commercial failure, their music reached the ear of Mick Fleetwood, who had been visiting Buckingham Nicks producer Keith Olsen at Sound City Studios, where the duo had recorded the album. Providing a sample of the studio’s capabilities, Olsen played the song “Frozen Love” from Buckingham Nicks. Impressed with Buckingham’s fine guitar work, Fleetwood expressed interest in him joining the band. Ironically, Buckingham was initially ambivalent about Fleetwood’s offer. By 1974, he and Nicks had already begun work on their second solo album, recording tracks again at Sound City Studios. After listening to all of Fleetwood Mac’s previous albums, Nicks convinced Buckingham that the two could add something to the band’s existing sound.
Though Fleetwood was only interested in a guitarist at the time, Buckingham agreed to join the band only if Nicks joined, as well.
On New Year’s Eve 1974, Nicks and Buckingham joined Fleetwood Mac and helped propel the band to super stardom with the commercial success of albums Fleetwood Mac (1975), Rumours (1977), and Tusk (1979). Nicks’ songs “Rhiannon,” “Dreams,” and “Sara” became radio staples. The band’s crowning achievement Rumours earned a Grammy Award for Best Album in 1978. The band released highlights of their riveting concert performances in Fleetwood Mac Live (1980).
Launching solo career
In 1981, Nicks launched an ambitious solo career, which produced a string of platinum albums, including Bella Donna (1981), The Wild Heart (1983), and Rock a Little (1985). Each album produced hit singles, such as “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” (with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers), “Leather and Lace” (with Don Henley), “Stand Back,” and “Talk to Me.” She also contributed several unused studio tracks to movie soundtrack and other artists’ projects during this period. These included “Blue Lamp” (Heavy Metal, 1981); “If You Ever Did Believe,” covered by Louise Goffin (Louise Goffin, 1981); “Sleeping Angel” (Fast Times at Ridgemont High, 1982); “Violet and Blue” (Against All Odds, 1984); “Sorcerer,” covered by Marilyn Martin (Streets of Fire, 1984); and “Battle of the Dragon” (American Anthem, 1986).
Nicks’ burgeoning solo career caused tension within the band, but she remained loyal to Fleetwood Mac, writing new songs and touring for Mirage (1982). The majestic “Gypsy” and the Buckingham Nicks-era “That’s Alright” were highlights from these sessions. But the strain of maintaining both projects ultimately took a toll on Nicks, which escalated her drug use. By 1986, Nicks checked into the Betty Ford Center to treat an addiction to cocaine. Following treatment, she returned to Fleetwood Mac, recording new songs “Seven Wonders,” “Welcome to the Room…Sara,” and “When I See You Again” for Tango in the Night (1987). Troubled by his strained relationship with Nicks, Buckingham left the band after the release of Tango in the Night to focus on his solo career. Warner Bros. marked the transition with the release of Greatest Hits (1988).
In 1989, Nicks released her first concept album, which was inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Driven by keyboard arrangements, The Other Side of the Mirror (1989) was a sonic departure from the signature rock sound that characterized her earlier solo work. The album spawned the single “Rooms on Fire,” a number one song on the US Album Rock chart and a Top 20 hit in Europe. Modern Records heavily promoted the album overseas, which resulted in Nicks touring Europe for the first time as a solo artist.
During the ‘90s, Nicks continued to perform as a solo artist and with Fleetwood Mac, despite a series of personal setbacks. For Fleetwood Mac’s Behind the Mask (1990), she contributed the uptempo, blues-rock-inspired “Love Is Dangerous” and “Freedom,” the whimsical “Affairs of the Heart,” and the acoustic ballad “The Second Time.” With new members Billy Burnette and Rick Vito in tow, the band embarked on a world tour to support the release.
Retrospectives: Timespace, The Chain, The Dance, Enchanted
In preparation for her first retrospective Timespace: The Best of Stevie Nicks (1991), Nicks wanted to include Rumours-era b-side song “Silver Springs.” But Mick Fleetwood, on behalf of Warner Bros. Records, had plans to include the rare song on Fleetwood Mac’s retrospective 25 Years: The Chain (1992). Despite Nicks’ pleas to include “Silver Springs” on Timespace, Fleetwood refused to release the recording to her. Hurt by Fleetwood’s decision, Nicks left the band to focus on her solo career. Before releasing her fifth solo album Street Angel (1994), Nicks sought treatment to overcome a debilitating, eight-year addiction to prescription medication, which a doctor had unnecessarily prescribed for her.
In 1997, the classic 1975 lineup reunited for the live album The Dance. Rejuvenated by The Dance project, Nicks released her first solo career retrospective, the three-disc Enchanted Works of Stevie Nicks (1998). In the same year, she collaborated with Sheryl Crow, recording the songs “Crystal” and “If You Ever Did Believe” for the Practical Magic motion picture soundtrack.
Resuming solo work, Fleetwood Mac
At the millennium, Nicks began recording her sixth solo album Trouble in Shangri-La (2001). With guest vocals from Sheryl Crow, Macy Gray, Natalie Maines, and Sarah McLachlan, the album featured a diverse collection of songs. It spawned the singles “Every Day,” “Planets of the Universe,” and “Sorcerer,” all moderate hits on Billboard Magazine’s Adult Contemporary chart.
In 2003, Nicks recorded 10 songs for Fleetwood Mac’s next recording Say You Will, which included her singles “Say You Will” and “Running Through the Garden.”
In 2006, she recorded live renditions of her classic songs with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. Two songs from this collaboration (“Landslide” and “Edge of Seventeen”) appeared on her third retrospective Crystal Visions: The Very Best of Stevie Nicks (2007). Nicks recorded Live in Chicago: The Soundstage Sessions (2009) before a live studio audience. She continued to perform in concert with Rod Stewart and later with Fleetwood Mac.
In 2010, Nicks released her seventh solo album, the highly-acclaimed In Your Dreams. The singles “Secret Love,” “Moonlight (A Vampire’s Dream”), and “For What It’s Worth” helped promote the album. Album producer Dave Stewart captured these recording sessions in the documentary In Your Dreams: Stevie Nicks, which premiered at national film festivals, such as the Mill Valley Film Festival on October 12, 2012.
Today, Stevie Nicks continues to perform with Fleetwood Mac. On April 4, 2013, the band embarked on a North American arena tour in Columbus, Ohio. Nicks continues to support many charitable causes and to visit recovering soldiers at military hospitals in Washington, D.C.
On April 30, 2013, Fleetwood Mac released Extended Play, a four-song, digital release. Nicks contributed the Buckingham Nicks-era song “Without You” and provided backup vocals on two of the other three songs.