Friday, March 9, 2018

Sound City, Buckingham Nicks and Me

Granted it was 1973 - the year of Dark Side, Desperado, Tubular Bells, Houses of the Holy, Mind Games, Band on the Run, Aladdin Sane, Goats Head Soup, Brain Salad Surgery, and Billion Dollar Babies - still, Buckingham Nicks was no also ran. The LP, produced and engineered by Keith Olsen, was recorded in 1973 for Polydor Records, right after Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks disbanded Fritz. While the record was a commercial failure for the duo, Mick Fleetwood overheard "Frozen Love" and was impressed enough to invite Lindsey and Stevie to join Fleetwood Mac, which they did later in 1974. The rest is kinda history. The LP's vocal harmonies are impeccable and any acoustic audiophile simply must have it in his collection (or he's no audiophile). One can hear, feel for that matter, the magical interplay between the two, the raw emotion, the sizzling chemistry. Fleetwood Mac were lucky to discover the pair and latch onto them when they did. (All within my purview, btw.) 

Buckingham Nicks captures Stevie's voice at its purest stage. Proof that even back in 1973 her vocals were soaring and ethereal. (Not to mention she was just plain 70s hot!) "Stephanie" is a touching acoustic instrumental, and "Without a Leg to Stand On" features Buckingham doing what he does best, swooning over a lovely melody a la Cat Stevens. "Long Distance Winner" is Stevie with all the expected goosebumps and "Don't Let Me Down Again" is another Lindsey Buckingham ditty like "Monday Morning," which of course translates to awesome (it's the 70s, dude). "Django" is a brief acoustic instrumental before "Races Are Run" saunters in sad and eerie. Fans of Fleetwood Mac's classic lineup are sorely amiss if they've never heard this one.


I grew up in the San Fernando Valley, tract homes and swimming pools, the end result of The Flintstone's Bedrock. My father made $89 a week and based on the very creative financing of the 60s, we could afford our own home, just like everybody else. When that no down payment philosophy went belly up, my family made a move to Florida; it was like we'd always been a day late and a dollar short for the amenities of Paradise. It wasn't a good lesson my parents  learned in FLA - that there is no paradise (missed it once, missed it twice) - but they did indeed learn it.  When we got back to L.A., hard up for work, they took a job as apartment managers on Langdon Avenue in Van Nuys over by Busch Gardens and the brewery.

My mother was a backup singer for artists like Ray Conniff and Burt Bacharach, but she'd burnt a lot of bridges, used up her leverage, and all that was left was Sound City, around the corner from our apartment on Cabrito Road. She'd hang out and busk for work and act like she belonged. It paid off for awhile, but the industry was changing, progressing. Her kind of angelic choral accompaniment was a bit prehistoric; in the flick of a decade my mother had become a dinosaur.

Neve 8028 Mixing Board
Sound City was a recording studio incorporated in 1969 that was previously a showroom and studio for the British company, Vox. For more than forty years the studio was home to no fewer than 100 certified gold and platinum albums. Artists who recorded just down the street from us included Neil Young (omg, After the [fuckin'] Gold Rush; can you imagine?), Elton John (Caribou), Fleetwood Mac (self-titled, Rumours), Tom Petty (Damn the Torpedoes, Wildflowers), Foreigner (Double Vision), Jack's Mannequin, Tears for Fears, Elvis Costello, Nirvana - on and on. Although there is a wonderful documentary on the studio, simply called Sound City (produced by Foo Fighter Dave Grohl), there is little else in the way of a recorded history. As a wide-eyed boy, and knowing from my mother just what went on down the street from our little apartment, I feel like a veritable font of leftover information.

Langdon Avenue was one typical Valley apartment complex after another, a swimming pool in the middle of each. There was a Howard Johnson's at one end, and at the other it met Cabrito. From there it was an industrial complex, an endless caravan of tractor trailers and livery; the noise would wake us at 3am. 

We lived halfway up the block. My mother would get dolled up and we'd stroll over to the Sound City complex. Depended on who was at the desk whether we went in. If it was Jo we'd sit inside and they'd chat and more than once my mother filled in when and if one of the vocalists didn't show. If it was Sheila, we'd go around back through the vestibule and hang by the cars until my mother could strike up a conversation. She didn't like Sheila. Essentially, she'd beg for work in that parking lot. They had enough money, but my mother had to sing. Gone were the Broadway dreams, but she had to sing. 

1974. There was a woman in the parking lot walking in a circle. My mother was leaning on the fender of a car. Every once in a while she'd let me bring my skateboard, and I'd tool around the lot. The studio door was open and from it came the guitar for "Frozen Love" (Buckingham Nicks). I was eleven with all kinds of thoughts that had never occurred to me in the past, and I couldn't stop looking at the girl as she wandered around the cars. Maybe she was 20, waif-like, hot as hell. My mother said, "Hey," and she said, "Hey." That was it. It was up to me. I landed an ollie in front of her, kind of lame, but I landed it. She said, "I sing on that song." She said it kind of disgusted.
A man came to the door. He shouted, "Think you wanta join Fleetwood Mac?"

She looked at me. She said, suddenly grinning, "You think I oughta join Fleetwood Mac?"

I said, "I dunno." I didn't know what Fleetwood Mac was.

She said, "My name's Stevie." She waved at me, kind of silly-like, and ran to the man at the door.