When Stevie Nicks performs live, she purrs with the sort of bristling bravura that could open an oyster from a country mile away, in part, because the little thing would be loathed not to catch a glimpse of the alluring siren on stage. With defiant power and inimitable control and grace, she has always etched herself out as a triple threat on stage: a captivating presence, a consummate performer and a vocalist who sweetly soars like the proverbial butterfly and viscerally zips like the figurative stinging bee.
When fading British blues band Fleetwood Mac were in the market for a guitarist and a revival, Lindsay Buckingham was the man they had in mind, but he and Stevie Nicks came as a package deal. Albeit Nicks and Buckingham may have been assimilated into their blues style to create the halfway house of adrenalised pop-rock, Nicks’ original grounding in music was very much in the style of the kooky Californian scene.
When she was initially starting out in music, she joined her first band while attending Arcadia High School in California. Thereafter she moved onto Menlo Atherton High School as a senior and met Lindsey Buckingham at a Young Life social event. He was playing ‘California Dreamin’’ and she provided sweet harmonies. The rest, as they say, is ancient history and Nicks has been extolling heartbreak and exultation from it ever since.
That Californian musical handshake proved to be a befitting one, given the talents she would later go on and attempt to emulate. In her early days in San Francisco, Buckingham and Nicks were an opening act for the likes of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix and the stars of the Bay Area opened her eyes to such an extent that her eyelids may as well have peeled clean off. As she told Rolling Stone: “Flamboyance and attitude from Janis, humbleness and grace from Hendrix, and a little bit of slinky from Grace Slick,” she said. “Those were the three people who I emulated when I was on stage.”
As it happens, fellow numen of the Californian style in the form of David Crosby once also declared Grace Slick and Janis Joplin as the “queens of rock”. Along with Hendrix, these three prominent stars were huge players in the 1967 Summer of Love. It was a summer that ‘White Rabbit’ would soundtrack, and a cultural event that the world is still rattling from, as Bob Dylan’s proclamation that the times were changing and those left behind should not criticise what they can’t understand, was finally realised. That summer counterculture announced that it was not some niche fad, but a subversive force.
However, in order for this to catch on you had to have artists who understood the message and how to propagate it. Hendrix, Joplin and Slick were performers willing to journey to the precipice of the rabbit hole and report their findings. All highly singular and full of measured power, Nicks has rightfully joined their fold as a performer to behold. As producer Ken Calliet once remarked, she is capable of summoning the sort of magic that makes you wonder whether she is possessed while she performs.
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