How to Get Along Like Fleetwood Mac

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine September 2016

These two are married and currently not on speaking terms. These two are getting a divorce but are in really good moods. These two are having an affair. This one’s leaving, this one’s coming back, this guy’s actually a jerk but is an awesome player. This one’s afraid to fly so out of state gigs are out of the question. This one’s got kids with that one. This one’s on drugs and that one drinks too much. This guy’s wife is jealous so he can’t play anymore in the band, and that guy gets into fights at shows. This one wants to go solo, and that one wants to take over the band. The band’s breaking up but is getting back together with a new name without that guy who is now suing to get back in. Then that guy starts a social media war against the band. This guy says there are creative differences and this one says his creativity is being stifled. This guy doesn’t want to do any gigs on Thursdays ever and that one would prefer to be home by 11 p.m. The guitar player thinks the chord progression is too unconventional but the bass player thinks it’s a joy to play and the keyboard player wants to just sit that one out and the sax player can’t find the pocket. The drummer thinks this should be the groove but the singer can’t fit the lyrics into the measures so the horn section says they’ll come up with a riff instead. This one thinks the band doesn’t charge enough money while that one believes a price tag cannot be put on art. This one plays solos way too long and that one turns his head away when it’s his turn to solo so he doesn’t have to do one. This one thinks the horn section should just go away while that one would prefer a full orchestra, backup vocalists and dancers.

That’s Fleetwood Mac. Or basically, every band that ever was.

Getting along in a band requires adapting to one big fat changing dynamic. And it ain’t easy. It’s all fun and games until the bass player threatens to kill the keyboard player with his screwdriver because he’s playing the bass notes that he, the most awesome bass player, should be playing. It looks like everything’s going just fine until the drummer knocks over the guitar player’s guitar because a fan kissed her, on the mouth and everything. When the booking agent is in the audience and prefers the bands adhere to certain rules so he can keep his reputation intact and his 20 percent, and the band breaks a rule or two, all hell can break loose. Yelling and screaming, “Get back on stage now!” doesn’t usually go over well with too many guys, and some booking agents can get punched for doing so. And some guys can get thrown out of bands for saying the retched f word over the mic at a family-friendly event.

These are all true stories. I tell the guys in the band, “I don’t do drama. You’re either in or you’re out.” And that’s how we get along.

Casual listeners in the audience can become fans, who become roadies, who become groupies, who become absolutely obsessed maniacs who are out to ruin marriages, the band dynamic, or even worse – want to be in the band! I blame it all on the romance of music, which some people equate to being in love with the bass player. It can get weird.

But we have to stick together, just like the U.S. women’s gymnastics team. We get along so good that sometimes I have to wonder if that’s actually the problem. Generally, people love drama and chaos, especially on stage. Videos online showcasing band members losing it and knocking things over and beating each other up get way more hits than any of our boring, perfectly crafted and impeccably played performances. Bands like Fleetwood Mac get all the attention.

Millions of men have come and gone in my band (well OK, maybe 20 or so) and I won’t go trashing them all here, but suffice it to say, in or out, we’re all still good friends. We’ve always tried to just have fun, play in key, not overplay one another, and adhere to the following simple rules:

Rule No. 1 – I’m the boss. Somebody has to be the “boss”… the “leader” just like Bruce. Once everybody starts thinking it’s some kind of democracy, it just falls apart.   Suggestions, criticisms, and opportunities for improvement are all given fair consideration, but know this – one person has to have the final say. Escalating situations such as: one song going on forever because two people are dancing and somebody feels bad about ending it; taking hour long breaks because somebody’s entire high school class showed up; starting at 10:30 instead of 9:30 because somebody forgot to set their nap alarm; etc., can occur.

Rule No. 2 – No Drama. Music is about expressing emotion. However, if you’re a cry-baby, you’re not in my band. If you’re a sociopath, you’re not in my band. If you’re late to practice every time, you’re not in my band. If you’re late to a gig, you don’t play the gig. Consider me a tame version of the jazz teacher in that movie “Whiplash.”

Rule No. 3 – If you’re the boss, don’t be the “B” word or the “P” word.

Simple.

You see because there are times, once in a while, and they last maybe a minute or so, where magic actually happens in a band, no matter the in-fighting and BS. We say, “There were moments.” When we’re hanging on A-minor, and the drummer starts a gradual thunderous roll on the toms, and I hold a vocal note and lift it higher, then higher, then the bass line climbs and climbs, then we stop on a dime, well, a snare hit. The drummer throws his stick in the air about 25 feet. The audience and the band looks up to the ceiling or the heavens, it hurls back down, and he catches it, and we end with one final BLOP. The crowd erupts into ferocious applause. We look at each other and smile.

We live for the moments.

If you keep at it, you too, can one day be Fleetwood Mac.

Advertisements