buckOn the plane over to San Francisco on Saturday (I’m over for a week on a business trip), I had the chance to watch the new documentary Sound City, about the Sound City recording studios in Los Angeles. The film was made by drummer Dave Grohl (Nirvana/Foo Fighters) and is excellent throughout. But one part was particularly interesting for me. It focused on the recording of Buckingham Nicks, the album that led to Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joining Fleetwood Mac in the 1970s, starting with Fleetwood Mac (1975) and then Rumours (1977). It’s a great record and like a blueprint for the subsequent Fleetwood Mac releases, though little heard today because for some reason it never made it onto CD. I have an old vinyl copy but can’t play it any more.

A standout track for me is the instrumental “Stephanie”, composed and played by Buckingham – whose distinctive guitar style pervades all the tracks. Buckingham uses his thumb to pick out the bass and lower parts (like the left hand for a pianist) while using the rest of his fingers for patterns, arpeggios and the melody on the upper strings in a highly independent way. And to make this work more effectively he also changes the typical guitar tuning – something he apparently tried to keep secret in his early days so that other guitarists wouldn’t copy him. It sounds so full it’s hard to believe there’s just one player or no overdubs – except for the electric guitar melodies on the record, but these aren’t really needed, this is essentially a solo piece.

“Stephanie” reminds me of the folk-influenced finger-picking guitar style Paul McCartney used on “Blackbird” taken up a few notches, and it’s evident again on the Rumours track “Never Going Back Again”. Although the original is still hard to find, Buckingham has been playing the piece live recently and there are performances available on YouTube. But if you are interested in how it is played, take a look at this fascinating tutorial by Sara Carter. The prospect of a cover version on YouTube is typically something to avoid at all costs, but not in this case – she absolutely nails it here.

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