40 Years Ago: Stevie Nicks Conquers Her Fears at First Solo Shows
Closing out 1981 with a successful debut solo album, Stevie Nicks had to figure out every musician's natural next step: going on tour. But it wasn’t quite that easy. The mechanics of recording without interfering with Fleetwood Mac had been difficult to navigate.
Between Bella Donna’s July release and the White Winged Dove Tour launching Nov. 28 in Houston, Nicks joined Fleetwood Mac at Chateau d'Herouville: a manor house just outside of Paris painted by Van Gogh, and where Chopin allegedly had an affair with George Sand. The Mac landed at a studio inside the home, preparing to record what would become their 13th studio LP, 1982’s Mirage. And with the small break she had from recording, Nicks went on a very short tour — only 11 nights — in support of her solo record.
One of the most important steps was assembling her band. Some of the musicians she’d recorded with were either touring with other artists or booked up in the studio. Waddy Wachtel, who played guitar on several Bella Donna tracks, joined her, as did bassist Bob Glaub and drummer Russ Kunkel. Lori Perry and Sharon Celani, her backing vocalists, obviously had to be part of the show. After spending half the year on the Hard Promises Tour with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers — including a handful of East Coast shows in September and October where Nicks showed up to sing “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” — Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench also agreed to come out for the White Winged Dove dates. And one of her big gets for the road group was Roy Bittan, pianist for the E Street Band.
“Roy Bittan is just incredible,” Paul Fishkin, who co-founded Modern Records with Nicks and Danny Goldberg in 1980, tells UCR. “He elevates all the material, both Fleetwood Mac and solo, with his presence. [When] you hear that piano, it’s like, oh yeah. I've never really heard him outside of the context of Springsteen.”
Nicks was nervous to headline her own tour, producer Gordon Perry recalls to UCR — actually, he calls her a “nervous wreck.” Perry was along for the whole thing as Lori’s husband. “It wasn't just the first show; it was about the first month or two. She was literally in tears after every show. She couldn’t believe how big the audiences were and how accepting they were. It was much more emotional to her at that point, being without Fleetwood Mac, you know, being on her own and having that kind of acceptance."
Watch Stevie Nicks Perform 'Sara' on the White Wing Tour in 1981
Perry also remembers the fans having a huge impact on Nicks by dressing like her and leaving her presents onstage that she attempted to gather at the end of every show. “She'd be walking around with 14 stuffed animals close to her because she'd want to pick up every flower arrangement and every stuffed animal,” Perry says, noting that the newness of the experience made Nicks feel "like a 10-year-old kid at Disneyland." He adds, "She was a completely different person at that time from the last time she'd been onstage with Fleetwood Mac.”
The nerves that Nicks felt perhaps manifested themselves in this exchange that Wachtel shared with UCR: Nicks was pushing him about not liking her performance, Wachtel recalls. Sensing it, he complimented the show, and when she brushed him off, he gave it to her straight. “I said, ‘Listen, you are a rock and roller, Stevie Nicks. I don’t use that term lightly, and I don’t say that to many people, because there are very few rock and rollers on this planet, but you are a monster on fuckin’ stage. And I’m honored and so happy to play with you, anytime, anywhere.’ The culmination of doing that record, making this beautiful album, and then seeing the way she was going to deliver it onstage was the whole package. It still blows me away today.”
The final show was recorded as an HBO special since there were so few dates and so much demand to see Nicks. “It was a smart thing to just start her solo career with a short tour,” Fishkin says in retrospect. “It was not done on purpose; it was done because she only had a certain window of time. But it turned out to be the smart way to go because we had a less-is-more approach. And those 11 dates became a big deal.”