Stevie Nicks: The Reigning Empress of Rock & Roll
by Markos Papadatos
Two-time Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Stevie Nicks chatted with Markos Papadatos about her “24 Karat Gold” concert film, her live album, upcoming single on October 9, and she shared the key to longevity in the music industry.
Track and field legend Wilma Rudolph once said: “Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit. We are all the same in this notion: The potential for greatness lives within each of us.” Stevie Nicks is a woman that embodies this wise quotation.
Nicks has been hailed by this music aficionado as the perennial “Empress of Rock & Roll,” and rightfully so. She possesses one of the most significant and powerful voices in the music business; moreover, she has had an illustrious music career that has spanned well over five decades. She scored six Top 10 albums, eight Grammy nominations for her solo work, and she has sold in excess of 140 million albums collectively as a solo recording artist and as part of the iconic rock group Fleetwood Mac.
She earned several Grammy Awards as a member of the Fleetwood Mac: their seminal studio album Rumours won the Grammy for “Album of the Year” in 1978, and two Fleetwood Mac albums have been inducted into the coveted Grammy Hall of Fame: Rumours in 2003 and Fleetwood Mac in 2016 respectively.
This interview delves into the conscience of Stevie Nicks as a prolific songwriter, vocalist, poet, storyteller, and a song stylist.
Stevie Nicks — 24 Karat Gold The Concert
She will be debuting the “Stevie Nicks 24 Karat Gold The Concert,” via Trafalgar Releasing, on two nights only: October 21 and 25 respectively. This concert film was directed and produced by Joe Thomas. Acclaimed guitar player Waddy Wachtel served as the musical director of this tour. It was filmed in Indianapolis and Pittsburgh back in 2017. It showcases her intimate storytelling and her inspirations for some of her most famous and timeless recordings. “Who knew four years ago when I went out on that tour?” she said. “This was one of the most important records that I’ve ever done, in my opinion. I wanted to go back and pick them up. It had 16 songs that I always planned to re-do because they were all recorded at some point and I wasn’t happy with how they originally came out.”
“The song ‘If You Were My Love’ is a ballad that I love to sing so much, and I wanted to make sure that it was perfect. It’s the song that I love to sing most on stage with the girls,” she said.
“Stevie Nicks 24 Karat Gold The Concert” will be available at select cinemas, drive-ins and exhibition spaces all over the world. With this concert film, Nicks will be taking her fans and listeners on a trip down memory lane, where she will provide them with a virtual front-row seat to her live shows. “The film is coming out soon and this tour that we filmed was the most fun that I’ve ever had on a tour,” she acknowledged. “When you can add six or seven new songs into a setlist, it changes the whole show, and it makes it seem like the whole show was brand new.”
Concert setlist: An eclectic program of classic and newer songs
Her setlist for this concert film includes such fan-favorite songs as “Rhiannon,” “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” “Edge of Seventeen,” “Stand Back,” and “Landslide,” among many other classics from her extensive musical catalog. “Even the older songs that weren’t on the 24 Karat Gold album become new again because of the six or seven new songs that nobody has ever heard before. When I walked off stage, that whole show felt new to me, and when you watch the film, you can really see that,” Nicks said. “It’s always a risk when you add new songs to a show. I hope that my intuition said ‘people will love this because I am going to tell them a good story’ but my risk factor is definitely there, so when we left the stage that very first night, I was able to look at the audience, and I realized that it worked very well. We had all the confidence in the world to continue on from that moment then.”
“When I recorded the 24 Karat Gold album, we were on a break from Fleetwood Mac. I went to Nashville for only two weeks, and then I came home and we finished it at my house. The album was done in five weeks, and I gave it to Warner Bros. and that was it. It was amazing that I actually pulled it off and it actually happened, and I was so excited about it,” she said.
“In May of 2020, I went to Chicago to edit the stories of this film. I was a little scared to do it because of COVID, but we took precautions and went to Chicago. We stayed at a house by a golf course where nobody had been since the previous October and we went to a studio where nobody had been for months and I was there for a month and that’s where we edited the 46 minutes of stories. That’s when I actually started working again,” she recalled.
“Getting this film all done was not easy especially since you couldn’t get in your car and go to a studio. Everything that we have been doing was done pretty much from home except for the short trip to Chicago. I actually am being creative now, and I am really happy about that.”
Chrissie Hynde and The Pretenders served as her opening act for the majority of the “24 Karat Gold Tour.” “It was so fun to be o the road with Chrissie Hynde. She and I became really good friends, and Chrissie does not like everybody. She’s a badass chick!”
In addition, Nicks will be releasing a two-CD and digital edition on October 30 via BMG, and it will be available exclusively at Target. It will feature live versions of 17 of her greatest hits. “I am super careful and I refuse to get COVID because if I get this virus, I will never sing again. I am absolutely sure of that because you get this cough that never goes away and your lungs get compromised so you won’t be able to sing a whole show anymore. I am determined above all else that I will never catch this thing. The way I am treating it is still super careful,” she said.
Music and Songwriting Inspirations
She shared that “everything” inspires her music and songwriting. “A movie can inspire you to write a formal poem, and for me, that’s all I need. Also, meeting somebody and running into something that you haven’t seen in a long time and talking about something that happened a long time ago can also inspire you. Reading something in a book, just one sentence can inspire you.”
And “if you are a songwriter, the reason that you continue to be a songwriter, is because you are continually inspired just by the world around you and your inspiration never really runs out. You don’t have to continually be having love affairs to continually write songs. You have all your memories of your love affairs and you can bring them all in with one snap of your fingers. You can bring everything back and you can add things that are happening to you in the present and come up with new things continually. I’m sure you love to write because you are an interviewer and I love to write because I’m a songwriter. If you love to write, you are always looking for something cool to write about so you are open to the world,” she elaborated.
“When I write, I gather all my poetry together. When I am getting ready to write songs and I am getting ready to go to the piano, then I am going to go through my last 10 journals. I am going to look to the left side of the page and I am going to pick out any poems that are pretty much done. I will type them up and then I will put them all in a book, and then I will go to the piano. I don’t bring the musical part in unless I actually have a real reason, only then I will make a record.”
Digital age and social media
On being an artist in the digital age, Nicks said, “It’s the world that we live in. Even though I don’t have a computer and I have an iPhone that is not plugged in, it’s just a camera, which I love. I don’t go on social media and I only use my website for really important things such as September 11, 2001, Hurricane Katrina and the Coronavirus. If I went on social media and I became a member of that whole club, it would change everything I do. It would change the way that I write and it would change the way that I deal with the world. Social media is just not my world, I like my world.” And that world “is old-fashioned, and I would like to keep it that way. I think people are desperately grasping to go back to the old ways.”
An iconic rock singer-songwriter, Nicks opened up about some of her career-defining moments. “In the beginning, in 1968, as part of Fritz, we opened for every big band because we lived in San Francisco. We opened for Janis Joplin several times, Jimi Hendrix for 75,000 people, and we opened for Buffalo Springfield, Chicago, and Santana. The perk of being the eighth person on a bill is that you get to stand on stage and watch all the other bands,” she exlained. “I got to sit on the side of the stage, somewhere in the shadows, and I got to watch Janis Joplin and I did the same thing for Jimi Hendrix. Janis could just hold that audience in her hands and she was pretty hardcore and a badass. I got a lot of little moments from her. Jimi Hendrix was very humble and super graceful, he was just magical and you just wanted some of that Jimi Hendrix magic. Also, Grace Slick was beautiful, she had that voice, and was just awesome. She would just open her mouth and out came this effortless, massive voice. I was able to take a few little things from Grace Slick. These moments in the first three years that I was in a rock band were super important to me because it formed who I was on stage. Then again, there was Joni Mitchell and Jackson Browne, who inspired me how to write songs and how to phrase my poetry. I also loved Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. As a songwriter, these are the people that really touched my heart,” she added.
‘Show Them The Way’
Nicks also spoke about her forthcoming single “Show Them The Way,” which was released on October 9. This song was inspired by a dream that she had one night in 2008, at the time of the Democratic primaries, where Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were fighting over who would become the presidential candidate that year.
She started watching documentaries that pertained to the fight for the civil rights movement. It involved the dreams of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Bobby Kennedy, and John Lewis. As a result, she was immersed and hypnotized.
“It was written in 2008 about all those amazing documentaries I was watching during that two-month period when I was back in Chicago editing another music film. I wrote it and I made it into a song from the prose, and then I made a little piano demo of it and I just put it away,” she said. “While it was too complicated to come out in 2010 with the In Your Dreams album, it was supposed to come out now,” she said. “I am super glad that the gods were with me on that one. I hope that people understand what this is. This poem that I made into this song is a prayer.”
This dream was a cinematic story with a beginning, a middle and an end. She started writing the story the moment that her eyes opened. “I feel that this dream was so real,” she admitted. “In this dream, I saw Martin Luther King Jr. took my arm and walked me down the hallway into this big room where the Kennedys were and all these people. They were all there and I could so feel it! While dreams are ridiculous in their own way, this dream stayed with me long enough for me to get up and grab some paper and a pencil to write it down in prose, and then be able to actually write it into a poem, and then put it into music. Then, I just put it away, and just let it stay in a Gothic trunk of lost songs until now. I never recorded it until now. It was meant to be!”
However, “This is a bipartisan work. It’s a song and a poem that is meant to bring people together,” she underscored. “This is a prayer for people that are freaked out about the world today about politics, the virus, and everything. There are two versions that are being released together: an acoustic version, which was the first one that I did, and a rock and roll version, which will blow your mind and it make you dance around your house.”
She expressed her love for reading and writing poetry. “I love to stand up and read poetry to people. When you write poetry, you try to create that world for somebody else, when you are reading it. I’ve read this poem so many times now that I am almost able to look away from the words, and I almost have it memorized now. I almost compare that to being a ballet dancer,” she said. “If you are a ballerina, you have to practice, practice, and practice until you are absolutely sure that when you take that leap on stage that you are going to land in the arms of the person that is catching you. Only then, when you get to that point, you can really perform as a ballerina because you are not worried about making a mistake, you know it so well and you are so ready and you are so rehearsed that you can walk on stage and really perform…”
On the title of the current chapter of her life, she responded, “Show Them The Way.” That is it. That is our prayer!”
Rock & Roll Hall of Fame history
Last year, Nicks made music history because she was the first woman inducted into the prestigious Rock & Roll Hall of Fame twice. “It’s a big honor and an unexpected one,” she admitted. “It did change the numbers a little bit: one woman who has gone in twice, and 22 men who have gone in twice. I think that says something for the power of women and I hope that it will impact the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and they will induct a few more women into the Hall of Fame because there should be more women. That night when I got inducted, I think I spoke too long. When I run into The Cure, I will totally apologize to them for talking so much in my speech. I didn’t know much about them but I had so much fun watching The Cure on stage and I started listening to their music. I really enjoyed their stage performance, so not only will I apologize for taking up their extra 10 minutes but I will also tell them that I am now listening to their music,” she said.
Key to Longevity in the Music Business
On the key to longevity in the music industry, Nicks shared, “Even if your music doesn’t remain incredibly current, you remain current. I listen to current music and all the current artists on radio. I make mixtapes and they are all in it. I would have a Joni Mitchell song and a song from Haim. Right now, I’ve been listening to Crosby, Stills & Nash since their music is very comforting to me. I am also listening to Harry Styles these days. I think his Fine Line album is one of the best albums of all time. He was ready to go into rehearsal before this pandemic started. It’s okay though because Fine Line is such a ‘fine’ album,” she said with a sweet laugh.
Advice for Aspiring Musicians
For young and aspiring musicians, Nicks encouraged them to persevere. “Don’t give up. I never gave up,” she said, prior to noting that her mother inspired her to go to college, and that experience helped turn Nicks into an independent woman. “That’s who I am and that’s who Christine McVie is, and that’s the promise her and I made together in the first six months that we both joined Fleetwood Mac.” she said. “I told Christine that we will never stand in a room of famous guitar players who will not treat us right. We will just get up say ‘this party is over,’ and we will walk out!”
Message for Loyal Fans
For her dedicated and longtime fans, she remarked about her three upcoming musical projects, “I hope that I am able to throw out these three things right now at a time when everybody can really use some new material, especially new important things. This concert film is about as close as to going to to a real live concert as you are going to get for a while. The venue, PPG Paints Arena, where the concert film was shot in Pittsburgh was huge, it reminded me of a mini Wembley Stadium. I knew it was going to be a great audience before we even got there. It was a courageous audience, so of course, thank you God for giving me that outrageous audience since that just makes you 100 percent better on stage. I get a lot of magic from the cosmos, I always have, and I am always really appreciative of it,” she elaborated.
Success in the Eyes of Stevie Nicks
Regarding her definition of the word success, Nicks said, “Being able to still book a year tour is pretty much the meaning of success because that means that you are still getting to take your work to the people around the world. If you are not ‘successful,’ then you are not going to be able to do that as well. For me, all those years that we put in the beginning, to create what we have now, is fantastic because it allows us, just like the ballerina, to be able to do new things and write new music such as ‘Show Them The Way.’ How happy am I to have this right now and hopefully, the next time that I go on the road, once this virus is under control, I will be able to play this new song on stage and take this song all over the world. That is really exciting because who knew that this would all happen the way that it has happened,” she exclaimed. “I can’t wait until I can go into rehearsal and put the song ‘Show Them The Way’ into rotation. My girl singers did such amazing singing on it that I am so proud of them. Wait until you hear it. This song is right up there with ‘Edge of Seventeen’ and ‘Stand Back.’ This song is as strong as any of those songs,” she added.
Overall, her highly-anticipated concert film, Stevie Nicks — 24 Karat Gold The Concert, her live album, as well as her soon-to-be-released single “Show Them The Way” are a must for all fans of Stevie Nicks, Fleetwood Mac, rock music, as well as for anybody that appreciates good, quality music. Her life story and music career are an inspiration for us all. Stevie Nicks is a woman that has found the means to go beyond the ordinary, and she has expanded and redefined rock & roll and contemporary storytelling; moreover, she has molded the musical landscape into what it is today. Long live, the reigning “Empress of Rock & Roll.”