‘I don’t know what else I’d do if I didn’t write songs.’ Christine McVie opens up in lost interview

christine mcvie singing
The Fleetwood Mac singer, who died Wednesday at age 79, spoke to music journalist Larry Katz in 1987. The audio interview is now digitized in the Northeastern Library archives. Here, Katz reflects on McVie and her legacy. Christine McVie. AP Photo by: Henning Kaiser

The rock music world lost a legend this week with the passing of Christine McVie.

McVie, an English singer and keyboardist known for her work with the band Fleetwood Mac, died Wednesday after a short illness, according to a statement from her family. She was 79. 

As a member of Fleetwood Mac, McVie helped the band produce some of its greatest hits like “Don’t Stop,” as well as fan favorites like “Songbird.”

But Boston-based music journalist Larry Katz is reluctant to reduce her career down to just one or two songs. He spoke to her in 1987 from her home in Los Angeles in an audio interview that is now digitized at Northeastern University as part of a larger collection of interviews known as the Katz Tapes.

At the time of the interview, Fleetwood Mac had recently released the album “Tango in the Night,” featuring the hit single “Little Lies,” co-written by McVie and her then-husband, Eddy Quintela. She and Katz talked about the band’s reunion after a five-year hiatus and the process of putting the album together with her bandmates amid their tumultuous personal lives.

The Katz Tapes: Interview with Christine McVie, English singer, songwriter, keyboardist and member of band Fleetwood Mac

Looking back now, Katz reflects on McVie’s role as an “irreplaceable” part of the band, and her legacy in the music world. This interview with News@Northeastern has been edited for clarity and length.

You did this interview 35 years ago. What do you remember about it? 

I remember it was a good interview. And, you know, she was pretty serious and forthcoming. It’s a moment-in-time snapshot of Christine McVie 1987; we’re talking about whatever it is that we’re talking about. I think it was a fairly recent Fleetwood Mac record coming out. 

Of course, that band, given all of their interpersonal ups and downs … It’s always interesting to catch up with them and see what the heck was going on with their squabbles.

Was it difficult to speak to members of the band as their work was so deeply entwined with their personal lives?

You know, not so much, mostly because I figured that I wasn’t the first one to have asked them about all this stuff. I realized that I talked to every member of the group, the core five that we’re most familiar with, at one time or another. 

Since their personal relationships were a big part of their story, this was ground that had been well covered by other people. So I just tried to strike the balance between not turning it into a gossip kind of thing and yet not avoiding the topic.

Why do you think Christine McVie gets less attention than Stevie Nicks?

Stevie Nicks had by far the bigger solo career; Stevie Nicks became a solo star on her own. [Recently] she said the initial single she made with Tom Petty was what kind of propelled her solo career, and she suddenly had this existence apart from Fleetwood Mac. 

That was never the case with Christine McVie, who did release a few solo albums. And I think she probably toured solo. So that was one obvious thing, that she didn’t have these huge pop hits on her own. 

But I also think it had to do with her personality, that she was just a quieter, more low-key person. If you saw Fleetwood Mac in concert, Stevie Nicks was dressed in her scarves and floated; she didn’t play an instrument so she was kind of floating around the stage and dancing, whereas Christine was trapped behind the keyboard off to the side. So, it wasn’t like she got up and danced around or anything like that. 

I think it was just her personality, too, that she was more comfortable in that role. But as the obituaries pointed out, she was responsible for quite a lot of the band’s popular songs.

When you look at Fleetwood Mac as a whole, how do her contributions stack up next to her bandmates?

As far as songwriting, you look at it as a three-legged stool. When you take one of those legs away, the whole thing collapses. 

“Collapse” is too strong a word in the case of Fleetwood Mac, as they were all talented. But I think the magic of Fleetwood Mac was that you had Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie, three strong songwriters, three strong personalities, who were very different, and yet complementary. A big part of their appeal was that you’ve got three great songwriters for the price of one, when you bought a Fleetwood Mac record. 

In the old days, if you bought an album by one person, there were like 12 songs on it, and maybe four or five of them are great, and the other ones are good, but not quite as exciting. 

With Fleetwood Mac, if you’ve got four songs each from three great songwriters, you got their four best songs, and it really trimmed down the fat. I think that was what made them such a powerful group.

What impact do you think McVie’s death will have on the music?

I don’t think she’s gonna get a hit; I don’t think one of her songs will come out and it’ll suddenly seem to go up the charts. But I’m sure she’s going to be jumping up the Spotify charts and the iTunes charts and all that stuff, and people are going to be listening to her music again and appreciating it, which is nice. 

That’s something that is the way that it should be, because she never had the career that Stevie Nicks did. But it’s a good opportunity for people to realize how fundamental she was to Fleetwood Mac, and to enjoy her music because she’s got a lot of great songs.

What do you think her legacy will be? How will people remember her?

Through the songs. Not to diminish her value as a singer and a keyboard player. I think the songs are what really stand up. 

People will listen to Fleetwood Mac’s songs and realize just how—not that she was unappreciated—but that she’s just an irreplaceable part of that group. One of the first things I thought of is that Fleetwood Mac is unlikely to ever tour again, even though they kept on putting out these patchwork touring units of the group with one or another member missing. 

But I think without her now and the fact that Lindsey Buckingham is estranged from the other members, this spells, I believe, the end for Fleetwood Mac as a live group. 

What would you say her crowning achievement was as a musician? 

I hate to limit an artist by just saying it’s all about one particular song. To me, that group of those five people, when they had their outsized success, it was this kind of magical combination of personalities that came together and produced this group. 

I already said to you about how it’s like a three-legged stool. But in the case of the group, it’s like five legs there. Because it would seem like if any one of those people was missing, it would have been a different story, and probably not as successful a story.