I guess I fell for Christine McVie in September of 1975 … with my wife at my side.
That’s when I saw McVie perform with Fleetwood Mac at the Miami River Music Festival, an outdoor concert near Cincinnati with such a star-filled lineup that Fleetwood Mac got the fifth — fifth — billing on the festival’s poster.
The English-based blues/rock band had been around for a while but this was the year they added two Americans — Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham — and were about to take off. But it was McVie, who died Wednesday at age 79, that won me over that day.
To be sure, it wasn’t Fleetwood Mac that enticed four of us to pile into a Chevy Vega and embark on a road trip from northern Indiana to suburban Cleves, Ohio, a community bordered to the north by the Great Miami River and to the south by the even greater Ohio River.
My memory is foggy for lots of things, but all these years later I remember details from that day, like the bee that wound up in our bottle of wine. It was one of the final outdoor shows of the season, drawing an estimated crowd of 40,000. There were ticketless gate crashers, drug overdoses and reportedly a drowning.
Anyway, we were there mostly because of the Eagles (with their original lineup), Marshall Tucker Band, New Riders of the Purple Sage, Charlie Daniels, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Earl Scruggs and R.E.O. Speedwagon.
But it was Fleetwood Mac, arriving in a helicopter, that left the biggest impression. Their 1972 album “Bare Trees,” which included McVie’s “Spare Me a Little of Your Love,” received critical acclaim but this was a reconfigured band touring in support of their self-titled album released two months earlier. Moving from bluesy rock to more melody-driven pop, they would become one of the world’s most popular bands for at least a couple decades.
Before joining Fleetwood Mac around 1970, McVie played and wrote for the blues band Chicken Shack (check out her cover of “I’d Rather Go Blind”), but her writing shifted to a brighter, soft-rock style. Her songs “Say You Love Me” and “Over My Head” were two of the three singles off the “Fleetwood Mac” album that reached the top 20 — Nicks’ “Rhiannon” was the third. The album itself climbed to No. 1.
I always saw McVie — Christine, not her husband John McVie, the bassist — as the band’s steadying, soulful presence. Mick Fleetwood was a blur of arms and sticks at the drum kit; Nicks, the rock goddess with the husky voice and shawl; and Buckingham, the multi-talented writer, singer and guitarist sharing the front of the stage with Nicks.
McVie, seated at the keyboards and singing in that clear, heartfelt voice, seemed a bit underappreciated, although half of the songs on Fleetwood Mac’s “Greatest Hits” are hers and she had the most songwriting credits on the mega-successful “Rumours” album in 1977.
Among her contributions to the band over the years were “You Make Loving Fun,” “Songbird,” “Don’t Stop,” “Think About Me,” “Everywhere,” “Little Lies” and “Hold Me.”
Throughout the band’s turmoil of fights and intra-band romances, she remained the calming influence. She’s said to have written “Don’t Stop” as a hopeful message to her ex-husband to move ahead without her. And, of course, Bill Clinton would adopt the song for a presidential campaign.
McVie played with Fleetwood Mac and did some solo work until the late ‘90s when she retired to a countryside home in her native England. She came out of retirement in 2014 to tour with Fleetwood Mac as well as collaborate with Buckingham on an album and tour. Later, she toured with Fleetwood Mac after they fired Buckingham.
Fleetwood Mac toured relentlessly for decades, but I never saw them again after that ’75 show. And that was OK. I was content with the lasting image of Christine McVie pausing as her bandmates left the stage that day to urge the crowd to “enjoy the concert.”