Christine McVie, Keyboardist and Singer for Fleetwood Mac, Dead at 79

Christine McVie - Credit: Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Christine McVie - Credit: Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Christine McVie, the longtime co-lead vocalist, keyboardist, and songwriter for Fleetwood Mac, died Wednesday, Nov. 30, at the age of 79. A cause of death was not available, but McVie’s family said she died at a hospital “following a short illness.”

The band confirmed McVie’s death in a note shared on social media. “There are no words to describe our sadness at the passing of Christine McVie. She was truly one-of-a-kind, special and talented beyond measure. She was the best musician anyone could have in their band and the best friend anyone could have in their life. We were so lucky to have a life with her. Individually and together, we cherished Christine deeply and are thankful for the amazing memories we have. She will be so very missed.”

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In its statement, McVie’s family said, “She was in the company of her family. We kindly ask that you respect the family’s privacy at this extremely painful time, and we would like everyone to keep Christine in their hearts and remember the life of an incredible human being, and revered musician who was loved universally. RIP Christine McVie.”

In an interview with Rolling Stone back in June, McVie acknowledged that she was in “quite bad health.” She said she was struggling with a “chronic back problem,” though didn’t offer any further details.

McVie joined Fleetwood Mac in 1970. She went on to write (and co-write) some of the band’s most memorable songs, including the Rumours classics “Don’t Stop” and “You Make Loving Fun,” as well as “Hold Me,” “Little Lies,” and “Over My Head.” Though she stuck with the band through tumultuous years, especially during the early Nineties, she left the group after their big 1998 reunion tour. After a lengthy hiatus off the stage and out of the public eye, she returned to Fleetwood Mac in 2014 and was playing with them as recently as 2019.

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Throughout her tenure in Fleetwood Mac, McVie was the calm eye in the middle of the storm that was the rest of the band. “That is apparently true, but I didn’t realize that at the time,” she quipped in an interview with Rolling Stone earlier this year. “Yes, I was supposedly like the Mother Teresa who would hang out with everybody or just try and [keep] everything nice and cool and relaxed. But they were great people; they were great friends.”

McVie was born Christine Anne Perfect on July 12, 1943. Her father was a concert violinist and music professor; her mother a psychic medium and faith healer. Perfect started playing piano as a child, studying classical music until she was a teenager, at which point her interests turned to blues and rock and roll.

She played in a variety of bands during the Sixties, forming the most notable one, Chicken Shack, with Andy Silvester and Stan Webb, in 1968. Chicken Shack released a pair of albums with Perfect — 40 Blue Fingers, Freshly Packed and Ready to Serve and O.K. Ken — and her rendition of Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind” cracked the Top 20 in the U.K. in 1969. Perfect left the group after O.K. Ken and released a self-titled solo record in 1970.

Chicken Shack’s Stan Webb said in a statement to Rolling Stone following McVie’s death, “In 1966 we talked Christine into joining Chicken Shack. She didn’t want to for ages and at that time there weren’t really any female band members on the British blues scene. I think she only joined to shut us up. In 1967 we played at the Star Club Hamburg for 6-7 hours a night! Back in the U.K. we met Mike Vernon of Blue Horizon records; Fleetwood Mac and Chicken Shack used the same studios and it was there that Chris met Peter Green and Fleetwood Mac. The rest is wonderful history. We sowed the seed and from that seed grew this massive talent. I am grateful to have been a part of it. RIP Chris, a legend never dies.”

In 1968, the same year Chicken Shack formed, Perfect married John McVie, Fleetwood Mac’s longtime bassist (Fleetwood Mac and Chicken Shack were also signed to the same label at the time, Blue Horizon). McVie contributed to a handful of Fleetwood Mac’s early albums, including 1968’s Mr. Wonderful and 1970’s Kiln House (she also painted the cover art for the latter). She officially joined the band after Kiln House, helping to fill the vacuum left by the departure of founding guitarist Peter Green.

The early Seventies were a strange time for Fleetwood Mac, with members coming and going across a string of tours and albums that did well enough, but failed to spawn any major hits. Of course, that all changed when Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham joined the band, and Fleetwood Mac released their 1975 self-titled album. McVie contributed numerous songs to the album, including hits like “Over My Head” and “Say You Love Me.”

The world-conquering Rumours followed in 1977, an album packed with hits as big as the internal band drama that inspired them. The year prior, John and Christine got divorced as John struggled with alcoholism. And while the band was on tour, McVie struck up a relationship with Fleetwood Mac’s lighting director, about whom she wrote the Rumours track, “You Make Loving Fun.” To spare John’s feelings, McVie reportedly told him the song was about her dog.

Rumours also contained what would arguably become McVie’s signature song: “Songbird.” It wasn’t her biggest hit for the group, but the ballad was a frequent closer at Fleetwood Mac concerts, especially after McVie rejoined in 2014. Speaking with The Guardian about the song in 2016, McVie explained its sudden, almost otherworldly origins.

“I woke up in the middle of the night and the song just came into my head,” she said. “I got out of bed, played it on the little piano I have in my room, and sang it with no tape recorder. I sang it from beginning to end: everything. I can’t tell you quite how I felt; it was as if I’d been visited — it was a very spiritual thing.”

McVie’s contributions remained key to Fleetwood Mac’s success on 1979’s Tusk, and into the Eighties with 1982’s Mirage. The latter contained “Hold Me,” a Top Five hit McVie co-wrote with Robbie Patton about the end of her relationship with the Beach Boys’ Dennis Wilson. It was also the first Fleetwood Mac song to get a music video, which the band shot in the middle of the summer in the desert outside Palm Springs, California: “I don’t know what possessed us to do that,” McVie recalled with a laugh in 2016. “But we sometimes do crazy things.”

After Mirage, McVie tried embarking on a solo career again with her 1984 self-titled record. Though it included a Top 10 hit in “Got a Hold On Me,” its success was modest, and it would be another 20 years before McVie released another solo LP.

Fleetwood Mac’s next outing, however, would feature some of the biggest songs of McVie’s career. 1987’s Tango In the Night — the last studio album with Fleetwood Mac’s classic lineup — featured two McVie hits, “Everywhere,” and the Top 5 smash “Little Lies,” which McVie co-wrote with her new husband, Eddy Quintela.

After Tango In the Night, Buckingham left Fleetwood Mac, and Nicks followed after 1990’s Behind the Mask (that album featured just one Top 40 tune, McVie’s “Save Me”). McVie stuck around for one more Fleetwood Mac album, 1995’s Time, though the group effectively disbanded after that.

Over the next few years, however, band members (including McVie) continued to work together on various projects, and in 1997 the full classic lineup embarked on a reunion tour. Things appeared ready to continue apace the following year when Fleetwood Mac was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — but McVie decided to leave the band for good.

Over the next 16 years, McVie enjoyed a quiet life in England. As she told Rolling Stone in 2014, she felt compelled to live a “normal, domestic life with roots,” and she spent much of her time fixing up her home and hanging with her dogs. She did record one solo album — 2004’s In the Meantime — though her fear of flying kept her from promoting or touring behind it. She also later admitted that she didn’t think the album was “very good,” joking, “it got buried underneath the pits of Hell, I suppose.”

McVie did, however, keep in touch with her old bandmates and even saw them play live a few times (“It was weird, but it was fantastic at the same time to be a fly on the wall watching them without me”). Then, around 2012 she started to miss it all — the music, the camaraderie — and with the help of her therapist she was able to get over her fear of flying and properly rejoin the group in 2014.

“It was an epiphany because I suddenly knew I wanted to join the band again,” she said at the time. “Obviously, my muscle memory was a bit challenged, but I just thought, ‘I got to go for it. I can’t just sit here in the country rotting away. I have to do something, and something special.’”

With McVie back in the lineup, Fleetwood Mac embarked on a lengthy tour and there were even rumors of a new album, though one never materialized. Instead, Buckingham and McVie partnered for an album of their own, Lindsey Buckingham Christine McVie, which was released in 2017. One year later, however, Fleetwood Mac found itself once again rocked by drama when the group fired Buckingham from the group.

McVie and Fleetwood Mac did one more tour in 2019. She would take the stage for what would turn out to be the last time on Feb. 25, 2020 at the London Palladium for a tribute show to Peter Green.

Mike Campbell, who played guitar in Fleetwood Mac for that 2019 tour, said in a statement Wednesday, “Oh dear…..sweet Christine has left us…..that voice, those eyes, that smile. No one like her in the universe. I remember in rehearsal once after playing ‘I’d Rather Go Blind,’ she looked at me and said, ‘I like playing the blues with you, Mike.’ I’ve never met anyone with such an angelic aura. Always so kind to everyone. We will all miss you so…..no one could ever fill those shoes….”

In the final years of her life, as her health began to flag, McVie stayed busy creatively. In June, she released a new album, the aptly titled Songbird (A Solo Collection), which found her revisiting songs from her two self-titled solo albums, as well as a handful of unreleased songs. Of course a rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s “Songbird” was included as well, which paired McVie’s original vocals with a new string arrangement by composer Vince Mendoza.

In her final interview with Rolling Stone, McVie was asked what advice she might give to herself if she were able to go back to 1976, when Fleetwood Mac was just about to hit really big. For all the drama and tension, however, McVie seemed more than just at ease with how her life had played out.

“To be honest with you, I don’t think I gave myself any advice,” she said. “I think I just kind of got on with what I was doing and thoroughly enjoyed it. Obviously, my best, beautiful days were when we were the Buckingham-Nicks Fleetwood Mac version. That was the best to me.”

A few moments later she added, “I enjoyed the storm… Even though I am quite a peaceful person, I did enjoy that storm. Although it’s said that we fought a lot, we actually did spend a lot of our time laughing.”

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