The Petty Archives

Forward, With Confidence
By Randy Lewis
The Los Angeles Times - August 16, 2001

Stevie Nicks is back with help from two well-known friends.
Should Tom Petty ever hang up his rock 'n' roll shoes, he may have another career as a motivational speaker.

Just ask Stevie Nicks.

It was Petty who pulled the mercurial singer-songwriter out of despair about seven years ago after she emerged from a program to get off prescription antidepressants.

"I had expected to come out of rehab and start writing immediately," says Nicks, a month into a tour that includes stops Saturday at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Irvine and Tuesday and Wednesday at the Universal Amphitheatre.

"If you're in a good humor and you're feeling good, writing is pretty easy," she says. "But my humor was gone. When you've been living in a bowl of depression, you have to come back up to feel good enough to put a song down again."

So even though she had written some of the biggest pop hits of the '70s as a member of Fleetwood Mac, and more with her four solo albums in the '80s, Nicks lost her confidence as the '90s unfolded.

That's when she turned for a little help from the friend who participated in her first post-Mac hit in 1981 with the duet "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around."

Petty came through again, but not the way she expected one night when they had dinner near a home she keeps in Phoenix (she has another in Los Angeles).

"I said, 'When we get back to L.A. would you help me work on something?"' she says. "That's when I weighed 170 pounds and I wasn't having much luck with my writing.

"He sort of took me by the shoulders," she recalls, "and said, 'Listen--first of all, you can lose the weight. It's not that hard, I know how strong you are. Second, you don't need me to help you write songs. This bothers me. You need to know I think you are one of the premier songwriters of our time. So get in your car, go back home, sit down at your piano and write something. That's all it will take for you to be cheered up, and then the weight will go.' "

It worked.

When she got home, she wrote "Love Is," the track that closes her first solo album in seven years, "Trouble in Shangri-La," which came out in May. Soon after that, she composed the title track, which opens the album. With those bookends in place, she says, "I knew I was on my way."

She touches on the struggle to be free of demons--hers have included tobacco and cocaine as well as prescription drugs--in the new "Bombay Sapphires," on which she's joined by R&B sensation Macy Gray, and taps into the same theme with "Sorcerer," a song she wrote at the same time she composed the 1976 Fleetwood Mac standard "Rhiannon."

The time span of old and new songs in "Trouble in Shangri-La" gives it instant accessibility to Nicks' baby boomer fans, while guest spots by Gray, Sheryl Crow and Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines give her a leg up with a new generation of listeners.

Despite her long dry spell--her only release during the '90s was "Street Angel" in 1994--she's held onto a sizable following.

In the early days of her tour, she's been averaging around 11,000 fans per show, according to Gary Bongiovanni, editor of Pollstar, the concert-tracking magazine.

"She's probably been the strongest of the solo elements of Fleetwood Mac," Bongiovanni says. "In today's market conditions, selling an average of 11,000 tickets a show is very good."

Nicks has been joined at several stops by Crow, whose contributions extend well beyond guest singer. She also co-produced five of the album's 13 songs.

"The nicest thing to come out of this whole thing has been my great friendship with Sheryl," Nicks says. "From the second we met I realized that we came from the same musical place. We both love harmony singing, the old folk music and old country music, besides our love for rock 'n' roll.

"I know that when I'm 90 years old and she's 75, we'll still be dear old friends," Nicks says. "I know I've made a friend for life."

That's an especially valuable and rare commodity for Nicks. The lifestyle of a rock 'n' roll star can be great for those in their 20s, 30s or even 40s. But at 53, Nicks confesses that "My life is lonely in a lot of ways."

To devote herself totally to music, she says, "I didn't get married, I didn't have kids. I gave all that up so that I could do this. So I like to be busy and I like to be working."

She'll definitely be working well after her solo tour ends. Already her Fleetwood Mac bandmates Lindsey Buckingham, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie have started rehearsing for another tour next year, this one apparently minus keyboardist-singer-songwriter Christine McVie, who has told the others that she's had enough of the road.

"I think we'll call this tour [quits] in December, and I expect to be walking up that driveway on Jan. 1," she says. "That's very exciting to me as a writer. It's like jumping from one adventure to another, and I like having another adventure waiting."