In rankings of a distinctive image and self-awareness as a rock star, Stevie Nicks skews toward the top of the list. For decades, she’s cultivated a persona of a mystical sorceress in both her music and lyrics as well as stage presence. Hell, her signature song “Rhiannon” is about a Welsh witch based on historical legend.
But if we’re talking monsters, the real Nicks keeps hours more like a vampire, rising about 6 p.m. and returning to sleep just as the sun is rising. It’s a schedule that film director Joe Thomas had to learn to adapt to over the years while working with her on projects.
“I have to totally rearrange my body clock when I’m working with her!” Thomas laughs. “My studio is in the Midwest about 70 miles west of Chicago, so it’s all farmland. Stevie will come out and stay in a villa. She brings a bunch of trunks of peripheral things that make her Stevie, and she just camps out.”
The pair’s latest collaboration though, is unlike a “regular” concert film. Shot over two nights in Indianapolis and Pittsburgh during her 2017 solo tour, Stevie Nicks 24K Gold the Concert (Trafalgar Releasing) will screen in theaters October 21 & 25. Physical and digital soundtrack releases in a variety of formats will follow.
Nicks and Thomas first worked together when Thomas directed the 2004 Fleetwood Mac concert film Live in Boston (which also saw a visit to the studio from Lindsay Buckingham). They’ve done several more projects over the years, becoming friends – even if they might occasionally disagree in the editing room where they spent six weeks poring over the footage for this film.
“We wouldn’t argue, but she’d push back. She’d point out six things you didn’t notice and you’d wonder ‘Who’s the director here?’” Thomas says. “I came to appreciate how aware she was of her own music and how she wants to be represented. I developed an incredible fondness for her, and was taken aback at how cognizant she was about everything.”
The 24K Gold Tour ran for more than 65 dates around the world (including a stop at Houston's Toyota Center on October 29, 2016), and Nicks has called it the “favorite” of her entire career. What made it different is that it wasn’t just a “Stevie Nicks Greatest Hits” jaunt. For while the set list included songs recognizable to even the most casual fan like “Gold Dust Woman,” “Stand Back,” “Edge of Seventeen,” “Landslide,” and of course “Rhiannon,” the majority were deeper cuts and even songs she had never recorded or performed live before. Most were accompanied by Nicks telling a story about its creation or her life at the time.
So audience members get to hear about her salad days working as a waitress and house cleaner while trying to make it as a duo with then-boyfriend Buckingham before playing “If You Were My Love.” Or how an attempt to worm her way into being an honorary Heartbreaker led to the Tom Petty collaboration “Stop Dragging My Heart Around.” Or how “Landslide” was written in the living room of a stranger’s house in between the time the owner and friends left to go to dinner and came back.
Perhaps the best story has to do with her massive hit “Stand Back.” She was in a car with then new (but soon to be ex-) husband Kim Anderson on the way to their honeymoon when Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” came on the radio. Nicks immediately began writing a song in her head with that tune as its base, and told Anderson to turn the car around and get to a recording studio immediately so she could flesh it out.
Later, during the actual recording and feeling a bit guilty, she called Prince to tell him and asked if he’d drop by to work on the session. He came immediately, played several instruments (including the trademark synthesizer intro), wrapped up in about an hour, and then was gone into the night. Driving what Nicks remembers as an (of course) Purple Camaro.
Prince has his dedicated fans, but those who love Stevie Nicks are more legendary for their devotion. So much that Thomas had to scratch an original production plan. “I think we had 18 microphones in the audience to capture some of that crowd noise, but that turned out not to be a great idea,” Thomas says. “Every few seconds, someone would yell ‘I love you, Stevie!’ That’s a great testament to Stevie, but not really conducive to the film!”
Thomas also found an abundance of riches in the 24 cameras he had set up. So many angles and so many different vantage points of Nicks, that he estimates it took him “twice as long” to piece it together.
“The difference between shooting Fleetwood Mac and Stevie solo is that one is a band, so the attention is split. But Stevie has a complete capture of who she is as a solo artist,” he says, noting that even at a running time of over two hours, he still had to leave more than 30 minutes of intro stories on the cutting room floor.
“You gotta draw the line somewhere. It's a trip through her life. Some of the stories were very interesting, but they were kind of stream of consciousness.” Of the previously unrecorded, unperformed, or little-known tunes (which Nicks says reside in her “dark, gothic trunk of lost songs”) included a lost Petty collaboration (“Starshine”) and one about Hurricane Katrina (“New Orleans”).
Thomas says the reason it’s taken so long to see the release is that Nicks was busy with her “other job” in Fleetwood Mac. Their last tour – which saw Buckingham kicked out of the group supposedly at Nicks’ insistence and replaced with Heartbreaker Mike Campbell and Neil Finn of Crowded House – kept getting extended.
“She didn’t want to step on Fleetwood Mac and that’s where she was focused. I probably went to a dozen shows, and that’s what she told me. It’s not that she wasn’t enthused about this movie, but her mind was elsewhere,” he says. “Every time it would be the last show of the tour, I’d show up and she’d be like ‘Oh no, we just added another 14 dates.’”
Her band for the film included longtime collaborator Waddy Wachtel and Carlos Rios (guitars), longtime backing vocalists and posse Sharon Celani and Marilyn Martin, keyboardists Rickey Peterson and Darrell Smith, bassist Al Ortiz, and drummer Drew Hester.
Nevertheless, the admiration that Thomas has for the two time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee (in 1998 with Fleetwood Mac and last year as a solo artist – the first double honor for any woman) has only grown. And he hopes some of those generous and good vibes from Nicks come across in the film.
“She is the most altruistic person I’ve met and always trying to make things better for people around her. She’s been great to everyone from my children and wife to the studio crew,” he offers. “She really cares about the world around us. COVID was going around when we were in the studio editing this. We were very isolated, but we watched the news and it really hurt her. I was a little ashamed of myself. A lot of times, our vision doesn’t go past our own lives or front lawn. Hers goes much farther.”
For information on the October 21 and 25 screenings, visit StevieNicksFilm.com
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