Christine McVie was born Christine Anne Perfect on July 12, 1943, in the Lake District of England to Cyril Perfect, a classical violinist and college music professor and Beatrice (Reece) Perfect, a psychic.
Her father encouraged her to start taking classical piano lessons when she was 11. Her focus changed radically four years later when she came across some sheet music for Fats Domino songs. At that moment “It was goodbye Chopin.”
“I started playing the boogie bass. I got hooked on the blues. And the songs I write use that left hand. It’s rooted in the blues.”
Christine Perfect studied sculpture at Birmingham Art College and for a while considered becoming an art teacher. At the same time, she briefly played in a duo and had a personal relationship with Welsh guitarist Spencer Davis, who, along with a teenage Steve Winwood, would later find fame in the Spencer Davis Group. She also helped form a band named Shades of Blue with several future members of Chicken Shack.
After graduating from college in 1966, she moved to London and became a window dresser for a department store.
As the sixties started swinging, she started performing with bands, eventually falling in with blues group Chicken Shack. Later, she was asked to join Chicken Shack as keyboardist and sometime singer. She wrote two songs for the band’s debut album, “40 Blue Fingers, Freshly Packed and Ready to Serve.” Even though her style never totally fitted with the group’s more raucous sound, the subtler songs she fronted ended up finding the greatest commercial success. She scored a No. 14 British hit with Chicken Shack on a cover of Etta James’s “I’d Rather Go Blind” for which she sang lead and Melody Maker readers voted her best female vocalist in both 1969 and 70. While Chicken Shack supported Fleetwood Mac on tour, Christine Perfect fell in love with Mac’s bassist John McVie and they married in 1968. Christine McVie served in Fleetwood Mac during several incarnations that dated to 1971, but she also had uncredited roles playing keyboards and singing backup as far back as the band’s second album, released in 1968.
Christine left Chicken Shack in 1969 , a year after marrying John McVie, the bassist in Fleetwood Mac, which had been formed in 1967 by guitarist Peter Green and had already recorded three albums. That same year, she recorded a solo album, “The Legendary Christine Perfect Album,” which she later described to Rolling Stone as “so wimpy.”
“I just hate to listen to it,” she said, while also finding out that she did not like solo life.
In 1970, Fleetwood Mac was fading as a UK blues-rock force, losing its leader Peter Green through an LSD-induced decline, when the remaining members decamped to a country house to try to find a new direction.
Christine McVie had already given up her own career as a singer and keyboardist after realizing she would hardly see her husband, Fleetwood Mac bassist John McVie, if they were in different bands.
But a few days before they were due to set out on a US tour, Fleetwood Mac “suddenly felt they needed another instrument to fill out the sound”, she later explained.
“And there I was – sitting around doing next to nothing, and knowing all the songs back to front because I’d been watching them rehearsing for the past three months.”
So drummer Mick Fleetwood said the band asked her to join the tour as they were “walking out of the door”.
“I didn’t think twice when they asked me,” she said. “I just said, ‘Yes please.'”
That was the start of Christine McVie’s official role in Fleetwood Mac, and the beginning of the new direction the band were looking for.
Christine McVie added three great qualities to Fleetwood Mac.
A sturdy instrumentalist, McVie played a range of keyboards, often moving between the soulful sound of a Hammond B3 organ and the formality of a Yamaha grand piano.
Her vocals communicated just as nuanced a range of feeling. Her soulful contralto did sound both maternally wise and sexually alive. Her tawny tone had the heady effect of a bourbon with a rich bouquet and a smooth finish. It later found a graceful place in harmony with the voices of Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, together forming a signature ultimate Fleetwood Mac sound.
“It was that chemistry,” she once said in an interview. “The two of them just chirped into the perfect three-way harmony. I just remember thinking, ‘This is it!’”
Lastly Christine McVie’s songwriting skills helped catapult the band into the stratosphere of rock and roll accomplishment, with simple constructed, catchy pop tunes with magnificent hooks, leading to a brilliant catalog of hit songs.
Initially, she had found the invitation to join her favorite band “a nerve-racking experience,” she told Rolling Stone. But she rose to the occasion by writing two of the catchiest songs on her first official release with the band, “Future Games” (1971). That release found the band leaning away from British blues and toward progressive Southern Californian folk-rock, aided by the addition of an American band member, singer, songwriter and guitarist Bob Welch.
The band fine-tuned that sound on its 1972 set “Bare Trees,” which sold better and featured one of Ms. McVie’s most soulful songs, “Spare Me a Little of Your Love.” The band’s 1973 release, “Penguin,” went gold. The next collection, “Heroes Are Hard to Find,” was the band’s first to crack the U.S. Top 40. But it was only after the departure of Welch and the hiring of the romantically involved team of Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, for the 1975 album simply called “Fleetwood Mac,” that the band began to show its full commercial brilliance.
Christine McVie‘s song “Over My Head” began the groundswell by entering Billboard’s Top 20; her “Say You Love Me,” reached No. 11. After a slow buildup, the “Fleetwood Mac” album eventually hit Billboard’s summit.
And then just over a year and a half later, the band released “Rumours,” which global outsize interest not only for its four Top 10 hits (two of them written by Ms. McVie) but also for several highly dramatic behind-the-scenes events within the band’s ranks, which they aired out in the lyrics and openly discussed in the press.
During the creation of the album, the two couples in the band — Nicks and Buckingham and the married McVies — broke up. McVie’s song “You Make Loving Fun” celebrated an affair she was then having with the band’s lighting director. (At first, she told McVie that the song was about her dog.) The optimistic-sounding “Don’t Stop” was intended to point her ex-husband toward a new life without her.
“We wrote those songs despite ourselves,” McVie said later. “It was a therapeutic move. The only way we could get this stuff out was to say it, and it came out in a way that was difficult. Imagine trying to sing those songs onstage with the people you’re singing them about.”
It helped dull the pain, that “we were all very high,” adding, “I don’t think there was a sober day.” And the album’s mega success gave the members a different high. “The buzz of realizing you’ve written one of the best albums ever written; it was such a phenomenal time,” McVie reiterated in 2019.
After the success and stress of “Rumours” the group yearned to stretch creatively. The result was the less commercial sound of the double-album follow-up, “Tusk,” released in 1979. Though not a success on anything near the scale of “Rumours,” it sold more than three million copies and produced three hits, including McVie’s “Think About Me.”
Ms. McVie’s commercial potency, which hit a high point in the 1970s and ’80s, was put on full display on Fleetwood Mac’s “Greatest Hits” anthology, released in 1988, which sold more than eight million copies: She either wrote or co-wrote half of its 16 tracks. Her tally doubled that of the next most prolific member of the band’s trio of singer-songwriters, Stevie Nicks. (The third, Lindsey Buckingham, scored three major Billboard chart-makers on that collection.)
The most popular songs McVie wrote favored bouncing beats and lively melodies, numbers like “Say You Love Me” , “You Make Loving Fun” , “Hold Me” and “Don’t Stop” (her top smash). But she could also connect with elegant ballads, like “Over My Head” and “Little Lies” (1987).
All those songs had cleanly defined, easily sung melodies, with hints of soul and blues at the core. Her compositions had a simplicity that mirrored their construction. “I don’t struggle over my songs,” McVie told Rolling Stone in 1977. “I write them quickly.”
It is a publicly known fact that in just half an hour, she wrote one of the band’s most beloved songs, “Songbird,” a sensitive ballad that for years served as the band’s closing encore in concert. In 2019, the band’s leader, Mick Fleetwood, told New Musical Express that “Songbird” is the piece he wanted played at his funeral, “to send me off fluttering.” McVie’s lyrics often captured the more intoxicating aspects of romance. “I’m definitely not a pessimist,” she told Bob Brunning, the author of the 2004 book “The Fleetwood Mac Story: Rumours and Lies.” “I’m basically a love song writer.”
At the same time, her words accounted for the yearning and disappointments that can lurk below an exciting surface. “I’m good at pathos,” she told Mojo magazine years later. “I write about romantic despair a lot, but with a positive spin.”
The group moved smoothly into the new decade with the 1982 release “Mirage,” which hit No. 1 aided by McVie’s “Hold Me,” a Top Five hit that was inspired by her tumultuous relationship with the cool Beach Boys’ Dennis Wilson. People had bought “Tusk” and “Mirage” but one wondered whether the band had lost the formula of “Rumours” and then Stevie Nicks evidenced with “Bella Donna” that she still possessed it, in spades. The public could not get enough of Stevie Nicks, and with “Bella Donna,” she delivered. “Edge of Seventeen” burst out of the speaker in the dashboard and the duets “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” and “Leather and Lace” were even better.
But Christine McVie didn’t release her solo LP until almost three years later, after the Mac had reformed and had hits with “Mirage.”
And yes there was a hit on the album, “Got a Hold On Me,” but in truth Christine McVie was reviewed as somewhat of a disappointment. Christine did not trade on charisma, as a matter of fact, in the day we weren’t sure who she really was. Stevie Nicks was interviewed all the time, but Christine’s words were sparse. Her music spoke for her, but in reality she was an enigma, to this day. It seemed she was happy for Stevie to get the attention, to handle the press, Christine seemed to be more interested in being a musician than a star.
But some of Christine’s lifestyle, or love style kept us on our toes. She was involved with Dennis Wilson? Not only the coolest Beach Boy, but one of the coolest guys in Los Angeles, a renegade who’d stunned everybody with his chops on his solo album “Pacific Ocean Blue,” and then on “L.A. (Light Album)” too. Who exactly was this “chick” to be able to hook up with Dennis? And of course you can’t use the word “chick” these days, but that was the code of the road then, it’s a boys world, and it was clear Christine could hold her own with them. And her looks… Not classically beautiful, but that made her even more attractive. She was approachable. Two years later, Christine issued a solo album that made the Top 30, while its strongest single, “Got a Hold on Me,” broke the Top 10.
In the meantime ex-husband John McVie had bought a home on St.Thomas, in the Caribbean in 1979, where after the release of Mirage, he withdrew for a 5 year alcohol binge hiatus and limited sailing excursions. Living on the island at that same time, I met John on occasion, as he was reliving his past in a mist of alcohol. The house was known on the island as the Fleetwood Mac Party House at Sapphire.
In 1987 after 5 years of absence, the reconvened Fleetwood Mac issued “Tango in the Night,” which featured two hits written by Ms. McVie, “Everywhere” and “Little Lies.” (“Little Lies” was written with Portuguese musician and songwriter Eddie Quintela, whom she had wed a year earlier. They would divorce in 2003.) Lindsey Buckingham left the group shortly afterward, shaking the dynamic that had made their recordings stellar. The 1990 album “Behind the Mask” barely went gold, producing just one Top 40 single (“Save Me,” written by McVie), while “Time,” issued five years later, was the band’s first unsuccessful album in two decades.
McVie didn’t tour with the band to support “Time.” But the early 1990s brought broad new attention to her hit “Don’t Stop” when it became the theme song for Bill Clinton’s successful presidential campaign. In 1993, Mr. Clinton persuaded the five musicians who played on that hit to reunite, to perform it at an Inaugural ball.
They then came together again in 1997 for a tour, which produced the live album “The Dance,” one of the top-selling concert recordings of all time. Her last appearance with the band was during the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in 1998. By the next year a growing fear of flying, and a desire to return to England from the band’s adopted homes of Los Angeles, inspired Christine McVie to retire to the English countryside.
Five years later, she agreed to add some keyboard parts and backing vocals to a largely ignored Fleetwood Mac album, “Say You Will,” and in 2006 she produced a little-heard solo album, “In the Meantime,” which she recorded and wrote with her guitarist nephew Dan Perfect.
Finally, in 2014, driven by boredom and a growing sense of isolation, she reunited with the prime Mac lineup for the massive “On With The Show” tour. In its wake, Christine McVie began to write lots of new material, as did Buckingham, resulting in an album under both their names in 2017, as well as a joint tour. The full band also played shows that year; even though Lindsey Buckingham was fired in 2018, McVie continued to tour with the group in a lineup that included Neil Finn of Crowded House and Mike Campbell of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. In 2021, Christine McVie sold publishing rights to her entire 115-song catalog for an undisclosed sum.
Throughout her career, McVie took pride in never being categorized by her gender. “I kind of became one of the guys,” she told the British newspaper The Independent in 2019. “I was always treated with great respect.”
While she always acknowledged the special chemistry of Fleetwood Mac’s most successful lineup, she believed her role transcended it.
“Band members leave and other people take their place,” she told Rolling Stone, “but there was always that space where the piano should be.”
With Fleetwood Mac, she earned five gold, one platinum and seven multiplatinum albums. The band’s biggest success, “Rumours,” released in 1977, was one of the mightiest movers in pop history: It was certified double diamond, representing sales of over 20 million copies.
In 1998, McVie was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame along with various lineups of Fleetwood Mac, reflecting the frequent (and dramatic) personnel shifts the band experienced throughout its labyrinthine history.
In June of 2022, She told Rolling Stone that she was in “quite bad health” and that she had endured debilitating problems with her back. Christine McVie died on November 30, 2022
For Christine McVie the music was primary in her life. She didn’t have any kids. She gave it all for rock and roll. And we don’t know, maybe she wanted children and tried or had regrets but…
Rock is a hard life. It looks glamorous, but it’s not. Not only the road work, the studio isolation and coming up with the tunes that fuel the whole enterprise. That’s what the average person can’t do, that’s what makes the stars special. Her music was enough. No perfume was necessary. Her songs were Christine McVie and she touched us.
Christine McVie’s sudden passing is profoundly heartbreaking. Not only were she and I part of the magical family of Fleetwood Mac, to me Christine was a musical comrade, a friend, a soul mate, a sister. For over four decades, we helped each other create a beautiful body of work and a lasting legacy that continues to resonate today. I feel very lucky to have known her. Though she will be deeply missed, her spirit will live on through that body of work and that legacy. – Lindsey Buckingham
“Christine was a lovely lady. I knew her briefly in the early days of the blues and folk scene in Birmingham, then later in the mid 80s when she lived in L.A., and shortly after I was lucky and privileged to play on one of her solo albums.
She had a beautiful alto voice that had elements of blues and church choral music, which in many ways set her apart from some of her melismatic contemporaries. Her beautiful, syllabic style was a joy to listen to. Together with her engaging, heartfelt songs she will be greatly missed. R.I.P. Christine” – Steve Winwood