Making Rumours: by Ken Caillat with Steven Stiefel

Making Rumours: by Ken Caillat with Steven Stiefel

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Fleetwood Mac’s classic 1977 record Rumours has reached a level of unfathomable cultural ubiquity. Is there a living, breathing soul that hasn’t heard “Go Your Own Way” piped through tinny hotel elevator speakers or “Dreams” covered by some bad bar band in the middle of the night? As for “Don’t Stop,” Bill Clinton solidified its reputation when he prominently featured it in his 1992 presidential campaign.

Given the fact that almost everyone, whether they know it or not, has heard the songs of Rumours, it’s no surprise that thousands of words have been written about its creation and aftermath. In the shadow of a few decades of Fleetwood Mac biographies, tabloid-style articles about the band’s turbulent private life and “Behind the Music”-esque documentaries, Ken Caillat, with the help of Steven Stiefel, has given us yet another volume to add to that already distended library of Fleetwood Mac chronicles. Making Rumours: The Inside Story of the Classic Fleetwood Mac Album distinguishes itself by offering an insider’s perspective on the storied Rumours sessions.

Ken Caillat served as co-producer for Rumours as well as producer for several other Fleetwood Mac records, including Tusk and Mirage. The first part of his narrative details how he found himself working on the Grammy-winning album, a feat that he chalks up to not only having the necessary skills, but also being at the right place at the right time. Upon landing a gig as an engineer at Wally Heider Studios in Hollywood, Caillat was assigned the job of mixing a one-hour syndicated radio show featuring Fleetwood Mac. Richard Dashut, the band’s live engineer, was immediately impressed with Caillat’s skills in the studio. After the band hired Caillat to remix a radio version of their hit “Rhiannon,” they asked him to come with them to Sausalito to produce the Rumours sessions along with Dashut.

Caillat gives us plenty of predictable details about the tempestuous relationships between the band members (Nicks vs. Buckingham, McVie vs. McVie, Fleetwood vs. the bottle). While the musicians’ caustic, dynamic personalities have been documented plenty of times before, Caillat is especially provocative in his recounting of the time Buckingham’s explosive temper came to the fore. The guitar player reportedly tried to choke the producer when he didn’t press the “record” button before an inspired solo. It’s not surprising that the narrative is laced with alcohol, cocaine and pot. Caillat recounts his own internal war between wanting to join in the partying while simultaneously keeping his professionalism intact.

Far more interesting and revelatory than these juicy personal details is Caillat’s technical discussion of the record’s making. The author brings a producer’s geeky knowledge to the table, explaining how he spent five days trying to get Fleetwood’s drums to sound right or how Lindsey Buckingham played guitar through a Leslie rotating organ speaker cabinet. We read that Steely Dan master tapes were used as a reference to get the studio sounding right and that the Rumours analog tapes were barely saved from degradation when they were worn down by too much play during the overdub and mixing sessions. These are the details that form Caillat’s distinctive perspective and make the book a fun, engaging read for anyone willing to have the magic of Rumours demystified.

Regrettably, Caillat has a slightly annoying penchant for using clichés repeatedly. He starts his narrative by saying, “You never know when you’re going to be a part of history” and “By the end of my journey making Rumours … I knew that my life would never be the same.” He describes the process of mixing sound as “creating a sonic painting, adjusting the colors to make it beautiful. The knobs and the faders on the console are my brushes; the speakers are my canvas.” His obsession with his dog Scooter and the romantic flings that characterized his time as Fleetwood Mac producer fall under the category of “more than we need to know.” In between these superfluous personal diversions, though, lies a story that feels enchanting and vital, just like the timeless record that forms the book’s subject.

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