Rock Hall Class of 2019: Stevie Nicks’ Induction as Solo Practitioner Makes for Special Magic

The second time's a charm. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2019 inductions confirms Stevie Nicks is the Bella Donna of rock.

Stevie Nicks

The Rock Hall’s Class of 2019 includes Radiohead, Janet Jackson, Def Leppard, The Cure, The Zombies, Roxy Music and Stevie Nicks, the first female musician to earn induction twice. Diana Ross is there with the Supremes, but her solo work hasn’t yet been recognized. Darlene Love is in the Hall, but not the Crystals. Nicks’ solo recognition is in addition to the vast contribution she made to Fleetwood Mac, as vocalist and songwriter. That requires a special kind of magic. In spite of, and because of, her 1975 song “Rhiannon,” Stevie Nicks always steadfastly maintained she is no witch, or at least not wiccan. But music is magic and Nicks conjured hits. Not only with Fleetwood Mac, during their most saturating era, but as a solo singer/songwriter or duetting with a rising Tom Petty. Music and magic are both based in mathematics, and her recent stint on American Horror Story: Cult hints at what else she can add to the equation. Stevie Nicks is not a witch, she’s an alchemist.

Before left-hand path musicians wrote songs celebrating the mystic arts, the closest thing witches had for an anthem was the Fleetwood Mac song “Rhiannon.” Written by Nicks before she joined the band, the song was only coincidentally based on the Welsh goddess of fertility and the moon, Rhiannon, and only recognized in retrospect. Nicks cemented the mythology by playing “The White Witch” in the American Horror Story: Coven episode “The Magical Delights of Stevie Nicks,” her acting debut.

But Nicks’ crystal visions reflect far too much light for the bylaws of Fiona’s (Jessica Lange) coven. In the early eighties, Nicks told Creem magazine her songs came from “good spirits” and pull “good feelings from the air.” Nicks is the Glinda the Good Witch of the South of rock. She even has a similar trill in her distinctive voice, though transposed down an octave.

Until movies like The Craft brought the craft to the masses, magical users and diabolical dabblers were drawn to the siren call of “Rhiannon.” Stevie performed this song with Taylor Swift, falsely rumored to be the clone of Anton LaVey’s daughter Zeena, who abjured the founder of the Church of Satan, at the 2010 Grammy Awards, which inspired the song “Mean.” Openly occult bands like Zeena’s Radio Werewolf and Jinx Dawson’s Coven may never get into the Rock Hall of Fame, but the veiled prestidigitation of pop went under the radar even as it rides the charts. Nicks reportedly wrote “Rhiannon” and various songs related to Rhiannon after seeing the name in Mary Leader’s novel Triad. Rhiannon was framed by a jealous god for murdering of her own son. Before the crime and very public punishment, she rode a white horse and traveled with birds with healing powers.

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Nicks’ first solo album was called Bella Donna, which means “beautiful woman” in Italian but is also the name of a plant witches call deadly nightshade. Belladonna is the supposed main ingredient that makes broomsticks levitate. The plant produces strong hallucinations and is renowned in the witch world for its hypnotic and anesthetic effects. Ancient Egyptians used it as a narcotic and believed it helped mystics see mysterious worlds. West European magicians associate belladonna with Saturn.

Further reading: The Dark History of Prince’s Black Album

Belladonna is one of the most toxic plants found in the Eastern Hemisphere and can paralyze the digestive and respiratory systems. In the 1998 film Practical Magic, the witch sisters played by Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock get out of a sticky situation by spiking some tequila with it. Over time, you can develop a tolerance to belladonna, making it useful for assassins, but not the album or the songwriter making the hits. Bella Donna reached number 1 on Billboard’s album chart.

Nicks recorded two songs for Practical Magic, “If You Ever Did Believe” and “Crystal,” which was also recorded for the 1975 Fleetwood Mac album. The song was a remake of one she wrote for the pre-Fleetwood Mac Buckingham-Nicks album she recorded with Lindsey Buckingham.

Stephanie Nicks met Buckingham during her senior year at Menlo-Atherton High School. He was singing The Mamas and the Papas’ “California Dreamin'” at a party at a Young Life club, and she joined in on perfect ad hoc harmonies. Nicks, who was born in Phoenix, Arizona, was singing duets with her grandfather, country singer Aaron Jess “A.J.” Nicks, Sr., by the time she was four years old. She was given a Goya guitar for her 16th birthday, and wrote her first song, “I’ve Loved and I’ve Lost, and I’m Sad But Not Blue” on it. Her father’s job moved the family around several times while Nicks was growing up. She joined her first band, folk rock group The Changing Times, while she was at Arcadia High School in Arcadia, California.

Nicks and Buckingham met up again when they both went to San Jose State University. Nicks dropped out of college the semester before graduation. Buckingham played bass in the psychedelic rock band Fritz with Brian Kane on lead guitar, Bob Aguirre on drums, and songwriter Javier Pacheco on keyboards. When guitarist Jody Moreing, who sang lead, quit in mid-1967, Buckingham invited Nicks to join. Nicks’ songs brought a country rock feel to the sonic psychedelia. Fritz opened for Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin at shows steadily from 1968 until 1970.

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Fritz broke up in 1972. Nicks and Buckingham recorded four-track demos and got signed with Polydor Records, recording the 1973 album Buckingham-Nicks. It wasn’t a commercial success and the label dropped them. Buckingham toured with the Everly Brothers while Nicks wrote songs. Fleetwood Mac’s guitarist Bob Welch quit the band on New Year’s Eve, 1974. Drummer Mick Fleetwood called Keith Olsen, who co-produced the Buckingham Nicks album, to ask Buckingham to replace him.

Before Peter Green sang “Black Magic Woman” for Santana, he recorded it with Fleetwood Mac, and the band was about to get a White Magic Woman. Nicks joined along with Buckingham in 1975 and transformed the British blues band much the same way she did with Fritz. Wearing flowing shawls and black outfits, Nicks gave the band the hits “Rhiannon” and “Landslide” for their first album together, the band’s tenth, Fleetwood Mac. Nicks didn’t keep her visions to herself. She wrote the song “Dreams,” which was a hit off their next album together, Rumours, in a studio built for Sly Stone at the Record Plant in Sausalito, California. The reclusive leader of the Family Stone had the room painted black and red and decked the place out with a black velvet bed, Victorian drapes and a pit at the center.

Nicks began work on Bella Donna in 1979, in between sessions for Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk, for which she contributed the darkly mystical “Sisters of the Moon.” Backed by legendary Stax bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn of Booker T. & the MGs, and pianist Roy Bittan from Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street Band, Nicks manifested Tom Petty for the hit “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” a song Petty wrote for but dropped from Hard Promises. She also conjured musician friends Don Henley and session guitarist Waddy Wachtel. The 1981 release’s magic was lost on legendary Village Voice rock critic Lester Bangs. It drove him to ask whether Nicks was Lilith or a bimbo, as she credited her manicurist in the Bella Donna liner notes.  During the sessions, Nicks also recorded the songs “Blue Lamp,” which came out the 1981 soundtrack to the film Heavy Metal, and “Sleeping Angel,” which graced the Fast Times at Ridgemont High soundtrack in 1982.

Nicks’ second solo album The Wild Heart was released on June 10, 1983, a year after Fleetwood Mac’s Mirage, to which she contributed another iconic song, “Gypsy,” which was nostalgia for her life before the band. The Wild Heart hit number 5 on Billboard’s album charts. Tom Petty wrote “I Will Run to You,” for the album and The Heartbreakers backed her up on it. Don Henley came back with the song “I Will Run to You.” Steve Lukather from Toto was there too, no doubt pleasing Glinda the Good Witch. He contributed guitar work on the album’s biggest hit single, “Stand Back.” Prince played the synthesizer track but wasn’t listed in the credits.

Further reading: The Occult Influences of Sympathy for the Devil

Rock a Little, the third studio album by Nicks, was released in late 1985 while Fleetwood Mac were on hiatus. According to Mick Fleetwood’s autobiography, Play On: Now, Then, and Fleetwood Mac, the album cost $1 million to record. In the Saturday Night Live skit “Stevie Nicks’ Fajita Roundup,” Lucy Lawless, as Stevie, admits she dedicated the ‘70s to “witchcraft, Lindsey Buckingham and cocaine.” But the singer’s voice was affected by the drug, as were her metaphysical senses. Nicks turned down Martin Page and Bernie Taupin’s song “These Dreams” which became Heart’s first No. 1 single in 1986. Her long-time producer, and sometimes lover, Jimmy Iovine quit during recording and the Nicks, along with Keith Olsen and Rick Nowels, finished production sessions. Nicks recorded the song “Mirror, Mirror” for the album but it didn’t get past the wall. “You cannot know a dream till you’ve known the nightmare,” Nicks wrote and sang.

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The Other Side of the Mirror is the fourth studio album was released in May 1989. It loosely based around the theme of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Following Fleetwood Mac’s Tango in the Night, the album was followed by her sole solo tour of the U.K. and Europe. Nicks reportedly said the drug Klonopin wiped out any memories of the tours. Nicks famously checked into the Betty Ford Clinic when she came off the road. Nicks quit touring with Fleetwood Mac in 1990 and left the band in 1993, reuniting four years later for tours and albums, while continuing to successfully recording as a solo artist.

Nicks’ fifth album Street Angel was the first album she released after the much publicized departure. It came after her seven-year-long dependency on Klonopin and is the least successful record of her solo career. Production work was done by Glyn Johns, who mixed what was going to be The Beatles’ Get Back album before Phil Spector put strings on it and made it into Let It Be. Johns produced albums for The Steve Miller Band, Joe Cocker, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, The Eagles, Eric Clapton, The Who, Bob Dylan, and The Rolling Stones. But he couldn’t work magic with Nicks. The first thing Johns said was the last thing Nicks needed was Waddy Wachtel. Stevie re-recorded much of the material. Released in 1994, the album barely cracked the Billboard top fifty, peaking at 45.

Trouble in Shangri-La, Nicks’ sixth studio album, debuted at number 5 on Billboard 2001. Nicks brought in Sheryl Crow, and would later perform on Crow’s 2002 album C’Mon C’Mon. Macy Gray performed backing vocals. Nicks asked Tom Petty to help her write and record the album but the heartbreaker said she should have more faith in her own abilities. Her belief paid off with the singles “Every Day,” “Planets of the Universe,” and “Sorcerer,” a song which Nicks wrote and recorded as a demo for the Buckingham-Nicks album. She followed the album up with the highly successful “Trouble in Shangri-La Tour.”

In Your Dreams, which Reprise Records released on May 3, 2011, coincided with the 30th anniversary of the release of Bella Donna. It was her fifth top ten album and debuted at number 6 on Billboard. The album was produced by The Eurythmics’ David A. Stewart. Mick Fleetwood played drums on at least one track. The first single, “Secret Love,” was released on January 13, 2011, and peaked at #20 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. The album also yielded the singles “Cheaper Than Free,” “Soldier’s Angel,” “For What It’s Worth,” and “Moonlight (A Vampire’s Dream),” about a strange lady from the mountains. The album also included Nicks’ adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s 1839 poem “Annabel Lee.”

“Time cast a spell on you, but you won’t forget me,” Nicks sings on the song “Silver Springs,” and the musical workings she performed are memorable ear worms. Nicks has been opening up more about her magical heritage since appearing on American Horror Story, but like some of the best occultists, she’s always hidden it in plain sight and is not one to keep her crystal visions to herself. Her music publishing company is called Welsh Witch Music. One of her greatest hits packages was called The Enchanted Works of Stevie Nicks. On stage, Nicks can get into the groove of the mystical deliverance of performance. In the studio, her song craft shows a deeper knowledge of the connection of tones and energies. As the charts would indicate, her songs can cast spells.

The 2019 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony airs on HBO on April 27 at  8 p.m.

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Culture Editor Tony Sokol cut his teeth on the wire services and also wrote and produced New York City’s Vampyr Theatre and the rock opera AssassiNation: We Killed JFK. Read more of his work here or find him on Twitter @tsokol.