Ken Caillat Interview: Famed Fleetwood Mac Producer Recounts the Turmoil and Triumphs of 'Rumours'
Grammy winning producer Ken Caillat is probably best known for producing the Fleetwood Mac record Rumours, the third largest selling album of all time, released on February 4, 1977. Following the huge commercial success of Rumours, Caillat also produced Tusk (1979), Live (1980), Mirage (1982), and The Chain (Box Set, originally released in 1992) for the British-American rock band.
In 2003, Caillat produced and engineered former Fleetwood Mac band member Christine McVie’s solo album, In the Meantime, in London. The project took four months and was McVie’s first album in over ten years. Some of his other credits include Paul McCartney, Joni Mitchell, Warren Zevon, The Rambles, Herbie Hancock, Pink Floyd and Michael Jackson, just to name a few.
“I think we worked 40/50 days straight without one day off. We’d come into the studio every day. When we were there, like children, we’d go to the corner and do something fun just for spite. It was a lot of hard work. Amidst all that, Stevie and Lindsey were forced to be with each other, and there were eruptions every day. John was sniffing around Christine. It got worse as the day wore on. It was one thing after another.”
In March 2012, Caillat released the book, Making Rumours: The Inside Story of the Classic Fleetwood Mac Album which tells the wild, poignant, and exhilarating story behind the album’s creation.
The sixty-five year old California native holds a BSC from the University of Santa Clara and has been an active member of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences for over 27 years. He is the father of singer-songwriter Colbie Caillat and produced her albums Coco (2007), Breakthrough (2009) and All of You (2011).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Ken, I found the book to be very entertaining.
Ken Caillat: Great. That always starts the interview off better instead of, “Boy, that book of yours really sucked, Ken.”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): But, chances are the interview would be all up hill from there (laughs). The book almost didn’t get written, though, as it was rejected by HarperCollins. Is that correct?
Ken Caillat: Well, that’s not true. If it weren’t for them, if it wasn’t for my greedy ass agent, the book wouldn’t have been written in the first place. Unbeknownst to me, when my agent pitched it to HarperCollins, he said, “I can promise you that Fleetwood Mac will rally behind this book and make themselves completely available to you.” So, they were treating me like royalty and making me a huge offer for an advance. I’m going, “Okay. This is great. I’ve never written a book before, but that seems like a pretty easy way to do a book.”
I found out later (and it’s not their fault) that they were misinformed and overpromised. After I wrote the book, my agent kept saying that I needed to tell HarperCollins that Fleetwood Mac would be participating in the promotion process. I said, “Are you crazy? These guys do what they want to do. I don’t know for sure that they’ll do that.” He said, “Ken, these pesky celebrities always say ‘no’ at first, but they always come around. Trust me when I say that they will come around.” But, the crap hit the fan. I handed in the book and they said, “Where are all the extra interviews?” I said, “We couldn’t get them.” They said, “We don’t want the book.”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): So, HarperCollins wanted new interviews. Were the band members asked to participate?
Ken Caillat: Sure. I had done two interviews before in 1997 and 2002 myself with the band for two DVDs I was involved in regarding Rumours. I called them up and said, “Hey guys, I’m doing my book on the real story behind making Rumours, and I’d love to come and interview you guys.” I got a call back from the management, and he said, “Lindsey might write his own book, so he has asked the band not to support you and the book.” They basically said, “No. We’re not going to do the book.” I understand from a friend of mine that the Beatles refused to support Geoff Emerick’s book.
I rationalized and thought, “Well, they don’t know what I’m going to say and if they don’t get anything out of it, why should they endorse the book? I could possibly libel somebody, and they’d get sued.” Anyway, HarperCollins was promised one thing, and the band wasn’t interested. Christine McVie has read the book now, and she told me that she loved it. Christine said that I brought passion back into the music for her and brought back so many memories. She’s the only real sweetheart in the group. The rest of them are all fighting with each other.
HarperCollins wanted me to add dirt wherever I could. For example, if I wrote, “John McVie walked into the room,” they changed it to, “John McVie staggered into the room.” I said, “No. You’re not going to do that.” I actually countersued them. I sued them, and said, “I want my friggin’ book back. I told you guys a thousand times the band wasn’t going to be involved.” They tried to put it in the contract, and the attorney said, “Ken can’t promise that. What if the band gets killed in a plane crash?”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Christine might’ve given you an interview to use in the book.
Ken Caillat: Right. But, Fleetwood Mac is a very complex group. I talked to Warner Bros. the other day. I was working on footage for the enhanced book and they used the “F” word, saying, “You know, Fleetwood Mac is just a nightmare. They can hardly agree on one thing.” If you ask one of the guys, the rest of them are going to want approval. If you approve one of them first, the rest of the band will say, ‘no,’ just from a knee jerk reaction. It’s like a bad divorce.
At the time, Christine said she would definitely do an interview. Then, she asked if anyone else in the band had given one. I said, “Well, honestly, no. Lindsey said he didn’t want them doing it because he said he might want one day to do a book himself.” Christine said, “I don’t want to go against anybody else.”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I bought Rumours when it was released and wore the grooves off the album.
Ken Caillat: That’s great. It was a great album. I can’t listen to it anymore. Actually, I never could listen to it. I listened to it so many times.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): After it became a huge success, did your life change immediately?
Ken Caillat: Absolutely. Suddenly, I had instant fame. All of this stuff was happening to me. I was getting royalty checks, and all of these bands wanted to hire me. Women wanted to be with me. It wasn’t fifteen minutes of fame. It was crazy fame. It still happens today. People go, “Oh my God. I just love what you did.” It was a complete change being a part of a big thing like that. I had no idea.
Members of the crew still talk to each other. It’s almost like we’re the survivors of the Titanic or something. It’s the weirdest thing. I may sound wacko, but living through something like that and being a part of a thing, you feel like you’re family, and you’re not a family. Fleetwood Mac was not generous “parents.” They’re pretty selfish; so many people that were part of the family have since been discarded. It’s sad. But, there is no responsibility from the band even though we were so close.
There was no responsibility for anybody to take care of anybody else, but they are rich and some of the people like Judy Wong … she was found in her apartment after being dead for a week. Judy did everything for Christine McVie and the band, and for her not to be given whatever she needed … she died toothless. I don’t know. I have a lot of weird feelings about this. I look at Neil Young and Paul McCartney. They still use their same engineers, producers, photographers and people that started with them because they know them well. It’s kind of like a big happy family.
I can’t get Fleetwood Mac tickets. I can’t get through to get tickets. It’s just the weirdest thing. They’re all so self centered and egotistical that they don’t think about anyone. Richard Dashut, the sound engineer, is a miserable guy. He was in an auto accident. He told me that he gave everything away … Grammys, gold records, everything. He said, “You know, for years they cried on my shoulder, and every one of them would talk to me. I was their shrink. Now, Lindsey Buckingham has three kids, and he hasn’t called me once to tell me about them.”
I’m fine. My daughter’s doing well, and I’m producing, so it doesn’t affect me. Ray Lindsey, a roadie, works for Conan. He said, “Ken, I’m kind of haunted by this. I feel like I want to write a book to tell about it and to get the demons out of my head.” Richard said that they’ve pretty much abandoned him. He would work for Lindsey three years straight without getting a check. He just took advantage of him. So, Richard, being a pretty sensitive guy, just sold and gave away every piece of Fleetwood Mac memorabilia he had.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What a shame. Ken, why can’t you get tickets to the shows?
Ken Caillat: It’s actually fairly simple. My daughter Colbie is famous. Her friends used to be able to call her regularly and still can, but as fame and the years progress, people move away, and there’s suddenly a new crowd of people to be the buffers, to protect Stevie and Lindsey and all those people. They’ve become their own power center.
I used to be able to call Mick or Stevie directly, but now I get someone else who answers and says, “Who’s this? Oh yeah, you’re the guy from 20 years ago.” I just leave a message for one of the managing people saying that I’d like to see them. Maybe I get tickets and maybe I get passes. Maybe I don’t. Several times I’ve been the last guy waiting in the crowd to go back and see them. One time I actually left.
I was the last guy and I said, “You know what? Screw this.” I don’t know what they’re doing or whether it’s a power play by the road manager, JC (who’s in the book). Many times that was the case. It’s just so weird. I don’t want to leave you with the wrong impression. It’s just that a powerful rock band is a very strange thing to be a part of because there are so many personalities in the whole thing.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Mick Fleetwood has said of the sessions, “We spoke to each other in clipped, civil tones, while sitting in small airless studios, listening to each other’s songs about our shattered relationships.” Was the atmosphere tension filled?
Ken Caillat: I can’t say it was tension. But, for me, it was like any other album. Someone suggests we do this song or that song. What I didn’t realize when I started was that there were all these underlying things. There was anger between Stevie and Lindsey and anger between Christine and John. Mick was just by himself and seemingly a happy go lucky bachelor, but meanwhile 400 miles away his wife was cheating on him with his best friend. He was just finding out about that. On top of all that, the Label was telling people that the previous record was doing really well, and if you meet it or beat it, you’d all be superstars for the rest of your lives. All of this added pressure on the band.
Everybody in the band got it wrong when they said publicly that Rumours was like “one big party.” I think they were referring basically to Tusk because looking back 40 years now, there was a time when they were enjoying themselves, but Rumours was no party at all. I mean, there was drinking. There were drugs. But, it was a lot of work, and we were working.
I think we worked 40/50 days straight without one day off. We’d come into the studio every day. When we were there, like children, we’d go to the corner and do something fun just for spite. It was a lot of hard work. Amidst all that, Stevie and Lindsey were forced to be with each other, and there were eruptions every day. John was sniffing around Christine. It got worse as the day wore on. It was one thing after another.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Didn’t the late Bob Weston, who was briefly with Fleetwood Mac, have an affair with Mick Fleetwood’s wife in the early 1970s?
Ken Caillat: That’s what I hear, yeah.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I’m unclear on the details, but I read that Bob’s firing led to the “Bogus Fleetwood Mac” affair.
Ken Caillat: You know, I’m not really clear about that. I think it was Clifford Davis who was their manager in England, and then Fleetwood was over in the US doing The White Album and doing some tours. Clifford, who was in England, said, “Hey, wait a second. There’s no Fleetwood Mac touring in Europe. Why don’t I just manufacture a band?” Quite honestly, I’ve read a couple of different accounts of it, but I always thought it was Clifford Davis trying to make some money on the side just figuring he wouldn’t get caught.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Figuring the fans wouldn’t notice (laughs).
Ken Caillat: I think he just figured he’d get the cash in his pocket. Curry Grant told me the other day that he was a part of that and that the Fleetwood Mac road crew was actually involved. I thought it was only Europe, so I’m not really clear on all the details. It didn’t affect me. It happened outside of my little world.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Why was Stevie Nicks undervalued by the band?
Ken Caillat: The simple answer is that she didn’t play an instrument. In the studio, it’s all about somebody has to play the instruments while recording a song. She couldn’t play piano or guitar well enough to actually perform on the record, so we gave her a tambourine to play every once in a while. We wouldn’t mic it, just did it to make her feel good.
Stevie’s job was to write three songs in a year and to be a vocalist. So, much of the time she’d be just wandering around. But, she wrote some terrific songs, and everybody knew she had great vocal chops. From my experience, she was underused, but what are you going to do? Stevie had great ideas, and she really was a sweetheart in the studio.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Was “Silver Springs” not used on the album strictly because of space limitations?
Ken Caillat: Yes. That was one of my favorite songs. I think it would’ve gotten a Grammy. It was just one of those incredible songs. Tempo also had something to do with it. As it turned out, we thought we had a lot of up tempo songs, but when we strung them all together, there were a lot of mid tempo songs. “Silver Springs” was another of those epic Stevie ballads and really slow. The fact is that we couldn’t get the song down any lower than 4:20 or whatever it was. We tried to fit it in, but it was just too slow. It just wasn’t the right vibe. If the song were shorter, maybe it would’ve stayed on there.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): It must be so much easier in the digital age to produce a record. You don’t miss the 24-track days, do you?
Ken Caillat: I do. I love those tapes. I love the smell of them. It forced the musician to listen. The built in digital on the computer is instant rewind, so when you’re done listening to one song, you press a button, and you’re hearing it from the top again. On the 24, you had automatically 45 seconds to a minute and a half to wait for the tape to rewind. So, it slowed everything down. Now, you can just move along, and you cut and paste just like a Word document. Back then you had to do it all manually. It was a little different, but more human.
You can do things faster and cheaper now. I saw Stevie just before she started her last album. She said, “Ken, I can’t believe it. I have 13 days to do this record in the studio.” We had 365 days to do Rumours and 365 to do Tusk. The budget gave her 13 days to do a record. How can you do a record in 13 days? How can you absorb everything and try to make something that’s emotionally fulfilling and speaks to millions of people when you have to slam through it?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Exactly. Rumours probably would not have sold 44 million copies now when people can stream and find music for free on the Internet. How do you feel about piracy?
Ken Caillat: I hate it. The thing, I think, that bothers me most is that people undervalue music. Colbie says that it just seems strange that people value a cup of Starbucks coffee more than they value a great song. Everybody balks at 99 cents for a song, but nobody complains at all at $4 for a cup of coffee. It’s all backwards now. A cup of coffee is gone in five minutes, but a song is in your computer and could live with you for a lifetime.
The people who are saying that songs have to be cheaper or free are crazy. Songwriters like Colbie and Stevie put hours and hours of thought and love into their songs, and they want them to reach as many people as possible. It’s a great thing. It bothers me that people have forgotten how to listen to a full album, and they cherry pick the songs and do these playlists of Madonna to Colbie to Fleetwood Mac that maybe have a tempo in common or something. Maybe this sounds old fashioned, but when we put ten songs together for two sides, it was a listening experience. Nobody puts playlists together from bits of movies. When are they going to start doing that? That’s as dysfunctional as anything else. It’s frustrating.
I think it’s partly the fault of the music business because television has been very protective of visuals. They go with higher definition. Music has just been letting people listen to it on cheapo $5 headphones, and many people have taken their big speakers out of the room and put speakers in the wall. The kids are forced to take their headphones into their rooms and go inside themselves. Back when I came around, I had big speakers, and that was as cool as a car. I’d bring my girlfriend over to check out my sounds, listen to some music and get to know her.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I can relate. I also wanted to say that the sexual escapades of Scooter were entertaining.
Ken Caillat: Yes. He was a devil, a man among men. He lived until we finished Tusk. He was a great dog.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): It was the 1970s, and the drugs were abundant – marijuana, cocaine and opium. Did the cocaine strictly serve as an energy booster?
Ken Caillat: Right, and the opium was only one night. They brought it in, and it was a little cube. I think they put it on the end of a cigarette or something. That was like 30 minutes, and that was it. The cocaine was just really an alternative to coffee. It was a little bit of a “perk me up,” without getting all weird on coffee. We didn’t do any acid. We didn’t do any hallucinogens. We didn’t do any heroin or anything like that. It was pretty tame.
Even halfway through the album, the stash of cocaine was left on the console where everybody could share. If you know anything about drug people, you know they become possessive and start having their own stash so that they can sneak off and do it by themselves. The fact that it was left out in the “community,” just like the wine and beer in the refrigerator, shows how simple things were then. Nobody was really drugged out. The road crew might have been doing more stuff and sneaking out, but as far as I know in the cockpit, we had to maintain some level of control and obedience. We had to focus on what we were doing.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): It was very easy to get the drugs.
Ken Caillat: Yeah, I guess it was. This guy, Rhino, would go and pick them up all the time. I never knew where they came from. It was just there. Back then everybody was doing it. One of us would look over and ask the other, “You want to smoke a joint?” It would be ten in the morning. It was just what everybody did. It’s just like everyone smoked in the studio. Now, nobody smokes in the studio.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You talk about Lindsey’s outbursts. Did that have anything to do with him being a perfectionist and being too hard on himself, or was it the alcohol combined with the type of person he is?
Ken Caillat: I think that’s the type person he is. I don’t think he was ever a perfectionist in that way. Lindsey never got frustrated with himself because he could perform doing anything. He’d be impatient just by things taking too long and people not seeing his way.
Lindsey was a paranoid guy and never really knew how to react. When you see a little kid with other people, and they look around to see how everybody else is reacting … that was Lindsey. I think there’s a fine line between genius and insanity. He certainly is a musical genius and can see musical configurations and put them together on tape in such an amazing way. He’s just not that good with people. Lindsey could definitely suck all of the fun out of a room.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are there any stories you left out of the book?
Ken Caillat: Not really. One time, I think it was after the album; Richard, Lindsey and me drove up to Lake Tahoe. We were sitting at the blackjack table, and Lindsey just lost it. He was getting abusive with the blackjack dealer. I couldn’t believe it. I finally stood up and said, “You are such an asshole.” I walked away.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you know of any plans for Fleetwood Mac to reunite for a tour?
Ken Caillat: Nope. I don’t think so. I did a Christine McVie album in 2003, and I suggested that before Fleetwood Mac ever goes on the next tour maybe they should go into the studio and record a few songs from Christine’s 2005 album. It would be really great because it would be the first Fleetwood Mac/Christine songs in a long time, and it would break through to the radio.
Christine loved the idea. But, who knows? I told that to Mick, but he has no power over anybody. If Stevie thinks that Lindsey thought of something first, she’ll say ‘no,’ and vice versa. They could be doing so well, you know? If they had only listened to me, they could be doing so well. They’re just people. They have ups and downs, and quite honestly, they’re all down now. They could make a lot of people happy if they’d just cut the crap and just be human beings, not anything special.
They’re not friggin’ special, and their crap stinks like everybody else’s, goddamit! They need to just get it through their heads. They need to knock it off and just be real. Nobody gets to put anybody down with power trips. There’s kind of a thing now with abuse, you know? People get drunk and start to manipulate you. It’s a form of abuse. Back then, we were all too young to say, “Hey, knock it off, buddy.” I wish them the best, but I don’t think they’re ever going to do it with their own insecurities and whatever else they’ve got going.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Any plans to turn the book into a film?
Ken Caillat: I’m talking to people. I actually sent it to Clint Eastwood to look into it as a film. I have so many great audio outtakes of the songs as they progressed. I asked Lindsey’s manager if I could put them into the e-book. Of course, they flatly denied. So, it’s their own fault.
They could have all made this a historical thing. They could’ve corrected whatever mistakes I had in the book. It could’ve been a really great thing. They could have shared the evolution of the album and music, but because of petty differences or whatever, they don’t want to.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You recorded three albums with Fleetwood Mac after Rumours. Are you writing more books?
Ken Caillat: I’d love to. I really enjoy writing. I got a message on Facebook saying, “I love this book. Would you please write Tusk?” I actually started writing Tusk. I’m only about ten pages in, but I’m not sure I’m really that excited about doing it because it’s going to be a little more negative than this one. I think this book is pretty light with a loving look at music.
The second one will contain a lot more decadence. There was a lot more partying. Every night we had the local restaurant deliver lobster and steak meals for everybody. We had Cristal Champagne every night in the studio, the best cocaine and the best marijuana. We were in the groove. Lindsey came in and had chopped all his hair off. His hair was gone. We looked at him like he was a crazy man. It wasn’t like he’d gone to a barbershop.
Lindsey literally went crazy in the shower, took a pair of scissors and cut everything off. That’s when he said, “We’re not going to make another Rumours here. That’s for pussies. We’re going to go someplace different.” He went for these grunge sounds, almost defying me … like I was the guy guilty of making the good sounds.
I remember the first day when all of us sat there, and Lindsey played his guitar. I’d make the tone controls on the console until I was happy. This one time, Lindsey said, “Are you happy now?” I said, “Yes. It sounds perfect.” He said, “Okay. Turn all the knobs 180 degrees from where they were.” It just completely changed the sound 180 degrees. Lindsey then said, “Now, record it that way.” I said, “Okay, crazy man. We can do that. Sure.”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Yeah, and that won’t sell (laughs).
Ken Caillat: No. A lot of people loved that album, but we thought it was a disaster.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Ken, looking back at all the trials and tribulations of making Rumours, was there ever a day that you wished you had chosen a different profession?
Ken Caillat: No. I loved being a part of it. I really couldn’t have been happier being a part of it then. I was more interested in chasing women than I was … well, I was young. It was so easy for me to do the recording portion. I could do that and still think about other things. If I were doing it now, I’d have a completely different attitude though.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What is Colbie doing now?
Ken Caillat: We’re going to be doing a Christmas album starting next month. She just got back from Cancun, is touring and has a new single coming out.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did you prepare Colbie before you wrote the book about some of your “escapades?”
Ken Caillat: I hadn’t told her anything. I said, “You know, you may be mad at your dad in some cases. But, this is a real story.” I think she has only read half of the book at this time. But, she said, “Dad, I know. It was the Seventies.” I said, “Okay, well, don’t hate me.”
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