Stevie Nicks shares songwriting stories at starry concert

Fri May 27, 2011 8:55pm EDT

LOS ANGELES (Billboard) - At a packed Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles on Thursday where the audience included Lindsey Buckingham, Mick Fleetwood, Reese Witherspoon and Andy Garcia, Stevie Nicks took advantage of a rare night in which musicians who worked on her first album in a decade, "In Your Dreams," were on hand to make cameo appearances.

Nicks, who was celebrating her 63rd birthday, told the audience at the top of the show that she would be telling songwriting tales, even if it meant the show would last three hours and they would beg her to hush up and sing.

It didn't last that long -- she put in a nice two hours, 10 minutes -- but she did have a good number of stories, some whimsical, some historical and none more poignant than the one behind "Soldier's Angel."

One day in 2005, Nicks spent seven hours visiting wounded soldiers at a hospital and, on her way out, an emergency crew rushed in another set of the wounded. "I went in a girl and came out a changed woman," she told the audience.

The experience inspired her to write a poem that she had printed and handed out to soldiers for four years. In November of 2009, she was in London when seven British soldiers were killed in Iraq and media response in London was overwhelming; she wrote a four-page rant in her journal and eventually spent close to a year trying to turn the poem into a song. It never came to fruition.

"I have to call Lindsey," she said, which led them to completing "Soldier's Angel." Buckingham joined Nicks for an acoustic rendering of the tune, with the occasional roll of drums, that became the emotional high point of the show.

"Soldier's Angel" was one of eight songs from the new album performed, each of them explained in detail. "Annabel Lee," written when Nicks was 17, was inspired by an Edgar Alan Poe poem; "Moonlight (A Vampire's Dream)" shares a through line with "Lady From the Mountain"; "For What It's Worth" was written about her summer riding the bus across the U.S. with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. (Heartbreaker guitarist Mike Campbell joined the band for the tune). Nicks called it "the best summer of my life-and you can interpret that any way you like."

"Secret Love," one of several songs to feature Stewart as guest guitarist, was written in 1975, recorded on a cassette and eventually bootlegged many times over. The country-tinged duet "Cheaper Than Free" sprang from a comment Witherspoon made to Nicks and Stewart - she was offering her Nashville condo to Stewart for a couple of weeks, making it "cheaper than free."

Her six-piece band led by Waddy Wachtel and two background singers backed Nicks, who got her bearings straight after a rocky opening half-hour. At the opening of the show, she explained the importance of the Wiltern in her career: In early 1975, it was the venue where she and Buckingham first rehearsed with the other members of Fleetwood Mac - Christine McVie, John McVie and Fleetwood - having joined the band on New Year's Eve 1974.

(Editing by Chris Michaud)

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