He hasn’t ridden on the private jet yet. But Twin Cities keyboardist Ricky Peterson is on quite a ride playing with Fleetwood Mac.
His first gig with the band was for “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” in September. Then came the iHeart Radio Festival. Now there’s the 50-city tour, arriving Monday in St. Paul.
“This is wonderful, man,” he said recently from his room at Chicago’s posh Ritz-Carlton hotel overlooking Lake Michigan. “The band has never sounded better. I’m having a ball.”
Peterson is just three weeks into the six-month tour where he plays behind Stevie Nicks, complements keyboardist Christine McVie and marvels at Mike Campbell’s guitar playing.
First, an explanation of how Peterson got the gig. He’s played keys for Nicks’ solo tours since 2007. He also happened to know drummer Mick Fleetwood from vacations in Hawaii, where the veteran British rocker lives and operates a blues bar. Peterson got the call when Fleetwood Mac’s longtime sideman keyboardist left the band and started touring with guitarist Lindsey Buckingham.
“I didn’t have to audition for this gig,” said Peterson proudly. “They invited me to come and hang. I love it. I sort of grew up on this music.”
He’d jammed before with Fleetwood at the drummer’s blues club in Maui. Plus, he had Nicks’ endorsement.
Peterson was essential enough that when Fleetwood and ex-Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers member Campbell auditioned singers in Hawaii, Peterson was involved. He won’t name names as to who tried out, but Neil Finn of Crowded House got the gig. That makes Finn and Campbell official members of Fleetwood Mac, while Peterson is a handsomely paid hired hand.
Two months of rehearsals
The keyboardist’s next assignment was to learn 38 songs before convening for rehearsal in Los Angeles on Aug. 1. The group practiced five days a week for about four or five hours daily until Sept. 28.
“I didn’t think it would take that long to get it all down, but it actually does, because there’s so much involved,” Peterson observed. “It’s a lot of music, and [learning] the beginnings and endings of songs.”
Who’s in charge? Buckingham used to be. He sued Fleetwood Mac two weeks ago over his dismissal. The band disputes his claims.
“Stevie is running the show,” Peterson said. “But they discuss it. No one is yelling at each other. It’s very, very diplomatic. And the principals are involved. Ultimately, I think Stevie and Mick are the final decisionmakers.”
Personnel drama from the start
There was a Fleetwood Mac long before Buckingham and Nicks came on the scene. The blues-rock band was founded in England in 1967. Personnel changes were a hallmark of the band until the lineup stabilized, and the music soared with the addition in 1975 of Buckingham and Nicks, who were a couple then.
The album “Fleetwood Mac” became a blockbuster, followed in ’77 by the even bigger “Rumours.” One of the bestselling albums of all time, it discussed the various romantic soap operas in the band. Hit albums, including 1979’s “Tusk” and 1982’s “Mirage,” and sold-out tours kept coming. So did bumps in the road.
Nicks and Buckingham launched solo careers and took brief leaves from the band at different times in the ’80s and ’90s. McVie, the third singer, retired in 1998 but returned to the fold four years ago.
With Fleetwood Mac planning to play only three shows a week on this tour, Buckingham wanted to be able to squeeze in solo concerts between Mac dates. The band not only said “no” but decided to proceed without him. The soap opera continues.
Peterson has no access to those feuds and lawyerly negotiations.
“I didn’t hear any heavy feedback from the principals, but nobody’s really talking about it,” he said. “Everybody’s happy and it sounds like it. Everybody’s having a good time onstage.”
Oldies plus a Petty hit
Peterson was there when the band whittled the set list down to 26 tunes for the tour. “That’s why it took two months,” he said.
There is a Tom Petty classic as well as hits Finn sang with Crowded House and Split Enz plus Fleetwood Mac oldies, including “Oh Well,” that predate Buckingham and Nicks.
Peterson gets solos during “Black Magic Woman,” one of the band’s oldies, and “Rhiannon,” one of Nicks’ biggest songs with Fleetwood Mac. And he does background vocals.
Keyboard parts are carefully worked out so Peterson doesn’t overshadow McVie.
“She’s the main keyboard player,” he said. “This is a sideman job. She’s very accommodating. She’s such a sweetheart. This is not a play-a-lot-of-notes gig. This is more of a listening-and-feel gig to figure out where everybody is going with the music. My job is to make them sound as good as they can.”
Peterson has no complaints about traveling by bus while the principals of Fleetwood Mac — and their assistants, spouses/significant others and dogs — journey by jet. Actually two jets. The keyboardist does get to roll in one of the many limousines used to transport the band to and from the hotel and arena.
Peterson, 60, knows the bus routine from his days playing with Bonnie Raitt, John Mayer and Nicks. He’s also toured for three decades with jazz saxophonist David Sanborn as well as recording with a host of stars, including Prince, George Benson, Mavis Staples, Steve Miller, Ben Sidran, Al Jarreau and Les McCann. Peterson has released four solo albums in the United States, with a new one issued in Germany this year.
But playing with Fleetwood Mac is “just a fun hang. There is no animosity. No attitudes. Everybody has their happy-camper vibe on. It’s just a great rock band.”
To avoid taxing Nicks’ voice, Fleetwood Mac never plays two nights in a row. Thus, Peterson gets plenty of free time. He’ll visit tourist sights and hit the gym. Then he mentioned the steak dinners he’s had with other sidemen in the band.
Peterson may not be a rock star, but he’s living in a rock star world, private jet notwithstanding.