Marilyn Martin Scored a Number One Hit. Then Her Life Took Some Very Unexpected Turns

Rolling Stone interview series Unknown Legends features long-form conversations between senior writer Andy Greene and veteran musicians who have toured and recorded alongside icons for years, if not decades. All are renowned in the business, but some are less well known to the general public. Here, these artists tell their complete stories, giving an up-close look at life on music’s A list. This edition features backup vocalist Marilyn Martin.

On Nov. 30, 1985, Starship’s “We Built This City” was dislodged as the top song on the Hot 100 by “Separate Lives,” a duet between Phil Collins and Marilyn Martin. This was a very familiar position for Collins, who’d been there earlier that year for “One More Night” and “Sussudio,” but for Martin — a backup singer almost completely unknown to the general public — it was the shock of a lifetime.

“Watching ‘Separate Lives’ hit Number One was otherworldly,” Martin tells Rolling Stone via Zoom from her home in Healdsburg, California. “I don’t think I even could grasp it. I almost looked at it like this was happening to someone else. I was like, ‘That couldn’t possibly be happening to me. I couldn’t be that lucky.’”

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It wasn’t the only time that Martin’s voice appeared on a massive hit. She sings background on Madonna’s “Cherish,” Tom Petty’s “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” and Kenny Loggins’ “Footloose” — but this was the first time she was the featured artist. In a different universe, a song as big as “Separate Lives” could have been the launching pad to a successful solo career. But in this universe, Martin followed it up with two flop solo albums, then resumed her life as a background singer for Don Henley, Joe Walsh, and Stevie Nicks. During some lean years, she opened up a successful ceramics business in Nashville, and found work as a real estate agent.

She’s spent the past five years touring the globe as a background singer with Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac. It’s a role she loves. “I don’t know that I was ever comfortable being the focal point,” she says. “I love being in the background and giving my all to a main singer where everything is on their shoulders. As long as I’m doing my job, I’m golden.”

Martin grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, where country music was king. “The first song I remember singing was [George Jones’] ‘Bony Maronie,’” she says. “The lyrics go, ‘She’s as skinny as a a stick of macaroni.’ I was real skinny as a kid, and I’d run around singing that.”

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When she got older, she began listening to the Beatles, Janis Joplin, and the Mamas and the Papas. “I tried taking some vocal lessons, but I had a really bad attitude,” she says. “I didn’t want to sound trained. All my favorite people opened their mouths and just sounded wonderful.”

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Her best singing lessons came from simply singing along to records. “I remember when Jesus Christ Superstar came out,” she says. “I would wear that out and sing with it. Barbra Streisand, the Beatles, and the Mamas and Papas, too. My parents never really encouraged me to actually be a singer, though. Their hope for me was to marry well or go to college and become a lawyer or something more down to earth.”

Before that could happen, a Top 40 cover band played a function at her high school. When she heard they were looking for new members, she auditioned. “About a year later they called,” Martin says. “They went, ‘Hey, do you want to go out and sing?’ I was like, ‘Now I don’t have to go to college!’”

Martin soon discovered an incredible gift of mimicry as she sang songs by Linda Ronstadt, Fleetwood Mac, and other Seventies hitmakers at bars and tiny clubs all across America.

In 1975, after two years on the road, she joined another Top 40 band. This one featured guitarist Greg Droman. “We were just pals during my first year in the band,” Martin says. “I then thought, ‘I think I’d like to be a little more than just friends.’ We got married in 1976.”

As we’re speaking to Martin on Zoom, Dorman is in the next room. They’ve now been married for 47 years. After his years in the cover band, he became a successful engineer/producer who’s worked with Faith Hill, Trisha Yearwood, Lindsey Buckingham, Fleetwood Mac, and many others. He also grew up with Joe Walsh, a connection that helped set Martin up with a career as a background singer that’s still going strong 40 years later.

What were your ambitions back in your cover band days? Did you want to eventually go off and sing originals?
I was so happy doing what I was doing. Sadly, I never thought I’d have an opportunity to go beyond doing what I was doing, being a Top 40 singer, doing everyone else’s songs. But then we met up with Joe Vitale, Joe Walsh’s drummer, when we were playing a club in Miami.

We worked with Joe on some different projects, like [his 1981 solo album] Plantation Harbor. He flew us down to Key Biscayne, Florida for that. That was the first time we had recorded anything. It was an incredible experience.

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How did you end up singing background vocals on the Joe Walsh tour in 1983?
Greg had grown up with Joe near Akron. He’d go see him play, and Joe would sneak him in because he was underage. He’s a killer guitar player. When the Joe Walsh tour came up, Joe Vitale suggested to Joe Walsh that he hire the two of us as background singer and rhythm guitar player.

I had been in a band for so long that I thankfully had a band mentality. That was my comfort zone. When we met Joe’s guys, they were so nice. They knew we were pretty green. They knew we came from a Top 40 band. They are all so great. Rickey Washington was my co-background singer. He was amazing. I could just stand back and listen to him sing for hours.

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One of your first shows with Joe was the US Festival.
Yeah. That was a sea of people, stretching out beyond your field of vision. That was just mind-blowing. I had never stood in front of so many people. It was killer because the people were having so much fun.

That was a super famous day with U2, David Bowie, and the Pretenders all on the same bill. Did you watch them play?
No. We could hear them. We were backstage in tents. It was such a frenetic situation that you really had to stay put. You couldn’t wander around and see who was onstage. You had to stay in your specified area. But we definitely heard most of them.

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Everyone says the US Festival was really hot and miserable.
Exactly like you said. It was hot. But it was such a big event that you didn’t waste any time complaining about the heat or worrying about anything.

How many weeks into the Joe Walsh tour did Stevie ask you to join her band too?
I wish I could remember. I think it was about three weeks. She just said to me one day, “Hey, why don’t you come sing with me too?” [Laughs.] My mind was blown since these opportunities were beyond our imagination.

The thing was that I had clothes for Joe’s shows, rock & roll clothes. I didn’t have anything else. The first thing that Stevie did was so sweet. She opened up her wardrobe case and was like, “Here, just pick something.” Many years later, Greg and I went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We were walking through and we stopped at the Joe Walsh exhibit. And there was the guitar that Joe let Greg play. It was on the shelf at the exhibit. We went to the Stevie exhibit and I’m almost positive there was the little pink outfit she let me wear.

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That 1983 tour was a long one, and you were a part of both headlining acts. Did it get exhausting to sing for that many hours in a row for months on end?
No. It was too exciting to be exhausting. [Laughs.] I counted my blessings every second onstage with both of them.

Joe has been very honest about his struggles during the Eighties. His lifestyle wasn’t very healthy, to put it mildly. Was it hard to watch him in that state?
A little bit. It was harder for my husband since Greg idolized Joe. When you’re living that lifestyle you’re not aways at your best, playing-wise. But he was still Joe Walsh. He played great. It was interesting since that was our first tour, our first introduction to the rock & roll backstage life.

It must have been a culture shock.
[Laughs.] My attitude was always just one of gratitude. I was so grateful to be wherever I was that I just took it in all and felt blessed to be there.

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When the Joe and Stevie tour ended in 1983, what were your goals?
We were still living in Akron at that time. Our next goal was to move to L.A., which we did. Joe had promised Greg, “Come out to L.A. I’ll help you get a gig at a studio or something.” And so we packed up and moved to L.A. That gig fell out. The first day we moved there, Greg found out, “Uh-oh. I don’t have a job.”

But the second day, Kenny Loggins called and he wanted me to be in a video for “Vox Humana.” He wanted me to play keyboard even though I don’t play keyboards. He just needed another body up there. One thing after another after another happened like that.

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You ended up singing background on “Footloose,” right?
Yeah. While we were out on tour with Joe, Kenny did a show with us in Phoenix, I think. He heard me sing with Rickey Washington and he called us when they went into the studio to record “Footloose” to do backgrounds. It was just amazing.

Did you think that song would be a hit when you first heard it?
Yeah. That’s because it was Kenny and it was a great song. The energy was great. We hoped it would be a hit. I couldn’t imagine it not being one.

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It must have been fun to drive around and hear your voice on that song over and over.
Oh my gosh. It was thrilling. [Laughs.]

What part of that song are you most audible on?
I’m the high part in the background. You can hear Rickey better. He actually had some cool parts.

How did you wind up singing “Sorcerer” on the Streets of Fire soundtrack?
We were in the studio working on Stevie’s album, Rock a Little. Jimmy Iovine was producing. The movie people came to Jimmy and said, “We want this song on there.” Stevie wasn’t going to sing it, so I did. I think we sang some backgrounds on it. It was just being in the right place at the right time, really.

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It must have been exciting that that this wasn’t background work. This was recorded under your own name.
Yeah. It was. It made me feel great since they wanted my voice on it. That was overwhelming a little. That was exciting.

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Was recording Rock a Little with Stevie a fun experience?
It was. Her schedule is still the same. She’s up all night, and sleeps all day. I would get a call at like 11:00 p.m. “OK, Stevie is ready for backgrounds. Get over to the studio.” [Laughs.] I’d be on call. But it was fun. She’s an incredible human. She’s got a great sense of humor. She still does. She hasn’t changed a bit since then. It’s amazing.

How did you wind up on Tom Petty’s “Don’t Come Around Here No More?”
Tom was writing that for Stevie. Jimmy Iovine got the track together. He wanted to Stevie to come in, lay the vocal down, no problem. And so he called Sharon Celani and I in to do backgrounds. That was the last we heard of it. Then Stevie ended up not doing it. Months later, Sharon and I heard it on the radio with Tom. We had no idea until it came out.

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Wow. I didn’t realize that. There’s a lot of prominent backgrounds on that song. What parts are Sharon and what parts are you?
I think Sharon sang the high and I was the third above. It’s been a long time, but I’m pretty sure that’s how it happened. I didn’t do those wonderful ad-libs on the end [by Stephanie Spruill]. People say, “Oh, those are so great.” I’m so tempted to say, “Thank you.” But it wasn’t me. [Laughs.]

Tell me how “Separate Lives” happened.
We were recording Rock a Little. The head of Atlantic, Doug Morris, came in quite often to visit Stevie. One time we were on a break and he came over since he’d head me sing with Stevie. He said, “Do you sing any songs on your own? Do you write?” I said, “Oh, sure. I’ve got all kinds.”

What I had was a cassette of ideas. I mean, literally it was just a chorus idea or a verse idea. I didn’t tell him that. I said, “I’ve got tapes.” He said, “Send them to me.”

And I did. [Laughs.] How naive! People go to studios and record their songs to have the best demos in the world. But I sent him this stupid, little cassette. He must have thought, “Well, if she has the nerve to do this, I need to sign her.”

He signed me. And before we finished the Stevie album, Doug had…I don’t know how this came about. But he was friends with [director] Taylor Hackford, who was working on [the film] White Knights. I guess Taylor might have said, “I need a song for this.”

In the meantime, Phil Collins had turned in his No Jacket Required album to Doug. He said, “There’s a song that didn’t fit with this album, but it’s a great song. Maybe you can find a home for it.” It was “Separate Lives.” And so when Taylor Hackford wanted a song for the soundtrack, Doug, in his brilliance, said, “Let’s make this a duet with Phil Collins and this new girl I just signed. What a great setup for a new career.”

Before I even finished Stevie’s album, I was being flown to London to put my parts down. We used Phil’s original recording and just took out his vocals on the second verse and put me in. Then I sang some harmonies. I’ve never gotten to sing it with him live. I only sang it with him in the recording process.

Was he there?
He was. That was nerve-racking, but incredible. It was the first time I met him, probably just to make sure I could do it. Arif Mardin was the producer. [Sighs.] He was incredible. He would come in wearing a suit, so classy. Just so amazing. He walks in and it’s like, “This is serious.”

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How many takes did it take before you got it?
That’s another story. It took a couple of days because I was giving it my all. Like I said, I’m from Kentucky. I found out many years later that Arif had called up Doug Morris and went, “I don’t know if it’s going to work. She sounds very country.” Apparently Doug said, “You gotta keep at it. It’ll kill her if she loses this.”

I remember being a little confused because Arif would have me straighten out a lot of lines that I thought were just killer. But what he did made a lot of sense.

Tell me about making the video.
I flew back to London and just showed up. I wish I had a stylist or someone at that point. I just wore what I showed up in. I thought somebody would have something for me to put on, some options. But no. I just showed up and we did it. The only difficult thing was the director told me not to look at Phil. It’s tough since I’m playing to Phil. I’m singing the song to him. He’d stop and go, “Don’t look at Phil.” [Laughs.] That was hard.

I was amazed that every time we took a break from the video taping, Phil would be over here doing a photo shoot or an interview. He just never stopped.

The song shot to Number One.
For a week. “Broken Wings” knocked us out in the second week, but we got there for a week.

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How did it change your life? Did strangers start recognizing you on the street?
I went right into doing my album. I don’t know if I was recognized or not. I really don’t. My life just went on the same. I didn’t feel any different. It was just comforting to know, “OK, I am on the right track, I guess.”

It sent you into your first solo album with a ton of momentum.
It absolutely did. And it was interesting because Doug wanted me to be more of a writer. He wanted me to have more of a voice. Atlantic sent me back to London to write with different people, like John Parr. I wrote “Night Moves” with him. We picked other songs.

It’s been so many years that I actually had to Google myself before this interview, but there were so many different producers on this album, so many different genres of songs. In retrospect, I wish I had followed up “Separate Lives” with more of a pop thing. I can’t imagine how confused people that heard me on “Separate Lives” must have been when all of a sudden “Night Moves” comes out. It was like, “What? Who is this person?”

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“Night Moves” did chart.
It didn’t go to Number One or anything, but it was successful.

Did you do any solo shows to promote your record?
I went to Japan. I did some small shows here and there, like the Montreux Jazz Festival. It was usually singing to track.

Your next record was This Is Serious. In what ways did you want that one to be different?
I was leaning more towards pop. I’ve never seen myself as a rock singer. It’s fun. It just wasn’t me. I was still trying to figure out who I was as a singer, what were my strong points. I think I was more pop than trying to be harder-edged.

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Your song “Possessive Love” on This Is Serious was written by Madonna and Patrick Leonard. How did that happen?
I was writing with Pat. Obviously, he had worked with Madonna for years. I think he just went to her and said, “Let’s write a song for Marilyn Martin.” According to him, her first question was, “Is she nice?” He went, “Yeah. She’s nice.” And so that came about.

The album wasn’t a hit. Were you crushed?
It was frustrating because I still hadn’t really figured out who I was. Coming from Top 40, I can sing like a lot of people, but I hadn’t sussed out my style. I kind of understood why it didn’t do as well as I had hoped. Other people had a distinct style. I felt like I was still lacking that.

Also, one of my biggest problems was that I don’t play an instrument, so I couldn’t sit down and write a song by myself. That’s the way to figure out what your style is. It wasn’t until later, when Greg showed me how to navigate GarageBand, that I wrote [my 2012 album] Trust, Love, Pray. That’s when I finally started sounding like me.

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You’re credited as a vocalist on Madonna’s Like a Prayer album. What songs are you on?
Just “Cherish.” That happened through Pat Leonard. She was in the studio. I’m sure Pat said, “Why don’t we call Marilyn and have her join the girls?” That was fun. It was interesting meeting Madonna. She’s such a force of nature. It was wonderful.

That song was another big hit.
Yeah. The girls were really sweet to sing with, so that was good.

The next year, you toured with Don Henley as a background singer.
That was fantastic, hearing that voice every night. It was interesting because almost every night, I’d come up at the end of the show and go, “You sounded great!” But he could never accept a compliment. It was always like, “Eh. I could have done better. Whatever.” It always struck me that someone at his level of incredibleness couldn’t accept a compliment.

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Don Henley and Joe Walsh are obviously bandmates, but they have very different approaches to presenting their music live. Don likes everything to sound just like the records. He’s very precise.
Yeah. I don’t know what he’s like now, but Joe used to revel in spontaneity. He would tell Rickey and I, “Just go for it. Do your thing. Just sing.” We probably went too far some nights, but it was so fun to just open up and it’s like, “I can do whatever. I can sing wherever. I can go wherever I want to go and Joe is going to like that.” But Don was very particular with the singers and the musicians. He wants it to be perfect. And it was. Every night was incredible.

The Don Henley tour was just two years after you released This Is Serious. Were you disappointed at where you were at in your career after the huge success of “Separate Lives,” and cutting two solo albums?
No. I was just grateful to be out with Don Henley, for Pete’s sake. I don’t want to say it was a relief, but maybe in some ways it was.

Some singers crave that center spotlight. And others simply don’t feel that way.
Yeah. It’s too bad. I wish I could have enjoyed it more, but I don’t know if I ever felt 100 percent comfortable in the limelight.

It’s so much pressure. Even when you have a hit, everyone just starts focusing on finding the next one and keeping the gravy train going.
Yeah. And this is an interesting story: Atlantic didn’t actually drop me. I asked to get off the label because I decided not to renew my contract with my manager, Tony Smith, who was also Phil’s manager. I needed more hands to help with different aspects. They worked fabulously with Phil, but that’s because he doesn’t need much. He’s Phil Collins. He does his thing, and that’s it.

I didn’t renew the contract. I was looking at different managers. I was talking with Dennis Turner. His other client was Kenny G. He said, “We should get you off Atlantic. I can get you a deal at another label that will be a better fit.”

I went to Doug after they’d accepted a third album. I said, “You know what? I think I’m just going to go.” [Laughs.] Like an idiot! And then Dennis couldn’t find another label for me. It was my own fault. I could have done a third on Atlantic, but I’m the George Costanza of the music business. I should always do the opposite of what I think I should do. [Big laugh.]

Where did things go from there?
I was flailing and I couldn’t find another label. That’s when Doug stepped in again. He’s been my guardian angel my entire career. He arranged a deal with Modern Records for me to do my own album. Their plan was, “Well, we can put it out in Japan and see what happens.”

This plan wasn’t very encouraging. I had this whole record that my husband and I just found — songs I had written with him and other people. It was on DAT. Our friend recently was able to transfer them. He sent us all these songs that were really pretty good. I wish we had stuck with that deal. Instead, right as we were finishing up that album for Modern, Doug called and said, “How would you like to make a country album?” That seemed like a more stable, forward path. I said, “OK! I’ll do that.”

That’s how the country album [Through His Eyes] came about. And that’s why we moved to Nashville, to pursue the country album.

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How did your time in Nashville go?
I loved being there because I was three hours away from home. My whole family still lives in Louisville. It was a very interesting experience to come from the pop world and recording in New York and L.A. It was a whole different experience. I learned later that Atlantic Nashville was notorious for not wanting any women on the label. Trisha Yearwood was out. She was doing great.

Let me back up. Their protocol for a new album was to send it first to a market research group. Everyone then discusses the results. We all sat around a table in this room, and Greg was there. And Rick Blackburn, who was the head of Atlantic Nashville, said, “OK, let’s start with the positives. Well, she’s nice.” [Laughs.] That was the first thing he said!

He goes, “The second positive is, she has a good voice.” Nobody else could think of anything else positive to say, so they moved onto the cons. “Well, she’s a woman.” That was the first strike against me. The second strike was, “She’s had a pop hit.” Nobody could think of a third one. And then my manager for my country career goes, “Her age?” [Big laugh.]

I thought I was being punked. I looked at Greg and didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. But it was totally on the level. They were serious.

Your age? You were what, in your late thirties?
Yes! And that was my manager! Long story short, the market research came back lukewarm. They released one single “Through His Eyes,” and then they just dropped it, and me. Then I thought, “Well, okay. Maybe God’s trying to tell me this isn’t my path, and I shouldn’t be singing anymore.” And so I quit for a while.

You can hear the album online though.
Yeah. I mean, I’m probably not supposed to have it online, but it’s on my website.

Did you stay in Nashville after you quit?
We stayed in Nashville because my husband’s career was just booming. He’s an engineer and he engineered Brooks and Dunn, Lee Ann Womack, Gary Allen… Then he started producing. He was doing really, really well, thank God. But then it started to taper off, and Greg started to miss California. When things tapered off for him and me, we decided to take our chances and come back to California, and see what happens.

Let’s go back a bit. I see you have multiple credits with David Hasselhoff.
I did. We did a few songs together. One of them was “These Boots Are Made For Walking.”

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How did he find you?
I think it was because of “Separate Lives.” His management got in touch. It’s funny because he came to our house when we lived in L.A. We’re in the studio and we hear this motor running. We walk out and there’s David Hasselhoff in our driveway. He’s listening to something on the radio or on the phone or something. It was so cool. What a nice guy, my goodness. He’s so energetic. And he’s huge in Germany, as a singer.

People don’t realize that in the States.
They just want to see him in swim shorts. [Laughs.]

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You also sang “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” with him. It must have been a little surreal to cover the Righteous Brothers with Mitch from Baywatch.
This is embarrassing, but that was one of the songs we sang? I can’t even remember. [Laughs.] I do remember that we sang the first song together in the studio. When we did the second one, he just sent the track to Nashville since that’s where we were at the time.

What happened to your career by the early 2000s?
Well, I had to do something. And so I opened up a paint-yourself ceramics shop with a friend of mine. We got this huge space in this great area in Nashville right near Vanderbilt Hospital. I thought, “This will be fun. We’ll paint ceramics and maybe make a little money.” Well, it blew up. It was so busy. By the end of the first year, my partner and I were so exhausted that we sold the joint. We won Best New Business in Nashville the same day we turned over the keys to the new owner. I tried my hand at being an entrepreneur.

I read you also worked as a realtor.
I did. And I have every respect for realtors. It’s the hardest job in the world. I was not cut out for it. I did well for a few years. Then it was just soul-sucking. I couldn’t do it anymore. [Laughs.]

Did you ever meet people looking for a house that were like, “Wait a minute. Aren’t you the ‘Separate Lives’ lady?’”
[Laughs.] A couple of times. It was sweet.

Then you went back out with Joe Walsh in 2011.
Yeah. Out of the blue, I got a call and went back out. Rickey Washington was with him. I don’t know if you know Gia [Ciambotti], but she sang background with Bruce Springsteen. It was the three of us on that tour.

The Joe you toured with in 2011 was a very different person than the guy you knew in 1983.
Oh yeah. And he’s married. His wife is…I don’t want to say “strict,” but she is trying to keep him on the right path.

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It must have felt like deja vu to be singing “Rocky Mountain Way” again and all these songs you sang back on your first tour.
I loved it. It was fantastic. One of the wonderful things about Joe is he always gives the background singers a standout song. On the first tour with him in 1983, it was “People Get Ready.” We had little solos on that. On the one in 2011, he featured us on “I Shall Be Released” so we could shine on that one song.

How did you wind up back with Stevie in 2016?
It’s like these little miracles that happen. I can’t take any credit for it. Sharon Celani, Stevie’s other background singer, who has been with her forever, had been calling intermittently for years before. She’d say, “Fleetwood Mac is going out. Do you want to come and do backgrounds?” And I was doing my thing with real estate. I had clients that I couldn’t leave. I didn’t want to leave in the middle. I said, “No.” She finally called and I said, “Yes.” And all of a sudden, I find myself back on the road, and I love it.

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Your first tour back was when she went out with the Pretenders in 2016.
Yeah. Gosh. That’s amazing. Chrissie Hynde would come out and sing “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” with Stevie. It was brilliant.

Tell me what it’s like being back on the road with Stevie. Do you travel with her?
We just picked up where we left off. There was no getting to know her again. It was just like coming home to old friends and picking right up. We don’t travel on the same plane, though. Back then, we were on busses. But now after Covid, she’s being very cautious. We travel with a Covid nurse, and we travel in different groups. There’s Group A, the artist group; Group B, the band group; and group C, the crew. Each group has their own charter plane. We’re totally spoiled now. You do that because if you’re on a bus and one person gets Covid, there’s no way everyone else won’t get it.

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I feel like Stevie is more famous now than she’s ever been. There are so many young people that are just obsessed with her.
That’s what I love about the Stevie shows. You can see the front 15 to 20 rows. You see the absolute joy in those faces. Some people are crying they are so excited. Some people are just smiling from ear to ear. One little twirl and they all go crazy. It’s very personable. She’s at the age now where she loves to tell her stories. Every now and then she’ll pop up with something onstage and Sharon and I will go, “Oh, I didn’t know that.”

It’ll be about the origin of certain things, like “Gold Dust Woman.” She said she started writing that after driving in her neighborhood and seeing Gold Dust Lane. She just loves telling her stories now. It’s captivating.

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What was it like touring with Fleetwood Mac in 2018 and 2019?
It was a privilege and an honor to do. As far as just having fun on tour, it was kind of a big machine. It was a little…how do I put it? Stevie tours are more fun since there aren’t as many restrictions. There’s one artist. When you’re traveling with so many artists, it’s just a bigger machine. I’m not going to stay it’s more work. It’s not. It’s just a little more intimidating.

We not only had the Fleetwood Mac artists, but we had Mike Campbell from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and Neil Finn, who is my all-time favorite.

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It must have been fun to sing “Don’t Dream It’s Over” with him every night.
Oh my God. Every time we did “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” the phones came on. The whole arena would just be lit up like fireflies, for people honoring that song. And his voice! I love it.

Tell me about getting to know Christine McVie on that tour.
I actually to know Christine years earlier. Greg engineered the Fleetwood Mac album Tango in the Night, so I met Christine back then. We got together and tried to write, but more wine was had than any writing. [Laughs.] Greg engineered not only Tango in the Night, but also Lindsey Buckingham’s [1992 album] Out of the Cradle. He was entrenched in the whole Fleetwood Mac family before I was.

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Christine was obviously frail on the last Fleetwood Mac tour, but she still had that voice. It was amazing to watch her sing “Songbird” and her other songs.
Yeah. That voice is that voice. She was born with that. She was very kind. It was an honor to be in their presence. The person who impressed me the most was probably Mick Fleetwood. He was incredible. His drum solos were just mesmerizing. He and Taku Hirano, who was on percussion, would just play off each other. It was this rhythmic bliss. It was beautiful.

What about John McVie? He’s somewhat of a mystery man since he does almost no press.
He’s very quiet. Toward the end of the tour, Sharon and I tried to goad him into coming over to our side of the stage. He never left his side. But two nights, he actually walked over. It was so thrilling, just that simple action of coming over to our side, to see him move out of his comfort zone.

He was very quiet, but very funny. He has a good sense of humor. We were backstage one night and everyone had their own dressing rooms, and I heard a cat. John was standing in front of his room. I said, “What is that?” He said, “It’s my cat.” I said, “Oh, can I see it?” And he just cracked up. It was a recording he was using to annoy everybody or something. How bizarre! I liked him a lot. He was very quiet, but vey sweet.

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Tell me about getting to know Mike Campbell.
He’s so fun. And honestly, to stand behind him and hear him play every show night was a thrill. He would always turn around and interact with the two of us. He loves all the old songs. He used to hold these bathroom jams, and you never knew what was coming. That was the fun of it.

The tour ended Nov. 16, 2019 in Las Vegas. It’s quite possible that’s the last Fleetwood Mac show ever.
It’s very likely since Christine is gone. Stevie just loves doing her own shows. You never say never, but it’s pretty doubtful.

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Hearing the news of Christine’s death must have been devastating.
Absolutely. I didn’t know she was ill. None of the people that I knew realized she had cancer. Stevie is still devastated by it. We had been doing “Sara” in the set. It was beautiful. Oh my gosh. Stevie just sounds gorgeous on that, obviously. But she took it out of the set. I heard that it reminds her of Christine for some reason.

At the end of the show, she does “Landslide” and there’s this beautiful collage of photos of Christine and Stevie. And Stevie can’t look at it. Most nights when we come out for the final bow after she’s sang “Landslide,” she’s tearing up.

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There’s just been so much loss when you also think of Tom Petty and the song she does for him every night.
Oh gosh. The photos. It’s so hard not to turn around and look at the backdrop to see what photos they’re putting up since they’re just brilliant. Young Stevie, young Tom.

You’ve done a lot of stadium shows lately with Billy Joel.
They’re fantastic. He’s amazing. The energy and his voice…it’s just perfect. It’s like it’s always been. He’s funny. Stevie has very strict backstage protocols. Everybody has to wear masks. Billy is a little looser with it. And he’s come out a few times to sing “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” with Stevie. He comes out with a mask. One time, he took it off and threw it down. Another time, he had the mask over his eyes, and he had cut out eye holes. He’s a lot of fun.

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It was cool seeing Benmont Tench back in Stevie’s band last year. She’s thrown the Heartbreakers a lot of work.
Benmont has a young child. He loved touring on the short legs. But when the legs got longer and longer, it was hard for him to be away from his young child. Darrell Smith is fantastic. He’s been with Stevie forever, so he came back.

The tour seems manageable these days. Long breaks are built in every few weeks.
Right. That’s good for Stevie. She’s 75. Boy, I don’t know how she does it. She’s like the Energizer Bunny. Her only change is she’s wearing tennis shoes instead of the platforms.

You’ve sung songs like “Gold Dust Woman” and “Rhiannon” hundreds of times at this point. I imagine they’re still fun to sing, though.
Oh gosh, yeah. It never gets old for me. Hopefully it never gets old for Stevie. It still sounds like it’s the first time she’s singing them every night.

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Tell me your goals over the next five years. What do you still hope to accomplish?
I’d like to write more. I’d like to make another faith-based album on my own. Honestly, I’ve always flown by the seat of my pants. I’ve always felt like I’ve fallen into these wonderful blessings, but now I know God has been guiding me the whole way. These wonderful things that came up weren’t just mistakes or luck. I’d like to be more in tune with what I should be doing, what God has for me to do.

That’s what’s in my heart. That’s my purpose. I could sit and maybe write love songs and this and that, but I don’t have any angst to sing about love lost. I don’t have an experience in that. I do feel a deep gratitude for all the blessings, for all my life has been, for every little facet of it, good and bad. I feel like it’s been my learning process, my path to learn.

You don’t have regrets? You don’t think, “Gee, if I’d gone in a slightly different direction after ‘Separate Lives’ I could have been a solo star?’”
It wasn’t meant to happen. I do have one regret. When “Separate Lives” was nominated for an Academy Award, they asked Phil to sing it. He said no. I don’t know why. It might have been since the year before, they asked Ann Reinking to dance to “Against All Odds.” And then [“Separate Lives” songwriter] Stephen Bishop said to me, “Why don’t you sing it with me at the Academy Awards?” I was like, “I’m there! OK!”

But my manager, who was also Phil’s manager, said, “If you do this, we have a real problem.” That’s because Phil was there. And if I was onstage and he was in the audience, people might question Phil. It would have looked bad. I said, “OK.” And now I think, “What an idiot! Why didn’t I say, ‘It’s the Academy Awards, for Pete’s sake. Why hold me down when your other artist doesn’t want to?” That’s my one regret. I still think of it with some pain.

How do you feel now if you hear “Separate Lives” on the radio or in the grocery store or something?
Grateful. [Laughs.] Just grateful. I love it. I’m proud of it. I’m grateful to have been a part of it.

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Phil has sung it in concert with so many different background singers. It’s crazy he hasn’t once called you up to do it.
No. Never. I even went to go see him in concert a few years ago. We went backstage and he was very kind. He stood there for about half an hour. We talked the whole time. By that point, he was on his cane. He shouldn’t have been standing for that long. I was very touched that he did. But he never said, “Hey, why don’t you come out and sing it?” But I understand. When you’ve got a show, you can’t just throw in a monkey wrench like that.

When is the last time you sang the song in any capacity?
I sang it with Michael McDonald. A friend of mine got married in Nashville. She’s friends with Michael. After the wedding, they had a big reception with a band. She said to me, “I want you to come up and sing ‘Separate Lives’ with my husband.” I said, “Oh, OK. Cool.”

I get up onstage and she says, “Well, we have a surprise. You’re going to sing it with Michael.” I could barely sing. Oh my God. That voice. When he opened his mouth, it was just chills from head to toe. He sounded so good on that song.

I’ve also gotten to sing it with Kenny Loggins. He used to do benefits in Santa Barbara, and one night he sang it with me.

It’s a great irony that you’re famous for this breakup song, but you’ve never really experienced any sort of breakup in your adult life.
I know! I even said to my friend at the wedding, “This is a terrible song for a wedding.”

What are the secrets of having a long marriage?
We started as friends, and we stayed friends. He gives me freedom to go out on the road. He doesn’t try to hold me too tightly. We let each other be who we are, always have. And we didn’t have children. That helped! [Laughs.] If we had kids, it would have been a different story.


We stayed friends. We’re friends first and foremost. We just respect each other as human beings and allow each other to be the human beings we are. We’ve never tried to change each other.

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I’ll wrap in a second, but do you still feel the same thrill you’ve always felt when you walk onstage at a Stevie concert and you see the crowd start screaming?
Absolutely. You know what? I think I feel it even more so as the years go by since I know that at some point, it’s going to end. Right now, I’m at the point where every time I walk out, I get this amazing rush. I want to be 2,000 percent present because some day this will end. Right now, for that moment, I’m there. And it’s magic.