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Get Tusked – The Inside Story of Fleetwood Mac’s Most Anticipated Album – Book Review

Grammy-winning co-producer Ken Caillat and assistant engineer Hernan Rojas spent a year recording Fleetwood Mac’s epic double-album, Tusk. Now they share what went wrong: Everything.

Ken Caillat (left) was the co-producer and engineer for Fleetwood Mac’s 40-plus million-selling Rumours album, as well as its challenging follow-up, Tusk. Caillat discussed those days as he chatted with journalist Bobby Owsinski, playing clips from the albums, sharing never-before-seen photos and videos and more, as well as discussing his new book recalling the era, Get Tusked.
At NAMM 2020, Ken Caillat (left) talked about recording Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk with journalist Bobby Owsinski, and also discussed his new book recalling the era, Get Tusked.

It’s a rough time right now with the pandemic kicking in, and whether we like it or not, a lot of audio pros have more time on their hands than they’d like. If nothing else, it’s an opportunity to catch up on that pile of books you’ve been meaning to read. If you’re looking for suggestions, try the just-published Get Tusked: The Inside Story of Fleetwood Mac’s Most Anticipated Album [Backbeat Books], which goes inside the epic year of recording sessions that spawned the band’s sprawling double-album, 1979’s Tusk. Unlike a lot of tell-alls, this one is written by folks who were there: Grammy-winning co-producer Ken Caillat and assistant engineer Hernan Rojas. It’s a fascinating read, and you don’t need to know Tusk well (or at all) to enjoy it.

Book Review: Making Rumors: The Inside Story of the Classic Fleetwood Mac Album.

The subtitle gives it all away, of course, calling Tusk the Mac’s most anticipated album, because you can’t call it their biggest—or anyone’s favorite, for that matter. To be fair, any album that would come after 1977’s industry changing, 40 million-selling Rumours would face hard comparisons, but even in that charitable view, Tusk is widely seen as a misfire—but an intriguing misfire that sold two million copies. Given that they spent a year recording it, it’s not like they didn’t make an effort, so what exactly went wrong? That’s what Caillat and Rojas try to reveal.

Some of the culprits are predictable; it was the ’70s, so sex and drugs (and drugs, and then even more drugs) fueled the rock ’n’ roll created by Fleetwood Mac. To say that the participants were undisciplined is an understatement, as the book recounts endless Animal House-level food fights in their favorite restaurant, and every few pages, someone’s got a new sports car that has to be pushed to the limit.

The book also recounts guitarist/ co-producer Lindsay Buckingham trying to break the rules in other ways, aiming to defy the world’s expectations for a Rumours II. With a record company demanding more of that smooth, harmony-drenched California sound, Buckingham finds himself suddenly—and very inconveniently—enthralled by the post-punk sounds bubbling up. Aiming to not get left behind, he spends much of the book working in self-isolation (sound familiar?), recording lo-fi tracks at home rather than use the opulent, custom-built studio at the band’s disposal. With DAWs and even Alesis ADATs still years away, the project quickly takes over Buckingham’s house. At one point, Caillat visits the rock star’s mansion for a very un-PC Halloween party, discovering mic cables everywhere and an Ampex 1-inch tape machine parked outside a reverberant tiled bathroom referred to as “Studio B.”

Sandwiched between the rock star excess and the endless tug-of-war between Buckingham and the rest of the band and producers, there are tales of love (Caillat gets married, while Rojas and songstress Stevie Nicks become an item), and plenty of recording tips—how to get singers to trust a mic, analog tape-flipping tricks and more, plus a great section advising how to set up a mixing space and create a solid mix. And the part where they rent Dodger Stadium to record USC’s Trojan Marching Band, only to discover the band can’t keep time unless it’s marching? Priceless.

The coming weeks will be extraordinarily hard, which means allowing yourself a little fun is more crucial than ever. Pick up this book (or Caillat’s other one, Making Rumours—you’ll never guess what that one’s about) for an enjoyable way to pass the time.

Get Tusked •