Stevie Nicks Said She ‘Studied’ How Her Idols ‘Phrased’ Their Lyrics

Stevie Nicks knew she wanted to be a singer/songwriter from a very young age. Music was all she thought about after her grandfather taught her to harmonize when she was only five years old. However, her country singing grandfather wasn’t her only musical influence. Nicks had many idols before she became one herself, and they taught her many things, including how to phrase lyrics.

Stevie Nicks performing with Fleetwood Mac in Atlanta, Georgia, 1977.
Stevie Nicks | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Stevie Nicks’ idols taught her how to phrase her lyrics

During a 2011 interview, Nicks explained that her idols shaped the way she wrote her own songs. One of the biggest lessons she learned from them was how to phrase her lyrics.

“My songwriting influences were more Jackson Browne, Crosby Stills, and Nash, Joni Mitchell,” Nicks explained, “and because of what I learned from them, their phrasing, the way they wrote poetry, the way they put their poetry to music, I really-I say studied and I guess that really is what I did- I studied, but I laid on the floor and listened and read their music and read their words, you know, and just loved it, I never looked at it as studying.

“I just looked at it as these are my very favorite writers and my very favorite phrasers because learning to phrase when you’re a poet is hard,” Nicks continued. “Joni taught me that you can fit thousands of words in every sentence if you sing it right. So, that was great to know because when you’re a poet, you don’t really want to shorten up your sentences, so she taught me that.”

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Nicks wouldn’t be an artist if it wasn’t for Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell didn’t just influence Nicks’ songwriting. Mitchell is the reason Nicks is a singer/songwriter. In 1981, Nicks told BAM Magazine that she was obsessed with Mitchell growing up.

“Well, I’ve written for years and been influenced by lots of people, but I guess the stuff that really got me was Joni Mitchell’s early songs,” Nicks explained. “I learned so much from listening to her. In fact, I probably wouldn’t be doing this if it hadn’t been for her.

“It was her music that showed me I could say everything I wanted to and push it into one sentence and sing it well,” Nicks continued. “Ladies of the Canyon taught me a lot. I remember lying on the floor, listening to Joni’s records, studying every single word. When she came out with a new album I’d go crazy-‘Don’t bother me this week. I’m listening to Joni Mitchell.'”

However, Nicks didn’t want to be Mitchell and knew she couldn’t play guitar like her. But Mitchell did teach Nicks a lot about songwriting. “I didn’t want to play music like her, I couldn’t if I’d wanted to-I can’t play the guitar worth s***, and Joni’s a great player. I just loved the way she was a very personal writer yet easy to relate to. She was doing what I wanted to do.”

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Nicks was inspired by many other artists like Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin

Mitchell might have given Nicks a reason to become an artist, but a very eclectic group of idols also influenced Nicks.

“I also loved all of Jackson Browne’s records,” she continued to BAM. “Again, he could make the most intimate, personal things universal. This might surprise you, but I loved Jimi Hendrix as a writer-he put words together in really amazing ways. I loved Janis Joplin-the way she sang, the way she performed, I saw her one time and was completely riveted, I never forgot it. I have so many influences, but I can’t really tell where they come in.

“My writing style is very, very simple. I play so simply that I have to kill with my voice, especially in the beginning of a song or nobody gets it. The instrumental parts of my songs are not going to see them. And because the structure and chords and all are so simply, it forces me-and the players-to really experiment with phrasings and ways of bringing out the melody.”

In 2001, Nicks told VH1 (per Stevie Nicks Info) that she adopted her “vocal prowess” from Aretha Franklin and “elegant stage presence” from Grace Slick. Nicks wanted to be the “beautiful woman in black,” just like Slick. Prince and Tom Petty, two of Nicks’ closest friends, should also be on her list of idols.

Outside her influences, though, Nicks was able to form her own style and career. Now, she inspires new artists.