In 1979 Fleetwood Mac hired a 112-piece marching band to enliven a song they were working on: it was the start of a long and beautiful relationship

Stevie Nicks twirling a baton in the video for Tusk
(Image credit: Fleetwood Mac)

Fleetwood Mac spent a fortune recording Tusk. Guitarist Lyndsey Buckingham took the helm for the follow-up to Rumours, presiding over sessions that lasted well over a year and cost more than a million dollars, a then-record sum for a rock album. 

“He was a maniac,” co-producer Ken Caillat said. “He’d tape microphones to the studio floor and get into a sort of push-up position to sing. Early on, he came in and he’d freaked out in the shower and cut off all his hair with nail scissors. He was stressed.”

Nowhere was Buckingham's perfection-via-excess approach captured more perfectly than on the album's title track, a semi-tribal romp that originated in a riff he'd been playing around with during sound-checks. Not content with the sound of Mick Fleetwood slapping a leg of lamb with a spatula, the band hired 112 members of the University of Southern California's marching band – known as the Spirit of Troy and nicknamed The Greatest Marching Band in the History of the Universe – to bolster the song.  

"We recorded in Dodgers Stadium one very strange Sunday afternoon when there was nobody else there," Stevie Nicks remembered. "It was one of the big five experiences of my life. Seeing these kids play this song in full regalia with the gold lame boots and the red and the Trojan helmets and screaming and yelling and playing trumpets and I mean, marching into this empty stadium was very twilight zone."

The official video for Tusk captures some of that Trojan magic. There's the marching band, of course, but also The Mac: Nicks as cheerleader, twirling her baton; Christine McVie tottering around with a glass of wine; Fleetwood ferrying a cardboard cutout of John McVie across the turf (the bassist was on holiday in Tahiti and couldn't make the shoot); and Lindsey Buckingham attempting to rein Nicks in as she enthusiastically waved a wide-brimmed hat.

This was nothing new for the Spirit of Troy. Since composer John Philip Sousa (known as 'The March King') appeared with the band in 1924, many musicians have called on their services, including Henry Mancini, Diana Ross, Neil Diamond, Slash, The Offspring, John Williams, Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, Radiohead, Coheed and Cambria and Beyoncé.

In 1997 Fleetwood Mac came a-calling for a second time, inviting the band to appear on The Dance, originally filmed as an MTV special and later released as a live album. The USC crew reprised their appearance on Tusk, and also played on a rollicking version of the Rumours classic Don't Stop.  

Tusk and The Dance sold more than seven million copies combined, bringing the men and women of Southern California worldwide fame and earning them two platinum albums, a feat unmatched in the world of collegiate band activity. The first of the discs was presented to the band at halftime during a game between USC and Arizona State in October 1980, a year after the original video was filmed.

Another halftime would see another appearance from Mick Fleetwood: In November 1998, he took the field during a game against Notre Dame, beating a pair of kettle drums with enormous vigour as the band stuck up Tusk again.

In 2010, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Arthur C. Bartner's tenure as director of The Trojans, Spirit of Troy alumni were invited to return for the annual homecoming game. With nearly 90,000 people in the stands, 300 current band members were joined by 500 former participants, and Tusk – the Greatest Marching Band in the History of the Universe's unofficial fourth fight song – was played once more. 

"It sold over a million copies," boomed the announcer, "making the Spirit Of Troy the first marching band to earn a platinum album." 

Sadly, USC lost the game 32–53 to the Oregon Ducks. 

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.