the greatest British guitar player.
Sad news that Peter Green, founder of the real Fleetwood Mac, died at the weekend, aged 73.
Probably two things sum up Peter Green, one is a quote by the legend B.B. King the other is the name of the band he formed after leaving John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers.
[Peter Green] has the sweetest tone I ever heard. He was the only one who gave me the cold sweats B.B. King
That tone, like all greats it’s instantly recognisable, a haunting, hollow tone coming from “Greeny”, his ’59 Les Paul, that was bought by the late Gary Moore and is now owned by Kirk Hammett. One of those “Holy Grail” tones that players have been searching for ever since Green broke on the scene with John Mayall, on the album “A Hard Road”.
A number of people have come up with their take on it, people close to the guitar from Green himself to others who’ve examined it. With the pickup toggle switch in the middle, both pickups on, there’s that out of phase tone. Green said he took the neck pickup out and put it back wrongly. The screw polepieces on the neck pickup are reversed, they’re on the left hand side – closer to the bridge – than the right – closer to the neck – as is the norm.
Jol Dantzig, luthier and co-founder of Hamer Guitars, examined it when Gary Moore owned it and said the wiring looked like it had never been altered, meaning it could just have been a factory fault.
It doesn’t matter. Green got it, he played it and he sounded like Peter Green, much like Dantzig says Moore sounded like Moore when playing it. Ted Nugent sounded like Ted Nugent when playing through Eddie Van Halen’s rig.
Green’s sound was in his soul. Through the Bluesbreakers, where he stood in for Clapton before becoming his replacement…
As the band walked in the studio I noticed an amplifier which I never saw before, so I said to John Mayall, “Where’s Eric Clapton?” Mayall answered, “He’s not with us anymore, he left us a few weeks ago.” I was in a shock of state [sic] but Mayall said, “Don’t worry, we got someone better.” I said, “Wait a minute, hang on a second, this is ridiculous. You’ve got someone better? Than Eric Clapton?” John said, “He might not be better now, but you wait, in a couple of years he’s going to be the best.” Then he introduced me to Peter Green Mike Vernon
Clapton’s showpiece on the “Beano” album was a cover of Freddie King’s “Hideaway”, Green got his Freddie moment with “The Stumble” but his showpiece was his self penned instrumental “The Supernatural”. The Green tone was born.
Then to the band he formed from it, after being given some studio time by Mayall, leaving the Bluesbreakers he wanted to take John McVie with him but the bassist had a family and a regular income with Mayall, so Fleetwood Mac was born without the Mac but with Fleetwood on drums.
It was originally called “Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac” but Green wanted it just named after the rhythm duo.
Three official albums, number of singles and compilations and live recordings followed in a three year period, 1967 to 1970, mixing up blues classics and original compositions, Green grew into a great songwriter. With a number of Green penned hit singles “Black Magic Woman”, “Albatross” (1969), “Oh Well”, “Man of the World” and “The Green Manalishi”.
The latter three moving away from strict blues but showing the change in Green’s mental state and the effects of success and LSD were having on him. Until that fateful night in Munich after a bad trip. There’s a Fleetwood Mac documentary where John McVie talks of the night and you can see the anger in him, at what happened. Though Green talked fondly of the experience.
As mapped out in songs like “Man of the World” and “The Green Manalishi”, Green had become disillusioned with the music biz, wanting to give all his money away, and was suffering from his drug use. He was gone from the band before “Manalishi” – a song born of a hell of an acid trip – became a top 10 hit.
Green didn’t immediate disappear even rejoining Mac to help them finish a US tour when Jeremy Spence went out to visit a bookshop in Hollywood, never to return – he’d joined The Children of God – and being an uncredited guitarist for one track on their ’73 album “Penguin” and “Tusk” in ’79. There were solo albums, straight after his departure, then later in the 70s and early 80s.
But during the 70s he had a full breakdown, treatment for schizophrenia. There was the periods of going full recluse. Growing his nails long so he couldn’t play guitar. Then it looked like he’d reappeared but the Mac albums had just been released on CD and there was money about and someone was pretending to be Peter Green.
Then in the mid 90s he did surface. With the help of an old friend, Nigel Watson, and Cozy Powell the “Peter Green Splinter Group” was formed. Playing mainly blues classics with some original tracks they released a number of studio and live albums through the 00s. Before again leaving to turn up a few years later with a touring band “Peter Green and Friends”.
It wasn’t the Peter Green of old in those 21st years. He was frail, didn’t want the spotlight and Watson played a lot of the Peter Green guitar parts but he was still there and still doing some of it.
He was almost the forgotten man of the British guitar blues scene of the 1960s. Overshadowed by the likes of Clapton, Beck and Page. Criminally so, he certainly wasn’t below them on the playing stakes…
With all due respect to the other great British blues artists, Peter Green is THE man. End of. Noel Gallagher