In 1967, the blues-rock band Fleetwood Mac was formed in England with a nucleus of Mick Fleetwood, John McVie and Peter Green, all who had been members of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Jeremy Spencer joined on slide guitar and piano and then Danny Kirwan was added as a third guitarist.
Guitarist Johnny “Bee” Badanjek (Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels, The Rockets) told Goldmine: “It’s sad to hear about Peter Green’s passing. He was an incredible guitar player and songwriter on early Fleetwood Mac songs including ‘Albatross,’ ‘Black Magic Woman,’ ‘Rattlesnake Shake,’ ‘The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown)’ and ‘Oh Well,’ which we did a cover of when I was in The Rockets on RSO Records and it ended up being a Top 40 hit for us in 1979, the same year that Peter started playing guitar again, after many years of absence, with the help of his brother, Michael. B.B. King said that Peter Green had more talent in his little finger than he had in his whole body, and that he was the only guitar player who gave him cold sweats. It was a shame that Peter left Fleetwood Mac in the early 1970s. They were a great high energy blues and rock and roll band. Listening to the early Fleetwood Mac recordings, it is amazing how energetic the band played live on stage together. Peter is up in heaven now and I hope it was a peaceful transition. May Peter rest in peace. God bless him.”
Peter Green passed away on July 25 at the age of 73. — Warren Kurtz
MENTION THE NAME PETER GREEN, and three phrases come to mind: “Fleetwood Mac,” for the band he formed in 1967, and which has remained a musical institution ever since; “genius,” because of all the stars outside the inviolate Beck/Clapton/Hendrix triumvirate of 1960s guitar heroes which everyone agrees upon, Green comes closer to gatecrashing entry than anyone else you could name; and “tragedy,” because legend and rumor long ago took over from concrete observation when it comes to reporting Peter Green’s activities, and neither of them — the legends or the rumors — make attractive reading.
He worked as a gravedigger for a spell, and grew fingernails longer than his fingers. He tried to give all his money away, and was institutionalized for his pains. He threatened to shoot his manager, and he was kidnapped by a German acid cult. And, of course, he made a couple of comebacks which were doomed to disaster, simply by virtue of who... what... he was.
In 1996, Britain’s Mojo magazine preluded Green’s first major interview in more than a decade with the hope that “a timebomb is not currently ticking away beneath” his present circumstances.
There, too, interviewer Cliff Jones could not help but be drawn, willingly or otherwise, to the cliched grotesqueries of — again — reputation. Green’s eyes were “piercing,” his sense of humor bordered on “painful,” his expression was occasionally “hunted ... you can see the fear enter him.”
There are three distinct versions of the Peter Green story. The first, the one you can read in any rock encyclopedia, traces the erstwhile Peter Alan Greenbaum from his birth on October 29, 1946, in London’s Bethnal Green, through a year-long apprenticeship in the best of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, and on to world conquest with his own Fleetwood Mac. Sporadic comebacks since that time have added little to his legend.
The second, told by estranged bandmates and associates alike, picks up towards the end of the Mac era, with Green’s progressive emotional estrangement from the band manifesting itself in songs like the tormented shrieking of “Green Manalishi,” the heartbreaking introspection of “Man of the World,” the virtuous self-immolation of “Oh Well”; and in his increasingly delirious dream of giving all the band’s money to charity. Finally, he had to be institutionalized, to save him from himself.
And the third version, told by Peter Green himself, has never been put down in narrative form, and probably never will. An “authorized” biography (Sanctuary Publishing) did little to answer the more difficult questions about his life, while the (unspoken) threat of litigation from some of the less savory characters in Green’s past doubtless cramped author Martin Celmins’ style even further.
Looking back on his early days as a professional musician in the early-mid 1960s, working alongside organist Pete Bardens in Peter B’s Looners, and with the unknown Rod Stewart in Shotgun Express, Green recalls his own introduction to the blues. “I took my chances with the blues, because I couldn’t see anything else around with any sort of soul in it, from the white guys. There seemed to be not much around at all. I looked... well, I didn’t really look hard, but I just got that message, and that’s what inspired me.
“I got a feeling from Eric (Clapton), I guess, that there really wasn’t anything else around. I mean, I’d never heard anything. I’d heard all the music and all the Liverpool groups.... There was a leaning towards the blues with Keith Richards and the Stones, Brian Jones, the way the Stones played harmonica, they were the nearest. But they were an attempt to make an English kind of music. It seemed to be a style of clothing, and we had to have freedom of dress before anything could happen. Then Eric and Jimi (Hendrix) happened, and they had freedom of dress.
“The whole thing was, you had to have a broken heart, or something not quite broken, so you could express it in music.” But if Clapton really did inspire Green to play the blues, he also encouraged him to develop his own style, a gift which proved of unimagined importance when Green replaced God in the ranks of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, in mid-1966.
Mayall recalls, “the thing that was difficult for Peter was, when Eric first left, audiences thought he was still in the band and gave Peter a hard time. But that didn’t last very long, fortunately, and it didn’t really take us very long to gel as a band. The rhythm section was the same, the formula was the same, it was just the songs that changed.
“Any time we got in a new musician, we would change the repertoire, change the songs around because it’s not a good thing... if somebody’s really made a song their own, it doesn’t work for someone else to try and do it. As an example, Eric kind of took possession of Freddie King’s ‘Hide Away,’ which was almost a guitar signature tune, so when Peter came into the band, we never did ‘Hide Away.’ But to continue with the Freddie King instrumental theme, we did ‘The Stumble,’ and that became Peter’s thing. And Peter composed quite a few tunes, so it was a different repertoire.”
At the time, Green insisted he simply didn’t understand the sheer magnitude of his task. “I was very naive. I didn’t understand the prestige of playing with Mayall or the pressure of replacing Eric Clapton, and I didn’t care about it. I just enjoyed the chance to play the way I wanted.” Today, however, he admits that he was very aware of what he was taking on. “John Mayall was advertising his Bluesbreakers LP with Eric, so I learned all the numbers. I got myself a Les Paul for it, this was partially the reason, so I could have the same guitar as Eric was breaking records with, with the indescribable sound.”
But he still didn’t care about the pressure.
Green left Mayall in spring, 1967. According to Mayall, it was a premeditated decision, Green jumping ship with drummer Mick Fleetwood and (a few months later) bassist John McVie, to form a brand new group of his own. Green, however, denies the charge.
“I was only a novice, learning how to approach the blues. But I left John because I wanted to go to Chicago and play with... not the original blues guys, but the ones who were doing it then. I wanted to go and see if there was any of the old blues feeling still about, and see if I could play with them. I hope John didn’t take it as an insult, but I wanted to see how far I could go with the guys in Chicago.”
Instead, he did indeed end up forming a new band around the Bluesbreakers’ rhythm section, and in April, 1967, the newly named Fleetwood Mac went into West Hampstead Studios with Mike Vernon, to cut four songs: “No Place To Go,” “Looking For Somebody,” “First Train Home” and the instrumental “Fleetwood Mac.” The following week, Vernon was meeting with executives at both Decca and CBS, looking for distribution for his own specialist Blue Horizon record label. Fleetwood Mac’s demo tape was his calling card.
“That’s the whole reason Fleetwood Mac came about,” Green recalls. “Mike was forming (actually enlarging) his own label, and I was at a loose end, so Mike said, ‘Well, you’re a blues lover, we know that. However advanced you are at learning from Eric and learning from all the others we’ve played to you; however much you know about the true meaning of the blues, the musical interpretation of it; however much you may be experienced at it, you are definitely hit by the blues, so you might be a good one to have on my label.’
“So I was persuaded, or... not persuaded, but ‘would you like to have a go at it, we’ll give you a place on Blue Horizon Records, and it might be fun, you never know.’ So I said OK.
“But the thing with Fleetwood Mac was, we weren’t really into it. When we started, we weren’t really sure we wanted to even form that group. That’s why that group was so scruffy and so ragged, such a rag-and-bone looking outfit because none of us really knew whether we wanted to do it or not.
“We didn’t know what kind of music we wanted to do... well, we had to do blues, because we were an offspring from John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, and that was all I could do anyway. I’d had my crash course in covering Eric Clapton in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, so I could do that OK.”
This uncertainty translated into the band’s personal relations. “We were just average people,” Green reflects. “We clowned around, we weren’t unhappy, there were our little connections. But John (McVie) was kind of a loner, kind of like a fisherman, went around alone, someone you meet who you don’t ever get close to. And Jeremy (second guitarist Spencer) just didn’t seem to be interested in anything. He was great at Elmore James, he was great at rock and roll parody numbers.
“But we did ‘Albatross,’ and Jeremy wasn’t really there, which is why Mick Fleetwood wanted to get Danny Kirwan in. It was Mick who got him in, before we went to America after ‘Albatross.’ I had to agree to it, to take him away from his own little outfit, because what were we going to do? Jeremy could join in any time he wanted to, but he only did on some of the BBC sessions, with all five of us on.
“I don’t know if he wasn’t able to cope, or if he had no interest, or if he didn’t know if he had time to tinker along with us. Jeremy had a very, very, relaxed attitude, he was a very laid back guy, he only liked to move at the speed he liked to move at. Danny was more together, used to practice. Jeremy liked to busk.”
Having blown away the attendant crowds at their live debut, at the National Jazz And Blues festival in Windsor, on August 13, 1967, success came quickly to Fleetwood Mac.
Released in late 1967, their first British single, “I Believe My Time Ain’t Long,” flopped. Their second, “Black Magic Woman,” made No. 37; their third, “Need Your Love So Bad,” went to No. 31. And their fourth, “Albatross,” went all the way to No. 1. By 1969, Fleetwood Mac were outselling both The Beatles and the Stones in Britain. Their eponymous debut album went Top Five, and stayed on the chart for close to a year; their second, Mr Wonderful, hit the Top 10, and up there with Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac were the reason why the British blues boomed in the late 1960s.
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