In the early 1960’s the Blues music of Black America was saved, and made relevant again, before developing and morphing in to new styles and directions, by a group of white British guitarists, centered around the captial city, London. Given their lead by the likes of John Mayall and Alexis Korner these players re-introduced the world to musicians like Muddy Waters, BB King, Elmore James and John Lee Hooker. And once they’d achieved that laudable achievement they then developed the music
in a variety of directions ensuring the viability of blues music for years and
decades to come. Where Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton took blues in a heavy rock direction and Jimmy Page incorporated the sounds of English folk music into the blues of Led Zeppelin, a guitarist, who’d replaced Clapton in the Bluesbreakers, developed his playing into a progreesive, spiritual and psychedelic creating with his band, Fleetwood Mac, music of great and wonderous beauty.
That guitarist was Peter Green who has died, aged 73, on the 25th July. A player of rare ability, one of the great space leavers, who layered his guitar sound to create truly amazing sonic experiences, Green’s legacy and influence can never be underestimated. A master of the guitar instrumental Green took the blues which first inspired him, along with the technical expertise of his first hero Hank Marvin, and added Latin and African rhythms to his own experimentations in psychedelic experiences to create a sound that allowed contemporaries such as Carlos Santana to follow and which launched a whole new musical movement. Of the aforementioned guitarists of the British boom, it is perhaps only Jeff Beck who can rival Green for the originality, creativity and genre development of blues
Born Peter Allen Greenbaum on the 29th October 1946 into an East End of London Jewish family, the youngest of four, Green was shown the rudimentals of guitar playing by his brother. By the age of 11 he was teaching himself before playing, at the tender age of 15, professionally sublimenting his earnings working for shipping companies in the London docks. Initially playing bass guitar, Green eventually ended up as the lead guitarist in Peter B’s Looners where he first met future bandmate and drummer Mick Fleetwood.
Green’s playing had, by this time, garnered some interest from some of the big hitters in the London scene with British Blues godfather, John Mayall, asking him to sit in for the absent Eric Clapton at a handful of Bluesbreakers gigs in 1965. Mayall must have been impressed seeing the potential in Green to become one of the very best guitarists as when Clapton left the Bluesbreakers for good, Mayall turned to Green to permanently replace him. It wasn’t just his playing that impressed Mayall either, on his recording debut with the band, 1966’s A Hard Road,
Green contributed two of his own compositions ‘The Same Way’ and the guitar instrumental ‘The Supernatural’.
Green’s abilities were always going to be, despite Mayall’s patronage, stifled
by not being the leader of the band which led to Green moving on to create his own band, Fleetwood Mac, in 1967. Recruiting old friend Mick Fleetwood on drums, slide guitarist Jeremy Spencer and bassist Bob Brunning (having not convinced Bluesbreakers bassist John McVie to jump ship) they recorded their debut album which, despite not having any singles successes, gained favourable critical acclaim. By September 1967, however, Brunning had left the band to be replaced by original choice McVie.
Though remaining true to their blues roots by 1968 the band had started to give full committal to Green’s skills as a songwriter with their second album, Mr. Wonderful, giving them their first big hit, Black Magic Woman. This song, with its Latin rhythms which attracted Santana to record his own version, signalled Green’s maturing and development as a songwriter and the new experiences and directions he was taken with influences of ‘world’ music infiltrating the bands sound. In 1969 Green confirmed his status as the master of the guitar blues instrumental with the release of the song Albatross. A third album, Then Play On, was released with the added addition of 18 year old Danny Kirwan as a third guitarist. Jeremy Spencer, however, played very little on this album having refused to play on any of Green’s compositions.
It is no secret that much of the development of Green’s and Fleetwood Mac’s sound was due to the experimentation in psychedelic drugs, and in particular LSD, that their leader had begun to undertake. Songs such as the foreboding ‘The Green Manalishi’ and the mournful ‘Man Of the World’ gave clues to the deteriorating state of Green’s mental health that came to a head with Green’s visit to a hippy commune in Munich, Germany. Green’s last performance as a member of Fleetwood Mac (he did return for a number of live gigs to cover when Jeremy Spencer left the band in 1971) came at the end of May 1970. Despite working on solo projects and as a sought after session superstar Green’s mental health got worse with an eventual diagnosis of schizophrenia that resulted in Green receiving electro-convulsive therapies that left him in a lethargic state before an arrest after threatening his accountant, allegedly, with a shotgun.
By the late 1970’s, and with the help of his brother Michael, Green began to make steps back into the limelight recording solo albums as well as performing on a Mick Fleetwood album and an uncredited contribution to the Fleetwood Mac album Tusk. By the 1990’s he had formed the Peter Green Splinter Group which was disbanded in 2004 before Peter Green and Friends was formed in 2009.
I was lucky enough to have seen Peter Green play with the Splinter Group supporting his old mate and mentor John Mayall in the early 00’s. Whilst the ravages of his earlier drug use and subsequent treatments were obvious upon his persona his playing still showed flashes of brilliance that I’d heard on record. Green was always interested in the emotional quality of the music which his writing explored and his playing always put to the forefront of his performances. Knowing when to leave space and to let the listener experience the feelings the writer and player intend is a skill that only the very supreme players understand. That Green was one of the very first innovators of that style and understanding perhaps should stand as his epitaph as a guitarist, song writer and singer. A genius of a man whose star shown brightly though quickly Peter Green will go down in history as a gentle and emotive soul, both as a person and a musician.