The Peter Green Story: British Guitar Great
Peter Green was one of the guitar giants of the blues and rock scene in England in the 1960s that produced Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, and Jeff Beck. He also founded Fleetwood Mac in the 1960s. Green's career was cut short because of serious mental heath issues. This article looks at the significance of Green's career.
The Peter Green Story
Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, and Jeff Beck formed the holy grail of British guitar players. All three played lead guitar in the Yardbirds. Peter Green is another name that should be on the list, Clapton, Page, and Beck would all acknowledge Green's greatness as a guitar player. One of the most infamous statements about Green comes from B.B. King who said of Green's playing "He has the sweetest tone I ever heard, he is the only guitarist who ever gave me the cold sweats." Green was a contemporary of Clapton, Page, and Beck. Green was ranked #38 in Rolling Stone's top 100 guitarists. Green formed Fleetwood Mac in 1967 and he briefly enjoyed the success and notoriety that Clapton, Page, Beck, as well as Jimi Hendrix, all enjoyed as rock guitar gods of the day. Green's career, however, came to a crashing halt because of drugs and severe mental health troubles.
Green replaced Clapton in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers when Clapton departed to form Cream. Clapton's work with Mayall, most significantly on the "Beano" album, laid the foundation for his reputation as a guitar hero. Initially Clapton's fans were skeptical of Green, as they would have been of any guitarist trying to fill Clapton's shoes. This was the time when "Clapton is God" graffiti began turning around London. Green's live performances with Mayall and the "Hard Road "album convinced Clapton's fans that Green was a guitarist of similar stature. Green soon departed Mayall and the Bluesbreakers to form Fleetwood Mac with Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, and Jeremy Spencer. The success of Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac rivaled the popularity of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones in England but it was short lived. Green's tenure with the band was not quite three years.
Green formed the band in July 1967 and departed the band in May 1970. Green and other members of the band had begun experimenting with LSD on a California stint of an American tour. The other members of Fleetwood Mac point to a wild drug induced party in Munich Germany as the beginning of Green mental decline. The story is told in the Peter Green documentary "Man of the World." Green was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia. He spent the majority of the 1970s in psychiatric hospitals, heavily medicated and undergoing shock treatment therapy.
Green's guitar work on the Hard Road album with John Mayall shows him paying homage to Clapton, but at the same time, developing his own unique style and voice. Green's tone and vibrato rivaled Clapton but it was somewhat "sweeter" in feel.' Clapton's guitar work on the Beano album was about aggression and power. Green adopted a more subtle style on the Hard Road album. He does emulate Clapton's aggressive style on a few numbers but he also utilized a much more melodic and economic style on other numbers. The Hard Road album also featured two Green compositions, "Same Way" and "The Supernatural." In the "Man of the World" documentary Green downplays his talents and skills as a composer but his compositional talents equally rival his guitar talent. Green penned a unique guitar instrumental titled "Albatross" in 1969. The record label was reluctant to release it as a single but Green insisted and it hit #1 on the British charts. Green also composed and recorded "Black Magic Woman" with Fleetwood Mac. Carlos Santana covered it on the Abraxis album and it has become Santana's signature song.
Peter Green recorded three studio albums with Fleetwood Mac, "Fleetwood Mac," "Mr. Wonderful," and "The Play On." Fleetwood Mac also recorded a blues album in Chicago titled "Blues Jam in Chicago." Several live recordings are also available. Two of the most interesting are "Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac: Live at the Marquee" and "Live at the Boston Tea Party." The Marquee album is the second gig that Fleetwood Mac ever played. The recording quality is rough but this is a really interesting record. The Boston Tea Party is a three CD that showcases the three-guitar lineup, Green, Jeremy Spencer, Danny Kirwan, playing extended rock-based jams ala Cream and the Grateful Dead. A six CD set is available that covers almost all of the recordings of Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac. Its title is "The Complete Blue Horizon Sessions 1967-1969. Green has made a couple of comebacks. The first was with the Peter Green Splinter Group with Nigel Watson that recorded a series of albums between 1997 and 2004. Green has been performing with Peter Green and Friends since 2009. Peter Green was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998. Green joined Santana onstage to play a version of Black Magic Woman.