A Green Guitar God with a Unique Tone and Soulful Voice

In memoriam of Peter Green

“Playing fast is something I used to do with John [Mayall] when things weren’t going well. But it isn’t any good. I like to play slowly and feel every note.” I think this quote from Peter Green, which was included in a June 16, 2020 feature by Guitar World, nicely reflects the philosophy of the English guitarist. About six weeks after that story had been published, Green passed away “peacefully in his sleep” on July 25, 2020 at the age of 73, as reported by the BBC and many other media outlets. This post is a late recognition of a great artist I only had known from some of his excellent work with the early Fleetwood Mac.

It’s really unfortunate that oftentimes it takes a death or other tragic event to get somebody on your radar screen. When it came to Peter Green, I first and foremost viewed him as this great British guitarist who wrote the fantastic tune Black Magic Woman, which I initially thought was a Santana song, and Albatross, an instrumental with one of the most beautiful guitar tones I’ve ever heard. As I started to explore some of Green’s post-Fleetwood Mac work, perhaps one of the biggest revelations was that apart from his guitar chops he also had a pretty good voice.

This post doesn’t aim to be a traditional obituary. You can find plenty of such pieces elsewhere. Instead, I’d like to focus on Green’s music, especially beyond Fleetwood Mac. Interestingly, Peter Allen Greenbaum who was born in London on October 29, 1946, started his music career as a bassist. According to the above BBC story, it was an encounter with none other than a young Eric Clapton that convinced Green to switch to guitar. “I decided to go back on lead guitar after seeing him with the Bluesbreakers. He had a Les Paul, his fingers were marvellous. The guy knew how to do a bit of evil, I guess.”

Not only did Green manage to retool fairly quickly, but before he knew it, he ended up replacing Clapton in The Bluesbreakers. Here’s a nice anecdote that’s included in the previously noted feature in Guitar World. When John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers assembled for the sessions to record their sophomore album A Hard Road in October 1966, producer Mike Vernon nervously asked, “Where’s Eric Clapton?” Mayall replied, “He’s not with us any more, but don’t worry, we’ve got someone better.” Apparently, somewhat in disbelief, Vernon said, “You’ve got someone better – than Eric Clapton?” Mayall responded, “He might not be better now, but in a couple of years, he’s going to be the best.” The Godfather of British Blues simply knew talent when he saw it!

Here’s The Supernatural from A Hard Road, a track Green wrote. Check out that mighty guitar tone! It reminds me a bit of Black Magic Woman. The instrumental helped establish Green’s trademark sound and earn him the nickname “The Green God.” In case you didn’t know what inspired the post’s headline, now you do!

By July 1967, Green had left The Bluesbreakers and formed his new band initally called Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac Featuring Jeremy Spencer. Apart from Green (vocals, guitar, harmonica), the lineup included Mick Fleetwood (drums), Jeremy Spencer (vocals, slide guitar, piano) and John McVie (bass). Not only had all of them been previous members of The Bluesbreakers, but John Mayall turned out to be the band’s enabler by offering Green free recording time. Mayall strikes me as somebody who was more than happy to provide apprenticeships to talented up and coming musicians! Here’s Long Grey Mere, a tune Green wrote for Fleetwood Mac, the February 1968 debut by the band that by then was called Peter Greene’s Fleetwood Mac. Bob Brunning, who technically was the band’s first bassist before John McVie joined, played bass on the track.

In early 1970, Fleetwood Mac were on tour in Europe. At that time, Green had become a frequent user of LSD. In Munich, Germany, he ended up visiting a hippie commune and “disappearing” for three days. A New York Times obituary included a later quote from Green saying he “went on a trip, and never came back.” After a final performance on May 20 that year, he left Fleetwood Mac. The following month, Green started work on what became his first solo album, The End of the Game. Released in December of the same year, the record featured edited free-form jazz rock jam sessions, marking a radical departure from his music with the Mac. Here’s the title track.

Following his solo debut, Green’s output became unsteady. In 1971, he briefly reunited with Fleetwood Mac, filling in for Jeremy Spencer after his departure to help the band complete their U.S. tour under the pseudonym Peter Blue. Beasts of Burden is a single Green recorded with fellow British guitarist Nigel Watson, who many years later would become part of Peter Green Splinter Group. The tune later was added to an expanded version of the above album.

Eventually, Green’s mental health issues took a heavy toll. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia and ended up being in psychiatric hospitals in the mid-’70s, undergoing electroconvulsive therapy – yikes! To me, this frighteningly sounds like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the 1975 picture starring Jack Nicholson, one of his best performances I’ve ever watched. Luckily, Green reemerged professionally and in May 1979 released his sophomore solo album In the Skies. Here’s the great title track and opener, which Green co-wrote with his wife Jane Greene (nee Samuels) whom he had married in January 1978. Sadly, the marriage was short-lived and ended in divorce in 1979.

Starting with his next album Little Dreamer from April 1980, Green mostly relied on others to write songs for him, including his brother Mike Green (born Michael Greenbaum) for next few years. Here’s the groovy opener Loser Two Times. While the song was written by Mike Green, one cannot help but notice these words feel very autobiographic. I’m a loser two times/I’m a loser two times/I tried to change my ways but I was too blind/I lost my money, I lost my girl/And now I’ve almost lost my mind/Yes, I’m a loser two times…

Peter Green’s first reemergence from his health challenges ended with Kolors, his sixth solo album from 1983, which largely consisted of songs from previous recording sessions that had been unreleased. According to The New York Times, Green’s medications essentially incapacitated him. Eventually, he managed to wean himself from prescription tranquilizers in the ’90s. In 1997, he returned to music for the second time with Peter Green Splinter Group. Here’s Homework from their eponymous first album, a tune by Dave Clark and Al Perkins I had known and liked for many years by The J. Geils Band. The Splinter Group’s rendition features Green on lead vocals.

Time Traders, which appeared in October 2001, was the Splinter Group’s sixth album. Unlike their predecessors that had largely featured covers, especially of Robert Johnson, Time Traders entirely consisted of original tunes that had been written by members of the band. Here’s Underway, an instrumental by Green, which first had appeared on Fleetwood Mac’s third studio album Then Play On from September 1969. The track showcases more of that magic tone Green got out of his guitar.

February 2003 saw the release of the Splinter Group’s eighth and final album Reaching the Cold 100. Here’s Don’t Walk Away From Me, written by Roger Cotton, who played guitar, keyboards and organ in the band, featuring Green on guitar and vocals. Beautiful tune with a great sound – and yet another good example of Green’s vocal abilities!

The final track I’d like to highlight is Trouble in Mind, which Peter Green released together with Ian Stewart, Charlie Hart, Charlie Watts and Brian Knight in February 2009. Written by jazz pianist Richard M. Jones, the blues standard was first recorded by singer Thelma La Vizzo in 1924. It was also covered by Dinah Washington, Nina Simone and many other artists.

Peter Green was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1998 together with Fleetwood Mac, including Stevie Nicks, Mick Fleetwood, Lindsey Buckingham, John McVie, Jeremy Spencer, Danny Kirwan and Christine McVie. In June 1996, Green was voted the third greatest guitarist of all time in Mojo magazine. And in December 2015, Rolling Stone ranked him at no. 58 in their list of 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. No matter how you rank Peter Green, there’s no doubt the “Green God” was a master of tone and I think an undervalued vocalist.

Sources: Wikipedia; Guitar World; BBC; The New York Times; Rolling Stone; YouTube

14 thoughts on “A Green Guitar God with a Unique Tone and Soulful Voice”

  1. Nice tribute Christian. His solo music sounds really good. His guitar playing was was superb.
    In The Skies sounds really cool…love the sound he gets.

    It’s just a pity about his mental state. It’s no telling what kind of career he could have had…but he did start one of the most successful bands of the rock era.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, it was kind of overdue to write about Peter Green!

      In case you primarily know him from Fleetwood Mac, which is an excellent start and I would say marks his best period, his solo work is definitely worthwhile exploring as well.

      I had not known anything about his albums from the late ’70s’ and early ’80s and his later work with the Splinter Group. You can find gems on both.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I didnt know anything about him after Fleetwood Mac either.
        I did watch that Peter Green documentary called “Man of the World.” If you ever get a chance to watch it…do. I think it’s pretty new…just a few years old.

        Anyway great job Christian…you covered his solo career quite well.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thanks, Max. I like music documentaries. In fact when VH1 still was a music channel, I used to watch their “Behind the Music” programs all the time. I thought they did a nice job with that series.

        Growing up in Germany, I didn’t have access to MTV, since we didn’t have cable at my house for the longest time. So when I came to the U.S. in 1993, TV music channels like MTV and VH1 were all no to me.

        I ended up watching VH1 frequently. MTV didn’t interest me.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Oh I loved Behind the Music and I still watch some of the old ones on youtube. Find the one on Badfinger if you get bored…it’s really good…and sad.

        I grew up in rural Tennessee so we didn’t have cable until around 85 or 87…something like that…but I could go to friends or family in Nashville and watch it…which I did. We would stay up all night in the early 80s to watch MTV. MTV went downhill…. VH1 is MUCH better.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Yes and No…it’s not the same anymore…it’s still a channel but not like it was when it was great.

        Like

  2. „In The Skies” habe ich Ende der 70er Jahre öft gehört, und die Platte hat auch nach all den Jahren ihren Reiz nicht verloren. Allerdings spielte hier auf den meisten Songs Snowy White die Leadgitarre und Green begnügte sich mit dem Part des Rhythmusgitarristen.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bis auf seine fruehen Sachen mit Fleetwood Mac hatte ich Peter Green vernachlaessigt. Meine Herrn, der Mann hatte ja wirklich ein bewegtes Leben – ein eindrucksvolles Beispiel, was LSD alles so anrichten kann!

      Insgesamt bin ich von Greens Soloarbeit sehr angetan. Neben seinen Alben in den spaeten siebziger und fruehen achtziger Jahren gefaellt mir auch seine Musik mit Splinter Group.

      Green hatte einfach einen tollen Gitarrensound und wie ich finde eine prima Stimme.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. One of the guys I try to emulate in my playing. I was watching a YouTube video not too long ago where the guitarist tried to show how he gets his tone, what scales he plays, etc. One of the very first posts I ever did was on this version of Fleetwood Mac. I talked about their seminal Boston Tea Party album. Alas, the one I prefer is not on Spotify but there is a different volume there. Suggest going to YouTube and looking for Boston Tea Party Fleetwood Mac. Never sounded better.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This surely looks intriguing. I don’t recall having heard of this album before. It’s also not in the library of my streaming music provider. But I just found it on YouTube and I’m currently listening to the first tune “Black Magic Woman,” which sounds sweet. The list of the remaining tracks looks great as well. I’m going to check it out!

      Like

      1. Yes, there’s a great “Oh, Well” on there too. The Boston Tea Party came and went before I arrived here but it’s somewhat legendary. Among others, Zep played there and saw themselves as before and after that show based on how insane the audience went. Interestingly, the Nicks version of Mac did an album live in Boston years later, probably as a historical tribute. Check this link out. The very first LP: Track Listing is the one I was speaking of and exists somewhere in my collection.

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s