Singer, songwriter, guitarist
Along with Eric Clapton, Peter Green is often mentioned as one of the two best guitarists of the British blues boom of the mid-1960s to 1970. As the guiding impetus of the original lineup of Fleetwood Mac, Green wrote and performed a dazzling string of hits that by 1969 had outsold singles by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. While Clapton's playing has prompted comparisons to Freddy King and Albert King, Green's sound is considered to be more like the style of American blues legend B.B. King. Green's unwitting consumption of a drink spiked with lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), however, triggered mental illness that tragically rendered the superstar guitarist as one of rock's most tragic creative casualties. Subsequent experimentation with LSD and mescaline exacerbated his deteriorating mental condition, leading him to leave Fleetwood Mac and embark upon a solo career that has been inconsistent and generally considered by critics to be inferior to his work with Fleetwood Mac. However, hints of his previous creative genius and dazzling guitar work can be detected in several album releases of the late 1970s and throughout the 1990s.
Born Peter Greenbaum, Green was subjected to anti-Jewish taunts and physical abuse as a child in the working-class London East End neighborhood of Bethnal Green. In addition to traditional Jewish music, his early musical influences included Hubert Sumlin, Howlin' Wolf, Cliff Gallup, Hank Marvin of the Shadows and, perhaps most clearly, B.B. King. "Hank Marvin was my first guitar hero," Green explained to Mojo interviewer Cliff Jones in 1996. "I listened to his playing because it was very lyrical, his phrasings were melodic and I've always liked a nice melody. Hank made the guitar into an instrument that talked colours." Green also expressed admiration for Gallup, who, as the guitarist for Gene Vincent's band the Blue Caps, also influenced a young Jeff Beck. "Good, solid but very simple player," Green told Jones. "I don't like too much complication; it's like unnecessary words. I don't use the word 'lick'—I hate the word actually—because I don't play licks, I play phrases or riffs. A riff is a short thing that you repeat and a phrase is a group of notes for your melody. I'm big on melody, I am."
When he was 15 the young guitarist adopted the professional name of Peter Green. He joined the Peter B's, a British pop group led by keyboardist Peter Bardens in 1966, where he met drummer Mick Fleetwood. London at the time was awash in a fascination for American blues music. Groups such as Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated, the Rolling Stones, the Spencer Davis Group, the Graham Bond Organization, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, the Yardbirds, and the Pretty Things were popularizing and reinterpreting that musical form for young white audiences on both sides of the Atlantic. When Eric Clapton abruptly departed John Mayall's Bluesbreakers for a sabbatical in Greece, Green convinced the bandleader that he could fill the guitarist's slot. Mayall hired Green, who quickly won over Mayall and convinced throngs of Clapton worshippers that he was more than capable of filling Slowhand's shoes. Clapton returned to the Bluesbreakers' fold shortly thereafter, however, displacing Green.
Green departed again to form Cream with Bluesbreaker bass player Jack Bruce and Graham Bond Organization drummer Ginger Baker. Green was brought back for the second Bluesbreakers album, Hard Road, which featured the Green instrumental composition "The Supernatural." In the meantime, Mayall had replaced Bruce with bass player John McVie, and drummer Aynsley Dunbar had been replaced by Mick Fleetwood. Mayall purchased recording studio time for Green as a birthday present, and Green seized the opportunity to record with McVie and Fleetwood. The trio recruited slide guitarist Jeremy Spencer to round out the lineup, and the group Fleet-wood Mac was formed.
The name Fleetwood Mac came from an instrumental from the birthday studio jam between Fleetwood, McVie, and Green. Titled "Fleetwood Mac," after the erstwhile rhythm section, Green insisted that the song's title become the name of the new band. "It was very much Peter's wish that it be the name of the band; he was very against that 'Eric is God' guitar hero thing of the time," Fleetwood told Q writer Mat Snow. "The fact that the first record was credited to Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac was against his wishes; the record company insisted on it. He just wanted to be part of a band." The band progressed from a capable and distinguished purveyor of blues standards to a bubbling cauldron of songwriting and instrumental brilliance, largely due to Green's growing capabilities as a guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter. Such compositions as "Black Magic Woman," "Oh Well," "Man of the World," "Rattlesnake Shake," and the instrumental "Albatross" displayed Green at the height of his compositional abilities. Combined with the songwriting and instrumental abilities of guitarists Jeremy Spencer and 1969 recruit Danny Kirwan, as well as the solid rhythm section of Fleetwood and McVie, the group was among the hottest live shows and singles acts in Great Britain.
During the band's American tours, they became associated with the Grateful Dead and their LSD guru, Augustus Owsley Stanley III. Fleetwood Mac jammed with the Dead at the Fillmore East in New York, and members of the band, including Green, took LSD. When the two bands shared a bill at the Warehouse in New Orleans on the group's next American tour, Owsley polluted the water fountains with LSD, resulting in his arrest along with other members of the Dead, in a series of events recounted in the Grateful Dead song "Truckin'." By the time of Fleetwood Mac's European tour, Green had become increasingly withdrawn. In Munich Green's drink was spiked with acid by a member of a commune. Fleetwood recalled the experience as a tragic one. "To this day, John [McVie] and I always say that was it. Peter Green was never the same after that," Fleetwood told Johnny Black of Mojo.
By the time of his last single written for the group, 1970's "Green Manalishi (with the Two-Prong Crown)," Green had succumbed to mental illness partially brought on by his overindulgence in psychotropic drugs. "I was dreaming I was dead and I couldn't move, so I fought my way back into my body," Green told Black. "I woke up and looked around. It was very dark and I found myself writing a song. It was about money; 'The Green Manalishi' is money. The reason this happened was this fear I got that I earned too much money, and I was separate from all people." In his last televised performances with Fleetwood Mac, Green appeared in a monk's robe with a large crucifix around his neck. The song "The Green Manalishi" captured his feelings about the evils of money, and featured the tortured screams and voices of a man who had succumbed to internal demons, multiple personality disorder, and substance abuse. He left the group after failing to convince his band mates to donate their earnings to charities. He rejoined the band after Jeremy Spencer left the group to join a religious cult during the group's American tour of 1971. Green refused to sing, however, and his services were withdrawn following completion of the tour.
A Rock Casualty
Upon leaving Fleetwood Mac, Green recorded The End of the Game, essentially an overnight instrumental jam session drenched in guitar wah-wah pedal that contained few moments of real inspiration. "That was my LSD album," Green told Black. "I was trying to reach things that I couldn't before but … had experienced through LSD and mescaline." Recording of the album began at 10 p.m. and ended at 4 a.m. "We just played away and took the tapes and put it all in some sort of order," keyboardist Zoot Money told Black. "Then it was like, right, ta-ta, hope that was enough."
For the Record …
Born Peter Greenbaum on October 29, 1946, in London, England; married Jane Samuels; children: one daughter.
Joined Peter B's as lead guitarist, 1965; joined John Mayall's Bluesbreakers as replacement for Eric Clapton, 1966; formed Fleetwood Mac with drummer Mick Fleet-wood, bassist John McVie, and guitarist Jeremy Spencer, 1967; suffered mental breakdown brought on by substance abuse, left band, 1970; released first solo album, The End of the Game, 1970; battled mental illness and worked variety of odd jobs before recording follow-up solo effort, In the Skies, 1979; released career retrospective, Man of the World: The Anthology 1968-1988, 2004.
Awards: Inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as member of Fleetwood Mac, 1998.
Addresses: Website—Peter Green Official Website: http://www.petergreen-splintergroup.co.uk
For Green, the remainder of the 1970s was spent in various states of mental disintegration and menial labor. He accepted an offer to replace the guitarist in Stone the Crows, but pulled out two days before the band was supposed to debut with Green as its new guitarist. After a brief time living in a kibbutz in Tel Aviv, Israel, Green returned to England and became a cemetery gardener, a pathology lab assistant, and a hospital orderly. He began to experience hallucinations that prompted doctors to prescribe electro-convulsive therapy. He was arrested and incarcerated in Brixton Prison following a 1977 event in which he threatened to shoot his manager, Clifford Davis. "I wanted some money from him 'cos I was living in people's houses or hotels and things," Green told Black. "He said he hasn't got any money; our accountant David Simmons has got it. I said, 'Look, I'll shoot you'—I recently bought a gun from Canada." Even though Green later stated he was joking, Davis called police. While in prison Green was diagnosed as schizophrenic and spent time in a a mental hospital.
Returned to Recording
In the late 1970s Green's brother Michael introduced Green to PVK Records owner Peter Vernon-Kell. Green went to Los Angeles to record his first album in more than five years. While in Los Angeles, Green married born-again Christian Jane Samuels, and the couple had a daughter, but Green then became convinced that Samuels had made a pact with the devil. He fell in with Fleetwood Mac again and began doing cocaine. Mick Fleetwood persuaded Warner Brothers to offer Green a $900,000 deal for four albums, but Green turned it down as the devil's temptation. He returned to England to record In the Skies for PVK. A good album, it was rescued by guitarist Snowy White, the former Thin Lizzy and Pink Floyd side guitarist who played most of the leads. While it was not a return to his former glories, In the Skies contained several admirable compositions and impeccable playing by White, who emulated Green's style perfectly. The follow-up PVK releases Little Dreamer and What'cha Gonna Do? were undistinguished, marked mainly by anecdotes inspired by Green's incompetence with his instrument in the studio.
After nearly a decade marked by various regimes of prescribed medications for mental illness, Green came to live with old friend Mich Reynolds and her brother, guitarist Nigel Watson, who had known and recorded with Green in the early 1970s. Green appeared with former band mates Fleetwood Mac when the group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, where he jammed on his famous chestnut "Black Magic Woman" with Carlos Santana, who had recorded a massive hit with the song. He formed the Splinter Group in the late 1990s, and recorded the acoustic Robert Johnson Songbook in 1998, along with a series of independently released albums. His live performances are intermittant, depending upon his ability to play at any given time. He usually relies on a second guitarist to do the heavy lifting, which is a sad coda to one of rock music's most promising careers.
The End of the Game, Warner Brothers, 1970.
In the Skies, EMI, 1979.
Little Dreamer, PVK, 1980.
What'cha Gonna Do?, PVK, 1981.
Blue Guitar, Creole, 1981.
White Sky, Headline, 1981.
Kolors, Headline, 1983.
Come on Down, Homestead, 1986.
A Case for the Blues, Night Life, 1987.
Bandit, Milan, 1997.
Peter Green Splinter Group, Original, 1997.
Robert Johnson Songbook, Artisan, 1998.
Green's Blues, M.I.L., 1998.
Blues for Dhyana, Culture Press, 1998.
Two Greens Make a Blues, Red Lightnin, 1998.
Destiny Road, Artisan, 1999; reissued with bonus tracks, Crown Japan, 1999.
Hot Foot Powder, Crown Japan, 2000.
The Clown, Culture Press, 2001.
MacBeth: An Original Score, Rephlex, 2001.
Time Traders, Spitfire, 2001.
Me and the Devil, Artisan, 2001.
Soho: Live at Ronnie Scott's, Recall, 2002.
A Fool No More, Armoury, 2002.
Peter Plays the Blues, Red Ink, 2002.
Reaching the Cold 100, Eagle, 2003.
Peter Green Live at the BBC, Silverline, 2003.
Blues by Green, Fuel 2000, 2003.
Man of the World: The Anthology 1968-1988, Sanctuary, 2004.
Mojo, September 1996.
Other, July 1999.
Q, May 1990.
"Peter Green," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (June 6, 2004).
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