Peter Green: The "Green God" Breaks His Silence

By Fisher, Ben | Guitar Player, November 1994 | Go to article overview

Peter Green: The "Green God" Breaks His Silence


Fisher, Ben, Guitar Player


Peter Green was one of the finest guitarists to emerge from the 1960s British blues movement. Despite his almost total absence from the mainstream music media since his 1970 departure from Fleetwood Mac, he is still held in the highest regard by his peers and devotees, some of whom consider him the best white blues guitarist ever.

* Eric Clapton has called Green "one of the best." B.B. King credits him with having "the sweetest tone I ever heard. He's the only one who ever gave me cold sweats." Gary Moore, the protege to whom Peter passed his '59 Gibson Les Paul after leaving Mac, continues to coax Green-like sounds out of his idol's ax. Jimmy Page, Carlos Santana, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan--all were captivated by Green's magic.

* Green's first big break came in July 1966, when he replaced a Cream-bound Eric Clapton in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers after having filled in briefly for Clapton the preceding November. Green proved quite capable of filling Clapton's supposedly unfillable shoes; before long, the shouts of "Where's Eric?" and "Bring back 'God'" were drowned out by cheers and adulation for a new "Green God."

It soon became clear that Peter could not only mimic Clapton's stabbing, fiery sound, but was also developing an articulate style of his own. His emerging voice aspired to say as much as possible in a few well-chosen notes delivered with a haunting, sweet-yet-melancholy tone. Mike Vernon, who produced both the Clapton and Green Bluesbreakers sessions as well as Green's early Fleetwood Mac output, recently commented that compared to Clapton, "Peter had a deftness, a touch, and a more melodic style. He was the very best blues guitarist England has ever produced."

"The Supernatural," an instrumental from the Bluesbreakers' A Hard Road LP, is one of Green's most extraordinary early recordings. While grounded in a Claptonesque Les Paul-and-Marshall sound, the track's compositional depth, Latin-flavored backing, and reverb-drenched sustained notes captured Green's blossoming originality. Green also answered "Hideaway," Clapton's Bluesbreakers Freddie King tribute, with an equally adept reading of King's "The Stumble."

After a year with Mayall, Green split to form Fleetwood Mac with Bluesbreakers alumni Mick Fleetwood and John McVie and Elmore James adherent Jeremy Spencer. As Clapton and other leading British guitarists moved on to a heavier, more psychedelic sound, Green quickly became the reigning hero of the booming British blues scene. Fleetwood Mac's strictly-blues February 1968 debut, Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac, shot to #4 on the British pop charts. Later that year the group recruited 18-year-old Danny Kirwan, cementing a triple-lead-guitar lineup.

By then the boundary-breaking spirit of the decade had touched Green too. He led Mac through a period of stylistic expansion graced by his passionate, poetic guitar work. The Greenera Fleetwood Mac LPs--including Mr. Wonderful, English Rose, Then Play On, and the live Boston Tea Party--chronicle a guitar genius at the peak of his abilities. Standout tracks include the #1 British instrumental hit "Albatross," an ethereal sojourn to a gentle, dreamy soundscape and the inspiration for the Beatles' "Sun King"; the Otis Rush-influenced "Black Magic Woman," later a hit for Santana; the blues rave-up "Stop Messin' Round," in which Green sounds like a supercharged B.B. King; "Oh Well," a Dylanmeets-Zeppelin blend of sardonic wit and musical bombast; and the harrowing "The Green Manalishi (With The Two-Pronged Crown)," a proto-metal number inspired by a mescaline vision of the devil.

Green, however, was becoming estranged from the music business. Like many in the maelstrom of the '60s, he had been experimenting with psychedelic drugs and was becoming drawn towards what some considered a naive spiritual altruism. He shocked the music world by resigning from Fleetwood Mac in 1970 following a disagreement over his wish to donate the band's profits to the fight against Third World starvation. …

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