Farewell to my hero, Peter Green
I was very sad to learn of Peter Green’s passing this week. As you may know, I have been a huge fan of his music ever since watching the BBC documentary, Fleetwood Mac at 21 in 1988. I never met Peter but I saw him perform in the nineties when he was in The Splinter Group with Cozy Powell and Nigel Watson. He was a shadow of his former self as a musician then, sadly. Electro-convulsive shock therapy in the mid-seventies as a treatment for psychosis being identified as the main culprit for slowing him down. I preferred to listen to the music he produced when he was at the peak of his powers between 1967 and 1970. I share this performance whenever I get the opportunity: Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac performing BB King’s “I’ve Got a Mind to Give Up Living” at the Warehouse in New Orleans in 1970. It’s just incredible, with the most heart-wrenching guitar solo I’ve ever heard:
Unlike I have many times with The Beatles, I've never attempted to perform any of Peter's music live. He's in a different league and I'm just not a good enough guitarist. Actually, I did perform 'Need Your Love So Bad' as the first dance for my best friend at his wedding, but I left it to my friend Paul to play the solos. I couldn't sing it like Peter, either. I did it as a favour but I really wasn't keen because I didn't want to ruin it!
Recently, I became friends with Peter’s nephew, Joe Green, on Facebook, doing research for my biography of Danny Kirwan. I sent Joe a copy of my song ‘Peter Green’ from 1971 soon after the album was released and Joe said that he enjoyed it. I don’t know if he played it to Peter or not. I am sure, however, that Peter knew how much he meant to his countless fans across the globe and the many tributes that have been paid since his passing are testament to that. Although Peter didn’t attend the tribute show in his honour at the Albert Hall in February, he couldn’t have failed to notice the big names that appeared on that stage. It was uplifting to see his former band mate Jeremy Spencer upstage them all, however, with two wonderfully performed songs, that really brought back the magic of the original Fleetwood Mac.
For my part, I felt an incredible affinity with Peter. I adored his guitar playing and also his singing, harmonica playing and songwriting. It’s difficult to express why but it’s something to do with the authenticity of Peter’s gift; his ability to express such depth of feeling and to do it in a way that was somehow otherworldly (supernatural, if you’ll excuse the reference to Peter’s song from his time with John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers), or at least vastly different to the norm – where his instrument occupied the spaces that left those between free to speak equally as meaningfully. These words from Bruce Thomas, best known for being the bass player in Elvis Costello and The Attractions, posted on Facebook, sum up what a special musician Peter was, in a way that I’m unable to:
Maybe some of you already know that when I first moved to London - when I'd only been playing the bass a couple of years - I had the audacity born of innocence to ring Peter Green to audition for the soon to be formed Fleetwood Mac. I knew it would only be as a 'placeholder' until John McVie was free, but even so... Peter and Jeremy Spencer came round to my house where I also had a drummer friend. I can't have been awful because we played for 2 hours, before he told me that I wasn't ready for the gig. He was right. But 2 years later, I was to play with Peter green again, and the story of that night is included in my memoirs Rough Notes. I'm pleased that I paid this tribute to Peter while he was still alive...
My most magical evening ever of music happened when I’d only been a professional musician for a couple of years. It seems odd for such an experience to happen so early in a long career…
Not long after I first arrived in London, I discovered how I could go round the back of the Marquee Club, hide in the toilets, and then sneak in and see some great musicians for free. Two years later, one of those musicians was about to make a guest appearance with my band at the time, Village.
This particular week, our organist Pete Bardens called in a favour from the guitar player of his previous band, Peter Green. By now, Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac were not only the preeminent blues band in Britain but were outselling the Beatles with hits like the evocative instrumental Albatross, classics like Need Your Love So Bad, haunting songs like Man of the World, and innovative ones like Oh Well.
Greeny came on to the stage and stood alongside me.
‘Shuffle in A,’ he said to everyone — and then leaning his head towards me, he whispered in my ear ‘…nothing fancy. ’
Neither before, nor since, have I heard anyone play with such tenderness, passion, purpose, precision, intelligence, lyricism, tone, taste, soul and power — with such fire in his belly and authority under his fingers.
Immediately afterwards I tried to tell him — and many times later, to tell others about it — always at a loss to express it …just as I am now. But to hear someone reaching into the sheer depth of feeling it’s possible to find in notes of music is both a humbling and elevating experience. How could one single note give so much, let alone the clusters of stunning lucidity? Peter replied that half the time he didn’t know what he was playing. If that’s so, then it’s only because the gods were playing it for him.
Of course, Peter Green didn’t invent the blues! You could still hear Freddy King and Otis Rush and others in Greeny’s playing — but he’d also surpassed them. Even BB — the King — said that Peter Green was the only guitar player who could make the hair on the back of his neck stand on end.
By contrast, I’ve heard many, many, many bad guitarists over the years, and some truly awful ones — the widdly-widdly-widdly ‘more is less’ guys — fat guys in Hawaiian shirts, skinny guys in leather pants — never mind the feeling, count the notes! Some have even tried to copy Peter Green, covering his songs, gritting their teeth, narrowing their eyes, trying to look soulful, over-bending the strings, over-sustaining the notes, overdoing it all, kidding themselves (and quite a few others), but not even scratching the surface.
Greeny didn’t just play notes — he would finesse them and let them breathe. Every note had its own quality, got its own due attention and told its own story. But he no more played guitar note by note than I can describe it word by word. What it amounted to was listening to the blues …and finding sheer joy.
Towards the end of his golden period, his songs now became brooding and disturbed, as LSD did the same damage to his creative genius as it did to Brian Wilson and Syd Barrett. When he started giving away priceless guitars, and wanted the band to do the same with all their royalties, they parted company. Greeny then played with Pete Bardens and me on Bardens’ solo album The Answer. It was a self-indulgent project of half-baked ideas and weak songs — yet even that couldn’t dim the guitar playing. Later I’d turn up at gigs to find out he’d organized ‘super-jams’ where any idiot who could hold a guitar the right way up would get up on stage with him — sometimes thirty or forty at a time — lumbering through some shapeless white noise. I’d stand at the back feeling sad. But it was Peter Green’s solo album End of the Game that had the final word — heartaching, meandering and lost — speaking of hurt, but punctuated by the occasional explosion of intense luminosity.
Meanwhile, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie had moved on to create the platinum-selling US version of Fleetwood Mac, with its benchmark productions and arrangements (and its benchmark wife swapping and coke snorting). But after all of that, now, whenever you hear Mick Fleetwood talking about Peter Green, you can hear the sadness and resignation in his voice — along with the love and respect. Of course, I never got anywhere as near or as close to Peter Green, or as familiar with his music, as Mick Fleetwood did, but I share his feelings.
As I said, it’s unusual and unexpected to have such an experience so early in a long career in music. But hand on heart, and on the record, the young Peter Green wasn’t simply the best guitarist I ever heard, but the most gloriously inspiring musician.
Rest in peace, Peter, and thank you.