Peter Green has died. He was 73. The creator of Fleetwood Mac. One of the fathers of the British blues boom – and sound – a tormented soul, a talented player, by default a brilliant bandleader, it wasn’t an easy road at all for Green and he was one of the first prominent “casualties” of music and the music business. Alcoholism and drug use combined with depression to trigger schizophrenia. In 1970 he left his own band. A band that was up there with all of the big names of the day and was one of the only true (pure) examples of a distinctly English blues; drawing from the American sources (he had some of B.B. King to his sound, better than many that tried to evoke that feel) but offering it with the pastoral shades of glum and weary England.
I loved Peter Green and his music – the story of his sad soul as well as the genius of his playing – from when I was 10 years old. I’ve written often about the Fleetwood Mac documentary that captivated me.
The story of Fleetwood Mac is many soap operas, not just the one of them all in bed together while selling out stadiums and threatening the supply of anyone dealing or dabbling in cocaine.
The band formed when the nearly ego-less Green (a rarity for lead guitarists to show such humility) named an instrumental piece “Fleetwood Mac” because John McVie and Mick Fleetwood played as the rhythm section. Green had been gifted some studio time, the results brought forth the birth of a band that has since moved through nearly every popular-music genre, riding highs and lows. Green was barely ever in control of the band – but was the very figurehead.
He created intriguing instrumentals alongside faithful approximations of his blues heroes, he was part of the pioneering spirit of psychedelic rock and again, in the ego-less guitar stakes, he lead a three-pronged attack. Often “leading” from the back.
But when he started talking about giving away all his money, how the industry was evil and money was bad and that the only place to be was Africa, the source of the music…well, that raised alarms. It wasn’t so much that he was wrong more the way he was saying it; telling other band members they were bad people too if they continued to profit from music. He wanted to give his money away and just jam. He wanted to be free. The devil is in the detail though and it wasn’t (just) about the pressures of record company men and the evil politics of music as an industry. It was the demons in Green’s head. And he never was able to jump from those shadows.
A return to music – under his own name – saw some strange and beautiful blues-based player. Those records from the 1970s seem to make even more sense now.
And then in the 1990s and early 00s he was out on display with The Splinter Group. Playing safe acoustic blues and covers of his own material as a solo act and from the days of The Mac. Those Splinter Group records sit better alongside Joe Cocker and Eric Clapton albums than they do with those fierce and innovative early Fleetwood Mac recordings. But people were just happy to have him back – on whatever level. It had seemed that he was not going to make it back. For the longest time.
There were stories of him – the recluse – growing his fingernails two inches long to avoid the temptation of playing the guitar.
I read books about Green, watched further documentaries. There’s a lot of great coverage, much of it very sympathetic. He was a casualty. Even though he made it back – for a little bit. A wonky victory lap of sorts.
I always thought that Mick Fleetwood did a decent job of remembering Peter. Much in the same way David Gilmour has been the one to evoke Syd Barrett at various points as he continued on the Pink Floyd story.
In my mind, and I won’t be alone, Syd and Peter were interesting figures to think about together. If nothing more they started bands that morphed way beyond what they could ever have imagined, became something other. Something they would not have probably wanted, let alone predicted.
Peter Green played on a track on the Tusk album. And Mick’s own blues band – his small-clubs side-gig for between monster stadium shows with the Mac – is basically a tribute to Green and to the music they made and discovered together.
Any fan of Peter Green knew – across the last decade – that he was again in declining health. That the comeback wasn’t coming back again. We’d had that. He’d taken his chance. And we’d heard all the music he was going to give this world.
When I hear Man of The World or The Green Manalishi or Oh Well I think right there, in those three deep and bizarre and brilliant songs he actually gave the world enough. When I hear those records by his version of Fleetwood Mac and the many bootleg recordings that are still coming to light I am constantly moved by the spirit and energy he holds over and across the music.
This was deep connection stuff – a trouble soul trying to connect, hoping to work through things. In the moments when you hear Green pouring his soul through his guitar (and what a voice too) you hear the stoicism of a man making the best of what he can. And of that best being a towering achievement.
John McVie summed up his playing, on that documentary I saw aged 10 and have watched a thousand times or more, as being all about an incredible feel. Nobody, he said, could play the way Green did. Nobody had that touch. That energy. That style. Nobody could hold the note the same way. Nor know when to let it go.
Peter Green held the music as long as he possibly could. And seemingly he knew he had to let it go.
R.I.P. Peter Green