Peter Green was probably the greatest blues guitarist Britain ever produced. I say probably because when it comes to pure blues I don’t really have a clue. I can tell you loads about white bands and white musicians that stole prolifically and shamelessly from the blues (almost exclusively the creation of black musicians) and mutated it into what became the second, most popular wave of rock n roll, but I can’t really help you with much more on the blues because it is not my field of expertise (how can it be, I don’t have a field, let alone an expertise). It’s just that I know that Peter Green could play the blues as well as well as anyone else I’ve heard play them.
Peter Green was the first (of several) guitar virtuosos to grace Fleetwood Mac, a band with one of the most muddled, sloppy second line ups in the history of popular music. More than that Fleetwood Mac was Peter Green’s band. He formed them and led them and for a few short years they were big news. Really big news. True they started off doing almost note perfect blues impressions but once his skills and confidence as a songwriter began to blossom they took flight and cracked out a few of the truly astonishing singles of the late 60’s. They had few equals in that first imperial phase and given the competition this is not something to be taken lightly. ‘Albatross’ maybe the most enduring of these but ‘Oh Well’, ‘Man Of The World’ and especially ‘The Green Manalishi’ are better songs. The last of these is particularly brilliant: the work of a by now very tortured mind – buckled, twisted, propulsive, heavy and howling; it’s not much short of a cry for help but when it sounds that good who’s going to listen to anything but the music?
Green was a modest man with an extraordinary talent. His super-productive years may have been few but I would put him a hammock or two above someone like Eric Clapton. The key was purity. He was smooth and yet had edge. His signature sound was a Gibson clear and creamy and unlike some other hot shots he only ever played exactly the right number of notes. If you’re looking for a one stop display of his genius touch then seek out the long version of ‘I Need Your Love So Bad’ (a cover of the original by Little Willie John, a name that would spell instant doom in any playground today). It is beautifully paced and ornately gilded with strings as well as Green’s own plaintive vocals, but the stars are his two hands and 6 strings and each solo may seem simple compared to the histrionics of his peers but they are untouchably tasteful, powerful and moving. Each note rings like the clearest of bells and it is all enough to bring a tear to the eye. Perhaps more than one.
Of course we know that Fleetwood Mac have hurtled through many a tear stained episode but Green’s demise was the saddest of them all because he held everything in his hands and then gave it all away, just like that. A victim of his own fondness for mind expanding drugs (when did that ever end happily?) it is not overly unkind to say he just went a bit bonkers, and though he didn’t completely hit the buffers he was never the same again, though it is worth noting that when the fog began to clear he never seemed to mind the ways things had gone or show a whole lot of regret. To his eternal credit he wasn’t interested in money or fame and the world should be grateful that he never totally gave up on music. That’s it really. His triumphs and trials are far more expansively and better documented than here (obvs) but I thought I’d just paid tribute to the man. Peter Green. Because he was ever so good at his day job.
G B Hewitt. 26.07.2020