Watch Classic Performances by Peter Green (RIP), Founder of Fleetwood Mac & the Only British Blues Guitarist Who Gave B.B. King “the Cold Sweats”

Update: Accord­ing to the BBC, Peter Green died peace­ful­ly in his sleep this week­end, at the age of 73.

“Of all the gui­tar giants to emerge from the British blues boom,” writes Stu­art Pen­ny at Emp­ty Mir­ror, “Peter Green was per­haps the most nat­u­ral­ly gift­ed.” After replac­ing Eric Clap­ton in John May­all & the Blues­break­ers (and earn­ing the nick­name “The Green God”), the gui­tarist formed his own band, orig­i­nal­ly giv­en the unwieldy name “Peter Green’s Fleet­wood Mac fea­tur­ing Jere­my Spencer.” Soon short­ened to Fleet­wood Mac, the band record­ed their debut, epony­mous album in 1968, and went on in the fol­low­ing year to spend “more weeks on the UK sin­gles charts than the Bea­t­les, the first time any­one had achieved that feat since 1963.”

Sad­ly, Green suc­cumbed to what Pen­ny describes as “the ear­ly onset of men­tal ill­ness thought to be the result of an unso­licit­ed LSD expe­ri­ence in Munich, Ger­many.” He left his band and joined the ranks of oth­er wild­ly tal­ent­ed 60s musi­cians like Syd Bar­rett, Roky Erick­son, and Moby Grape’s Skip Spence whose careers were cut short by seri­ous men­tal health issues appar­ent­ly brought on, or wors­ened, by seri­ous drug use.

Green began to be for­got­ten, espe­cial­ly as his lega­cy with Fleet­wood Mac was over­shad­owed by albums like the leg­endary Rumours and the band’s sec­ond self-titled record.

1975’s Fleet­wood Mac was like a reboot of the band after the intro­duc­tion of Ste­vie Nicks and Lind­sey Buck­ing­ham, who resist­ed play­ing any of the old mate­r­i­al. Fans may get to hear those old songs live again—Fleetwood Mac is back and tour­ing, and they’ve even reignit­ed old feuds by fir­ing Buck­ing­ham (he’s suing, of course). The move gives them the free­dom draw from their back cat­a­log again. Nicks remarked in May, “we’re gonna lock in to the his­to­ry of Fleet­wood Mac, which we were nev­er able to do since 1975, because cer­tain peo­ple in the band weren’t real­ly inter­est­ed in doing that.”

Green won’t take part in the band’s revis­it­ing of old mate­r­i­al. But he deserves full cred­it for the band’s suc­cess, despite its many suc­cess­ful rein­ven­tions, as Mick Fleet­wood told the Irish Times last year.

For his lega­cy I think it’s impor­tant we remem­ber that Fleet­wood Mac was, first and fore­most, a blues band. We all played and loved blues. And long after Peter left, we went to Chess Records in Chica­go where we record­ed with Willie Dixon and Bud­dy Guy. Can you imag­ine how that made us feel? Such an incred­i­ble expe­ri­ence could not have hap­pened with­out Peter because, even though he wasn’t with us, the rea­son there’s a Fleet­wood Mac at all is because of him.

Green made four albums with the band before depart­ing in 1970 and scored a hit with the sin­gle “Black Mag­ic Woman,” before Car­los San­tana made the song his own. Like Bar­rett, Spence, and Erick­son, he con­tin­ued mak­ing music after leav­ing his famous band, record­ing in the ear­ly 70s with for­mer band­mate John May­all. In 1972, he did a ses­sion with BB King, who called him the only British blues gui­tarist “who gave me the cold sweats.” Vot­ed the third great­est gui­tarist of all time by Mojo (after Hen­drix and Steve Crop­per), Green is still revered by diehard fans and gui­tar play­ers of all kinds, even if his strict­ly blues-rock ver­sion of Fleet­wood Mac nev­er had as wide an appeal as the pop jug­ger­naut the band lat­er became.

But the low pro­file was part of Green’s per­son­al­i­ty. He has always bris­tled at the acclaim heaped on his play­ing, telling The Tele­graph in 1996 “If I was a gui­tar hero, then what does that make my mas­ters and teach­ers?” As Mick Fleet­wood puts it, “Peter could have been the stereo­typ­i­cal gui­tar play­er and con­trol freak. But that was­n’t his style. He named the band after the bass play­er and drum­mer, for Christ’s sake.” Green’s col­lab­o­ra­tive spir­it and self-effac­ing man­ner may be rare qual­i­ties for a rock star, but he nev­er seemed to aspire to that role. Nonethe­less, he left his mark, as All­mu­sic’s Thom Jurek writes, as “the ter­mi­nal­ly shy skin­ny kid who could rain down fire from the heav­ens and draw water from the wells of hell on a gui­tar.”

See and hear some of Green’s clas­sic per­for­mances with Fleet­wood Mac in the videos here (some with out-of-sync audio), includ­ing “Black Mag­ic Woman” at the top. And just above, see a much mel­low­er Green in a much more recent per­for­mance play­ing “Alba­tross” with an acoustic ensem­ble.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

How Fleet­wood Mac Makes A Song: A Video Essay Explor­ing the “Son­ic Paint­ings” on the Clas­sic Album, Rumours

Ste­vie Nicks “Shows Us How to Kick Ass in High-Heeled Boots” in a 1983 Women’s Self Defense Man­u­al

23-Year-Old Eric Clap­ton Demon­strates the Ele­ments of His Gui­tar Sound (1968)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (3)
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  • DC says:

    Hel­lo, this arti­cle includes at least two glar­ing inac­cu­ra­cies: (1) Peter is not cur­rent­ly tour­ing, nor is he per­form­ing any longer. (2) The inci­dent in Munich has been a much hyped and inac­cu­rate account of what real­ly hap­pened.

  • Dave Beck says:

    From his days with John May­all to his gui­tar mas­tery in Fleet­wood Mac P. Green has been large­ly appre­ci­at­ed by his fel­low musi­cians as hav­ing the sweet­est tone of all. His con­tri­bu­tions on orig­i­nal black blues greats showed his pow­er as one who is accalamed by the blues Kings. Peter has nev­er blown his own horn but was con­tent with his con­tri­bu­tions to all. Peter is the great­est white blues gui­tarest!

  • Peter says:

    Don’t under­stand Mick­’s com­ment that Peter Green was­n’t at Chess ses­sions. In fact, he was there, and also record­ed an LP with Otis Spann. I don’t think Mick was involved, maybe that’s what he meant.

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