Why Fleetwood Mac’s Peter Green (RIP) Was the Most Underrated Guitarist in British Blues

Debates about whether a gui­tarist is under­rat­ed often involve a lot of pos­tur­ing and need­less name-dropping—they don’t tend to go any­where, in oth­er words. This is not the case with Peter Green, founder and for­mer singer, song­writer, and gui­tarist for Fleet­wood Mac, who died this past week­end. He is, prob­a­bly most def­i­nite­ly, “the most under­rat­ed gui­tarist in British Blues,” argues the Hap­py Blues­man, or at least he became so in the last decades of his life.

Green expe­ri­enced a trag­ic end to his career with Fleet­wood Mac when his men­tal health declined pre­cip­i­tous­ly in 1970, and he was even­tu­al­ly diag­nosed with schiz­o­phre­nia. His leg­end lived long among musi­cians (and fans of the band who pre­ferred their ear­ly work), but Green more or less dis­ap­peared from pub­lic view, even after releas­ing a hand­ful of solo albums in a peri­od of recov­ery.

Fleet­wood Mac, the group he found­ed and car­ried to its first years of major star­dom became, of course, “a house­hold name, wide­ly rec­og­nized as one of the best soft rock bands ever for hits like ‘The Chain,’ ‘Go Your Own Way,’ and ‘Everywhere’”—songs Peter Green had noth­ing to do with, though he had the soft rock chops, as the melan­choly “Man of the World” beau­ti­ful­ly demon­strates. Hear him in some of his oth­er finest moments in the band, includ­ing a phe­nom­e­nal “Black Mag­ic Woman” at the top, before Car­los San­tana made the song his sig­na­ture.

The argu­ment for Green’s most under­rat­ed-ness as a blues gui­tarist is more than com­pelling, with endorse­ments from B.B. King—who said Green had “the sweet­est tone I ever heard”—and John May­all, who said he was bet­ter than Clap­ton when Green joined the Blues­break­ers at age 20. After found­ing Fleet­wood Mac, Green wrote “Black Mag­ic Woman,” sent a gui­tar instru­men­tal, “Alba­tross,” to the top of the British Charts in 1969 and, that same year, record­ed at Chess Records with, among oth­er blues leg­ends, Willie Dixon and Bud­dy Guy.

Was he the “best” British blues gui­tarist? He was “the only one who gave me the cold sweats,” King con­fessed, which sure is some­thing, even if you pre­fer Clap­ton or Jeff Beck. Is he the most under­rat­ed? Prob­a­bly most def­i­nite­ly. “With­in a few short years, Peter Green had achieved greater com­mer­cial suc­cess than two of the world’s most famous bands,” sell­ing more records in 1969 than “both The Rolling Stones and The Bea­t­les, com­bined.” Then he dis­ap­peared.

Green is receiv­ing the recog­ni­tion in death that elud­ed him in his last years, though fame nev­er seemed to tru­ly moti­vate him at any time in his life. Fel­low musi­cians have spared no superla­tives in online memo­ri­als, includ­ing Metallica’s Kirk Ham­mett, not known for going any­where near an ear­ly Fleet­wood Mac sound. But Green was a con­sum­mate musician’s musi­cian (he named his band after the rhythm sec­tion!), and he earned the respect of seri­ous rock artists and seri­ous blues artists and seri­ous met­al artists.

A long­time friend and admir­er, Ham­mett owns Green’s ’59 Gib­son Les Paul (nick­named “Gree­ny”). He recent­ly cov­ered Green’s last Fleet­wood Mac song—“The Green Man­al­ishi (With the Two Prong Crown)”—live onstage and was col­lab­o­rat­ing on new mate­r­i­al with his idol. “Our loss is total,” Ham­mett wrote in trib­ute, per­haps the most suc­cinct and dev­as­tat­ing trib­ute among so many. Fleet­wood Mac would nev­er have exist­ed with­out him. And his influ­ence on the British Blues and beyond goes even deep­er. See Green revis­it his love­ly “Man of the World” in a more recent per­for­mance, just below. He steps back from the fiery leads, play­ing sub­tle rhythm parts, but he still has the old mag­ic in his fin­gers.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

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

The Thrill is Gone: See B.B. King Play in Two Elec­tric Live Per­for­mances

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

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Comments (8)
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  • Vincent says:

    The gui­tar world and all the recog­ni­tion stuff is full of bull­shit and politics.…rest in peace to him.

  • Charles Jones says:

    I nev­er heard a Peter Green song that I did­n’t like a lot.

  • DACO says:

    Peter Green and Lon­nie Mack are two gui­tarists who did­n’t care about­fame and for­tune and their names may not come up in the aver­age fans con­ver­sa­tion about blues rock gui­tar play­ing. But their influ­ence is appar­ent in a lot of great play­ers who came after.

  • Mick Pini says:

    Yes with­out a doubt Lon­nie was around a long long time and straight to it Play­er won­der­ful. Peter was a very sen­si­tive guy and knew his blues inside out. He gave us a lega­cy of great gui­tar music. He’s still around his tonal tex­tures and phras­ing was one of the great­est white blues play­ers in the world and like Lon­nie no ego. Fame was not their thing. Respect to both.

  • Tom Evans says:

    Right on!

  • Steve Murtha says:

    Yes, my favorite gui­tar play­er of all time. Saw him twice in San Fran­cis­co at Bill Gra­ham’s Fill­more West. Now, the next time some­one posts some­thing about Peter Green…please use a pho­to of him, not one of Dan­ny Kir­wan!

  • Christopher Nowak BFA MLIS says:

    What about GARY GREEN from GENTLE GIANT???!!!
    He could BLOW AWAY any blues gui­tarist in his­to­ry!!!!!

  • Christopher Nowak BFA MLIS says:


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