Peter Green – Peter Allen Greenbaum was born into a Jewish family, the youngest of Joe and Ann Greenbaum’s four children, on Oct. 29, 1946, in Bethnal Green, London’s East End. His grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Poland and Ukraine. Fascism and anti-Semitism were on the rise in England as well as Germany in the years before WWII — thugs threw bricks and bottles through the windows of Jewish homes in the East End. After the war, Peter’s father officially changed the family name to Green.
The gift of a cheap guitar by his older brother Len,who had lost interest in learning how to play, put the 10-year-old Green on a musical path.
His other brother, Michael, taught him his first guitar chords and by the age of 11 Green was teaching himself. He began playing professionally by the age of 15, while working for a number of east London shipping companies. He first played bass guitar in a band called Bobby Dennis and the Dominoes, which performed pop chart covers and rock ‘n’ roll standards,including Shadows (Cliff Richards’ backing band at times). He later stated that Hank Marvin, lead guitarist for the Shadowd was one of his guitar heroes and he played the Shadows’ song “Midnight” on the 1996 tribute album Twang.
He went on to join a rhythm and blues outfit, the Muskrats, then a band called the Tridents in which he also played bass.
It was right around his 20th birthday when he got his first big exposure break, replacing Eric Clapton in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers — initially for just 4 gigs in October 1965, after Clapton abruptly took off for a Greek holiday.
Weeks later, by Christmas 1965, Green was playing lead guitar in Peter Bardens’ band “Peter B’s Looners”, where he met drummer Mick Fleetwood. Peter Bardens later formed the popular 1970s rockband Camel. It was with Peter B’s Looners that he made his recording début with the single “If You Wanna Be Happy” with “Jodrell Blues” as a B-side. His recording of “If You Wanna Be Happy” was an instrumental cover of a song by Jimmy Soul. Because of bands like the Shadows, The Ventures and the Spotnicks in the early 60s, instrumental songs were quite popular
In the first half of 1966, Green and some other members of Peter B’s Looners formed another act, Shotgun Express, a Motown-style soul band which also included Rod Stewart, but Green left the group after a few months.
Several months into 1966 Clapton quit the Bluesbreakers for good and Green became their full-time lead guitar member in July 1966.
Mike Vernon, a famous producer at Decca Records recalls Green’s début with the Bluesbreakers: As the band walked in the studio I noticed an amplifier which I never saw before, so I said to John Mayall, “Where’s Eric Clapton?” Mayall answered, “He’s not with us anymore, he left us a few weeks ago.” I was in a state of shock, but Mayall said, “Don’t worry, we got someone better.” I said, “Wait a minute, hang on a second, this is ridiculous. You’ve got someone better? Than Eric Clapton?” John said, “He might not be better now, but you wait, in a couple of years he’s going to be the best.” Then he introduced me to Peter Green.-
In the Bluesbreakers he was reunited with Mick Fleetwood, a former friend and colleague in Peter B’s Looners while Mayall added bass player John McVie soon after.
Green made his major league recording debut with the Bluesbreakers in 1966 on the album A Hard Road (1967), which featured two of his own compositions, “The Same Way” and “The Supernatural”. The latter was one of Green’s first instrumentals, which would soon become a trademark. So proficient was he that his musician friends bestowed upon him the nickname “The Green God”.
Green was a major figure in the “second great epoch” of the British blues movement. Eric Clapton praised his guitar playing, and B.B. King commented, “He has the sweetest tone I ever heard; he was the only one who gave me the cold sweats.” His trademark sound included string bending, double stops, slides, vibrato and economy of style.-
Natural progression or a common occurrence in those days for the preeminent John Mayall breeding ground of guitar super talent in London, Peter Green and Mick Fleetwood left the Bluesbreakers already the next year (1967), starting the core of a new band. Bassist John McVie was not ready yet to leave the security of John Mayall’s reputation.
Within a month after quitting the Bluesbreakers, they played at the Windsor National Jazz and Blues Festival in August 1967, and were quickly signed to Mike Vernon’s Blue Horizon label. John McVie joined that September.
Their eponymous first album came out in February 1968. The album, which included “Long Grey Mare” and three other songs by Green, stayed on the British charts for 13 months! The band’s 3 early albums were heavy blues-rock affairs marked by Green’s fluid, evocative guitar style and gravelly vocals. Notable singles included “Need your Love so Bad”, “Oh Well” and the Latin-flavored “Black Magic Woman,” later becoming the largest hit for Carlos Santana.
Although classic blues covers and blues-styled originals remained prominent in the band’s repertoire through this period, Green rapidly blossomed as a songwriter and contributed many successful original compositions from 1968 onwards. The songs chosen for single release showed Green’s style gradually moving away from the group’s blues roots into new musical territory. Their second studio album Mr. Wonderful was released in 1968 and continued the formula of the first album. In the same year they scored a hit with Green’s “Black Magic Woman”, followed by the guitar instrumental “Albatross” (1969), which reached number one in the British singles charts. More hits written by Green followed, including “Oh Well”, “Man of the World” (both 1969) and the ominous “The Green Manalishi” (1970). The double album Blues Jam in Chicago (1969) was recorded at the Chess Records Ter-Mar Studio in Chicago. There, under the joint supervision of Vernon and Marshall Chess, they recorded with some of their American blues heroes including Otis Spann, Big Walter Horton, Willie Dixon, J. T. Brown and Buddy Guy.
In 1969, after signing to Immediate Records for one single (“Man of the World”), prior to that label’s collapse, the group signed with Warner Bros. Records’ Reprise Records label and recorded their third studio album ‘Then Play On’, prominently featuring the group’s new third guitarist, 18-year-old Danny Kirwan. Green had first seen Kirwan in 1967 playing with his blues trio Boilerhouse, with Trevor Stevens on bass and Dave Terrey on drums. Green was impressed with Kirwan’s playing and used the band as a support act for Fleetwood Mac before recruiting Kirwan to his own band in 1968 at the suggestion of Mick Fleetwood. Another support act in those days was the Bluesband Chicken Shack, with future John McVie wife and Fleetwood Mac singer-songwriter-keaboards, Christine Perfect.
The album spent a year on the U.K. charts. The following year, the band released a single that became its only No. 1 hit at home – the instrumental, “Albatross.” The Green composition, inspired by Santo and Johnny’s 1959 hit “Sleepwalk,” has a bluesy Hawaiian feel and marked a departure from what the band’s fans had come to expect over the course of two albums and raucous live performances.
The tune marked a departurefrom the blues form in another way: the addition of a third front-line guitarist, 18-year-old Danny Kirwan, whose energy brought new ideas to the band and helped create its third, and best, album, Then Play On.
It was Green’s realization of a vision he’d apparently had for a while – to take the blues in a new direction. He recognized the contradictions and appropriations involved in being a white Brit playing Black American music. As he told Martin Celmins in his biography: “Those Black guys knew that you can’t get the hang of it. They knew that whatever a white guy tries to do is not gonna be the blues of colored people. It’s a pose all along. In Chicago that time (on the 1969 Fleetwood Mac “Blues Jam at Chess” sessions), I played too forcefully – too much and too loud – because my experience in life didn’t match up to theirs.”
But several Black blues musicians thought Green did have “the hang of it.” B.B. King even wrote, in the forward to Celmins’ book: “People have told me that in his early years my guitar playing influenced Peter a lot. Now that’s something I take as a great compliment, but I have to tell you that I don’t get it myself. When I hear Peter Green, I hear Peter Green.”
But as the band flourished, Green became increasingly erratic, even paranoid. Drugs played a part in his unraveling. Beginning with the melancholy lyric of “Man of the World”, Green’s bandmates began to notice changes in his state of mind. He was taking large doses of LSD, grew a beard and began to wear robes and a crucifix. Mick Fleetwood recalls Green becoming concerned about accumulating wealth: “I had conversations with Peter Green around that time and he was obsessive about us making money, wanting us to give it all away. And I’d say, ‘Well you can do it, I don’t wanna do that, and that doesn’t make me a bad person.”
On a 1969 tour in California, Green had become acquainted with Augustus Owsley Stanley III, notorious supplier of powerful LSD to the The Grateful Dead and Ken Kesey, the anti-hero of Tom Wolfe’s book “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.”
“He was taking a lot of acid and mescaline around the same time his illness began manifesting itself more and more,” Fleetwood said in 2015. “We were oblivious as to what schizophrenia was back in those days but we knew something was amiss.”
While touring Europe in late March 1970, Green took LSD at a party at a commune in Munich, Germany an incident cited by Fleetwood Mac manager Clifford Davis as the crucial point in his mental decline. Communard Rainer Langhans mentions in his autobiography that he and Uschi Obermaier (German top-model and counter culture celebrity) met Green in Munich, where they invited him to their Highfisch-Kommune. Fleetwood Mac roadie Dinky Dawson remembers that Green went to the party with another roadie, Dennis Keane, and that when Keane returned to the band’s hotel to explain that Green would not leave the commune, Keane, Dawson and Mick Fleetwood travelled there to fetch him. By contrast, Green stated that he had fond memories of jamming at the commune when speaking in 2009: “I had a good play there, it was great, someone recorded it, they gave me a tape. There were people playing along, a few of us just fooling around and it was… yeah it was great.” He told Jeremy Spencer at the time “That’s the most spiritual music I’ve ever recorded in my life.” After a final performance on 20 May 1970, Green left Fleetwood Mac.
“Green Manalishi,” Green’s last single for the band, reflected his distress.
In an interview for Mojo magazine, Green said: “I was dreaming I was dead and I couldn’t move, so I fought my way back into my body. I woke up and looked around. It was very dark and I found myself writing a song. It was about money; ‘The Green Manalishi’ is money.”
In some of his last appearances with the band, he wore a monk’s robe and a crucifix. Fearing that he had too much money, he tried to persuade other band members to give their earnings to charities.
He crashed out of the band after a final show in 1971 amid disillusionment with the music industry and his struggles with mental health, which were exacerbated by his involvement with psychedelic drugs.. Even so, Mick Fleetwood said in an interview with The Associated Press in 2017 that Green deserves the lion’s share of the credit for the band’s success.
“Peter was asked why did he call the band Fleetwood Mac. He said, ‘Well, you know I thought maybe I’d move on at some point and I wanted Mick and John (McVie) to have a band.’ End of story, explaining how generous he was,” said Fleetwood, who described Green as a standout in an era of great guitar work. Another version of this story is that Jeremy Spencer recalls Green saying he expected one day to leave the band.
“They’re my friends, what are they going to have? I’m going to leave them with the name.”
“That’s a perfect example of his lack of self,” Mick Fleetwood says in the doc. “When we actually formed Fleetwood Mac, he chose that name and believe me, anyone and everyone around us [was] saying, ‘It’s gotta be Peter Green ’cause you’re the dude.’ He said, ‘No, I wanna be in a band.’ “
Despite that, the band’s debut album was originally titled by its label Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac. But Green protested and it was eventually re-released as Fleetwood Mac. Peter Green was about the music, he never wanted the hype and the responsibilities that come with that. Actually his life after Fleetwood Mac underlines that statement, at least in my opinion.
In the years that followed Peter Green released an album of his own in 1970, called The End of the Game. It’s comprised of jams with four other musicians and includes some of his fiercest guitar playing. On 27 June 1970 Green appeared at the Bath Festival of Blues and Progressive Music with John Mayall, Rod Mayall (organ), Ric Grech (bass) and Aynsley Dunbar (drums). In that same year he recorded a jam session with drummer Godfrey Maclean, keyboardists Zoot Money and Nick Buck, and bassist Alex Dmochowski of The Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation; Reprise Records released the session as The End of the Game, Green’s first post-Fleetwood Mac solo album. Also soon after leaving Fleetwood Mac, Green accompanied former bandmate keyboardist Peter Bardens (of Peter B’s Looners) on Bardens’ solo LP The Answer, playing lead guitar on several tracks. In 1971, he had a brief reunion with Fleetwood Mac, helping them to complete a U.S. tour after guitarist Jeremy Spencer had left the group, performing under the pseudonym Peter Blue. He recorded two tracks for the album Juju with Bobby Tench’s band Gass, followed by a solo single, one with Nigel Watson, sessions with B.B. King in London in 1971 and an uncredited appearance on Fleetwood Mac’s Penguin LP in 1973, on the song “Night Watch”. At this time, Green’s mental illness and drug use had become entrenched and he faded into professional obscurity. He kept playing music off and on, but his behavior became more erratic. After smashing furniture at his parents house around 1974, they had him hospitalized, and he was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia. He was heavily medicated and underwent electroshock treatments. He was even homeless for a while and a hobo on the British Railroad system.
Green was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia and spent time in psychiatric hospitals undergoing electroconvulsive therapy during the mid-1970s. Many sources attest to his lethargic, trancelike state during this period. In 1977, Green was arrested for threatening his accountant David Simmons with a shotgun. The exact circumstances are the subject of much speculation, the most famous being that Green wanted Simmons to stop sending money to him. In the 2011 BBC documentary Peter Green: Man of the World, Green stated that at the time he had just returned from Canada needing money and that, during a telephone conversation with his accounts manager, he alluded to the fact that he had brought back a gun from his travels. His accounts manager promptly called the police, who surrounded Green’s house. Green was confined in a mental hospital in 1977 after an incident with his manager. Testimony in court said Green had asked for money and then threatened to shoot out the windows of the manager’s office. He was later diagnosed with schizophrenia and had electro-convulsive therapy in hospitals during the mid-Seventies. He was arrested in 1977 after threatening to shoot his accountant with a pump-action rifle.
“I guess I took one trip too many,” he told his biographer Martin Celmins in 1996.
Green slowly started to recover in the late ’70s, got married, became a father and, in 1979, released a comeback album, In The Skies.
Green began to re-emerge professionally. With the help of his brother Michael, he was signed to Peter Vernon-Kell’s PVK label, and produced a string of solo albums. He also made an uncredited appearance on Fleetwood Mac’s double album Tusk, on the song “Brown Eyes”, released the same year.
In 1981, Green contributed to “Rattlesnake Shake” and “Super Brains” on Mick Fleetwood’s solo album The Visitor. He recorded various sessions with a number of other musicians notably the Katmandu album A Case for the Blues with Ray Dorset of Mungo Jerry, Vincent Crane from The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Len Surtees of The Nashville Teens. Despite attempts by Gibson Guitar Corporation to start talks about producing a “Peter Green signature Les Paul” guitar, Green’s instrument of choice at this time was a Gibson Howard Roberts Fusion guitar. He made a few more albums and toured and recorded with a band called Colors in the mid-’80s, before drifting off again. In 1986, Peter and his brother Micky contributed to the album A Touch of Sunburn by Lawrie ‘The Raven’ Gaines (under the group name ‘The Enemy Within’). This album has been reissued many times under such titles as Post Modern Blues and Peter Green and Mick Green – Two Greens Make a Blues, often crediting Pirates guitarist Mick Green.
In 1988 Green was quoted as saying: “I’m at present recuperating from treatment for taking drugs. It was drugs that influenced me a lot. I took more than I intended to. I took LSD eight or nine times. The effect of that stuff lasts so long … I wanted to give away all my money … I went kind of holy – no, not holy, religious. I thought I could do it, I thought I was all right on drugs. My failing!”
He lived alone for a while before moving in with his older brother, Len and his wife in the mid-’90s. This is when Martin Celmins, who’d already begun work on his biography, convinced Green to stop taking the medications that left him like a zombie. Celmins’ biography was published in ’95, the same year Irish monster guitarist Gary Moore released a tribute album, Blues for Greeny. And then Peter Green made another comeback.
In 1996 he formed the Splinter Group with guitarist Nigel Watson, performing mostly from his repertoire of classic blues.
He was one of the eight members of Fleetwood Mac selected from the various line-ups, along with Fleetwood, McVie, Spencer, Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, Christine McVie and Danny Kirwan – to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998.
Eventually Peter Green’s Splinter Group broke up in 2004 when a tour was cancelled and the recording of a new studio album stopped when Green left the band and moved to Sweden. Shortly thereafter he signed on to a tour with the British Blues All Stars scheduled for the following year. In February 2009, Green began playing and touring again, this time as Peter Green and Friends, which toured Europe until 2010 when Green, tired of the grueling life on the road, gave up performing.
He still played music at home and with friends and remained interested in music until the end, particularly says Celmins, acoustic music. He took up fishing and painting and collected antique rods and guitars.
In the documentary, Man of the World, Green is obviously damaged but he seems happy. He smiles while listening to his old recordings. You want to believe that he’d finally beaten back the nagging uncertainties that dogged him most of his life. That he’d finally come to terms with who he was. I can only hope so.
Peter Green died in his sleep July 25, 2020 at the age of 73. His warm voice and distinctive guitar playing propelled the first incarnation of Fleetwood Mac to stardom in the U.K. His best-known composition,”Black Magic Woman,” barely cracked the charts there but stormed the Top 10 in the U.S. when Santana covered it. (To his credit, Carlos Santana always paid tribute to Green). And that’s pretty much the story of Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, as it was originally billed – stars at home in England, and an obscure blues band with a cult following in the U.S.
Which is a crying shame and a clear indictment of the music industry: Simply put, Peter Green was one of the most soulful British blues singers of his generation, AND a guitar god. By the time he stepped into the spotlight, as lead guitarist for John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers in the mid-’60s, graffiti describing his predecessor in that role was already dotting London buildings: “Clapton Is God.” It didn’t take Green very long to show audiences that he, too, was worthy of the mantle — and for “Green God” to become a new tag.
Peter Green did not fancy being a guitar hero, as he told Martin Celmins for the authoritative biography, Peter Green: Founder of Fleetwood Mac. “I like to play slowly and feel every note,” Green said. “It comes from every part of my body.” He wasn’t out to be famous, and the responsibility of the power that goes along with that kind of position was not something he wanted.”
Want it or not, Green was a rock star, saddled with all of the trappings that go with it. He was also in his early 20s and living with his parents. The contrast between that and the limousines and glitz must have been highly confusing.
Everybody knows the name Fleetwood Mac — but few may know that the band’s fame was built on the talents of a man who left the group after its third album and fell off the face of the Earth.
“Peter, in his prime in the Sixties, was without equal,” said John Mayall in Man of the World, the 2009 BBC documentary about Green. “He was a force to be reckoned with.” Those who really know his career point out that Peter Green collaborated with many artists such as ….. (in chronological order) Eddie Boyd, Duster Bennett, Gordon Smith, Otis Spann, Brunning Sunflower Blues Band, Clifford Davis, Gass, Jeremy Spencer, Peter Bardens, Memphis Slim, B.B. King, Dave Kelly, Country Joe McDonald, Toe Fat Richard Kerr, Duffo, Brian Knight, Mick Fleetwood solo album, S.A.S. Band, Dick Heckstall-Smith, Chis Coco and Peter Gabriel.Many musicians who have worked with Peter Green have called him one of the greatest blues and rock guitarists of all time.
In February 2020, Mick Fleetwood held a tribute concert to Green to honor his musical legacy. Special guests at the concert, which took place in London, included David Gilmour, Christine McVie, Pete Townshend, Bill Wyman, and Steven Tyler.
“I wanted people to know that I did not form this band — Peter Green did,” Fleetwood told Rolling Stone ahead of the event. “And I wanted to celebrate those early years of Fleetwood Mac, which started this massive ball that went down the road over the last 50 years.”
“I am so sorry to hear about the passing of Peter Green,” Stevie Nicks said in a statement. “My biggest regret is that I never got to share the stage with him. I always hoped in my heart of hearts that that would happen. When I first listened to all the Fleetwood Mac records, I was very taken with his guitar playing. It was one of the reasons I was excited to join the band. His legacy will live on forever in the history books of Rock n Roll. It was in the beginning, Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac and I thank you, Peter Green, for that. You changed our lives.”
And for as far as the question about who was the best guitar slinger of the rock and blues heydays, I’ll just say that Peter Green was in the league with Clapton, Hendrix, SRV, Page, Gary Moore and Jeff Beck. And years from now, when all these legends are gone, and we realize what’s been lost, we’ll study this era and only the music will remain, and Peter Green will ascend to his rightful place in the pantheon.