- 26 Jul 20
It did not come as a great shock to hear yesterday of the death of the co-founder of Fleetwood Mac, Peter Green. But it did induce a fierce sadness, as people looked back to the golden age of the band, remembering the incredible guitar-playing for which he was responsible – and which he inspired.
Hot Press is very sad to hear of the death yesterday of the great guitarist Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac. Peter Green – real name Peter Allen Greenbaum – was 73.
Originally from Bethnal Green in London, he replaced Eric Clapton in John Mayall’s Blues Breakers. A blues guitarist of exceptional brilliance, he seemed destined for great things – and they came quickly.
Green was one of the founding members of Fleetwood Mac, forming the band in 1967 with the drummer Mick Fleetwood, guitarist Jeremy Spencer and bass player John McVie. One of the great bands of the British blues boom, they were frequently advertised as Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, effectively acknowledging the mighty guitarist's pre-eminence in what was a hugely talented crew. They hit their stride quickly, releasing their eponymous debut album in 1968. It featured classics from Robert Johnson (‘Hellhound On My Trail’) and Elmore James (’Shake Your Moneymaker’) alongside a bunch of originals penned mainly by Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer.
But the real action was in the singles chart, with ‘Black Magic Woman’ (later famously covered by Santana) and ’Need Your Love So Bad’ breaching the Top 40 and establishing the band as real contenders. That they were more than that was confirmed before the end of the year with the release of ‘Albatross’, a dreamy instrumental written by Peter Green that went to No.1 in the UK and was a massive hit across the world, hitting No.1 in The Netherlands, No.2 in Norway, No.4 in Switzerland and Sweden and No.5 in Ireland. Bizarrely, despite the fact that they went on to sell in excess of 120 million albums, it was Fleetwood Mac’s only UK No.1.
It was the first in a blistering run of single successes, with ‘Man of the World’ and ‘Oh, Well’ both reaching No.2 in the charts in 1969. The latter became better known still in Ireland, when it was used as the signature tune of Dave Fanning’s Rock Show. With a brilliant riff and savage guitars, it ranks still among the great rock guitar classics. And the lyrics had something about them as well.
“I can’t help about the shape I’m in,” Peter Green sings in a world weary tone, “My face ain’t pretty and my legs are thin/ But don’t ask men what I think of you/ I might not give the answer that you want me to.” There is an element here of misanthropy. But really, Peter Green was most likely talking about himself.
In May 1970, with Peter Green still on board, Fleetwood Mac released a monster, in the form of ’The Green Manalishi (With The Two Prong Crown)’. It wasn’t as big a hit as its predecessors, peaking at No.10 in the UK. But it was a massive piece of music.
Things came to a head in 1970, when Peter Green decided that he’d had enough and left. It was the end of a golden era for the band: little did they know that an even bigger one lay ahead. ’The Green Manalishi’ was the last Fleetwood Mac record he played on.
The words in what is a very short lyric suggest someone grappling with the demon of sexual guilt.
"Now, when the day goes to sleep/ And the full moon looks/ The night is so black that the darkness cooks/ Don't you come creepin’ around/ Makin' me do things I don't wanna do/ Can't believe that you need my love so bad.”
Not long afterwards, it emerged that Peter Green was wrestling with mental health issues. To a very large extent, that – sadly – ensured that the highpoint of his career was already behind him.
‘The Green Manalishi’ is a gothic masterpiece of masterful three-part guitar-slinging. It can be seen as a prototype for a certain strand of heavy metal, though that was hardly Peter Green’s intention. Either way, it is a marvellously inventive piece of guitar music that will remain a powerful reference point for anyone who aspired to mastery of the canon of great rock ’n’ roll performances.
His behaviour was considered erratic by his fellow musicians. Reports suggest that he consumed substantial quantities of LSD and became obsessed with the idea that he did't want to become rich from music. He told Mick Fleetwood that he wanted to give away the money he earned from music.
Peter was diagnosed with schizophrenia and was hospitalised during the 1970s, undergoing electroconvulsive therapy. He became one of those ghostly figures on the periphery of the music scene, with rumours at one stage that he was working as a gravedigger. He nonetheless still released seven solo albums between 1980 and 1994. But none of them achieved the lustre of his recordings during those early Fleetwood Mac years.
"He was a truly extraordinary guitar player,” the Hot Press editor said. “He loved minor chords and had a marvellous melodic flow and a beautifully pure tone. His riffs were devilishly clever. But he also knew how to do power. ‘Oh Well’ is a real meisterwerk. But even that was eclipsed by ’The Green Manalishi’. I remember being completely blown away when I heard it. That was the kind of track that made you want to give up guitar! You thought: how can I ever match that. Well, the truth was that most guitar layers don’t. Ever. He was a genius, but a flawed one in that the illness got the better of him and of his art. But what a legacy he left, from those three or four years when he was in his pomp.
“I saw Fleetwood Mac in the National Stadium in Dublin In 1969 and they were immense. But there was no doubting the bands charismatic focal point: Peter Green was out front and everything revolved around him. The gig lived long in the memory – as indeed will the blues music made by Fleetwood Mac in those early glory years."
A statement on behalf of his family issued on Saturday said: "It is with great sadness that the family of Peter Green announce his death this weekend, peacefully in his sleep.
"A further statement will be provided in the coming days."
Peter Green: we salute you. Thanks for the marvellous memories.