Thursday, November 10, 2016


(Part 2 of our “Unstable Guitarists series, in which we examine exceptionally talented guitarists who were completely out of their minds – and the vinyl footprint they have left us.)

When considering monumental guitar talent combined with personal instability, Peter Green is the Michael Jordan of unstable guitarists.

As a young guitar prodigy, Green was recruited in 1966 to replace a departing Eric Clapton in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. The head-scratching choice of the virtually unknown Green replacing “Guitar God” Clapton was widely mocked in much the same way as the announcement Trevor Noah would replace Jon Stewart on the widely beloved U.S. TV comedy program “The Daily Show.”

Except in Green’s case, he was the real deal.

Peter Green -- After The Dark Days
Astute music observers realized quickly Green’s guitar talent equaled or surpassed Clapton’s. B.B. King once remarked, "He has the sweetest tone I ever heard; he was the only one who gave me the cold sweats." His tone on the Bluebreakers instrumental "The Supernatural" was rated as one of the 50 greatest of all time by Guitar Player, and In June 1996, Green was voted the third-best guitarist of all time by Britain’s Mojo magazine – ranked ahead of Clapton.

In 1967, Green decided to form his own band and left the Bluesbreakers to form Fleetwood Mac, a band that most of the planet now associates with the curly blond tresses of Stevie Nicks, rather than the fierce blues attack the band mounted in its first few years.

With Green at the helm of Fleetwood Mac, the blues were often brilliantly twisted into other-worldly creations via songs like “The Green Maharishi,” “Albatross,” and “Black Magic Woman.” (Written and first recorded by Green, but later made world famous by Santana.)

But issues with drugs, coupled with Green’s mental state, derailed everything. By 1977, his struggles landed him in prison and committed to a mental hospital.

Things began to fall apart for Green in early 1970 after a bad LSD trip while on tour in Germany, which many former band mates recall as a psychedelic journey Peter never really came back from. Green began hearing voices telling him to do nasty things. He gave away his guitar and his money and tried to convince his band mates into shedding their wealth too—hating the commercial “fat cat” he believed he had become. After leaving Fleetwood Mac in May, 1970, he wandered through a series of odd jobs, including being a gravedigger for a time.

As Fleetwood Mac entered a new, highly prosperous Stevie Nicks era in the mid-70’s, new fans began to dig through older Mac recordings, and the royalty checks began to roll in. But Green wanted no part of his past, especially the money. Frustrated, Green contacted a former Fleetwood Mac manager. “I phoned up and asked him if he had any money,” said Green in a biographical documentary. “And he said, ‘The accountant’s got your money.'”

In January 1977, armed with a shotgun, he paid his accountant David Simmons a visit and threatened to shoot him. But Green wasn’t upset about a lack of money, he was upset because the royalty checks kept coming. Green was arrested and thrown in jail. “I was quite happy in prison, so I thought I’d be alright,” Green said. “But they said, ‘You failed the psychiatrist test.'”

Green was committed to a mental institution and placed under heavy sedation. He was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia, after undergoing electro-shock therapy. After a period of time, he was released and moved to the outskirts of a village in the English countryside where residents noticed his unkempt hair and unusually long fingernails and took to calling him “The Werewolf.” Legend has it that Green let his fingernails grow long in order to prevent him from being able to play a guitar.

But Peter Green returned to music in the 90's, demonstrating more subdued --but recognizable-- gifts as part of “The Splinter Group,” which released nine albums between 1997 and 2004. He even toured as a co-headliner with John Mayall in 2000, a heartwarming redemption story I’ll always remember as an attendee at one of the fabled Mayall-Green comeback shows.  

And what about the guitar he gave away in the early 70’s? The Les Paul Burst 9-2208 spent three decades in Thin Lizzy guitarist Gary Moore’s hands after he acquired it from Green. Moore nicknamed it “Greeny” -- and that’s Peter’s guitar soaring through the FM staple “The Boys Are Back in Town.” The prized guitar was eventually auctioned in 2006, selling for more than $2 million. 

Peter Green’s Vinyl Best:

Hard to find, but the European vinyl release on CBS Records Fleetwood Mac's Greatest Hits, is the gold standard on wax. Or, you can search out the recent 180 Gram reissue from Music on Vinyl. The album won’t include “Don’t Stop” of course--just great blues. Stellar Peter Green performances are all here-- like his original version of “Black Magic Woman,” as well as “Green Manalishi,” "Man of the World," “Need Your Love So Bad” and “Albatross.”

Green’s vinyl debut with John Mayall on A Hard Road (London Records) is essential for serious guitar fans. In the minds of many guitar scholars and aficianados, “The Supernatural” remains the tonal textbook for balancing volume, sustain and natural reverb. A Hard Road is packed with many other early British blues riches!

1 comment:

  1. The 1989 release "Fleetwood Mac. The Blues Collection" is a 12 track double album that includes a spectacular 24 minute rendition of Rattlesnake Shake ! It was available on ebay for £15 as of Jan 28th 2017. If you have no objection to the Cd format, search for Peter Green on ebay and you'll be amazed at what you can pick up for next to nothing.


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