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Friday, 11 October 2019

Meeting Peter Green, Before And After Fleetwood Mac

by
Stuart Penney
* Fleetwood Mac 1968

The British blues boom.  There’s a tendency to dismiss it as little more than a bunch of lank-haired white boys from the home counties misappropriating the music of black America.  And not in a good way.  There may be a grain of truth in that but it’s not the full picture by a long way.  In its late 60s heyday the blues boom was a vibrant cultural movement directly linking the beat and R&B groups of the early 60s with the stadium rock bands of the 70s and beyond.  And while it’s true some blues bands took themselves way too seriously, it wasn’t all lumpen 12-bar boogie and “woke up this morning” lyrics by any means. 
As with any genre the biggest and best exponents rose quickly to the top.  Guitarists such as Jeff Beck, Mick Taylor and Eric Clapton became akin to teen idols, each with their own fiercely partisan fan base who would follow them from gig to gig, congregating in front of the stage to cheer on their heroes.  During his short tenure with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Clapton revolutionised electric blues guitar with his playing on the LP Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton (immediately dubbed “The Beano Album”) which rapidly became a genre-defining classic.  So, on July 18, 1966 when it was announced that a little-known guitarist named Peter Green was about to replace Eric in Mayall’s band, the UK blues world was abuzz with expectation.  It was not the first time Clapton had left the Bluesbreakers.  In a blaze of summer madness, he had gone AWOL during August 1965, leaving John Mayall temporarily without a star guitarist.  The story goes that Peter Green approached the stage at a Bluesbreakers’ gig at the Flamingo in Wardour Street and declared “I can play better than that!” indicating Eric’s stand-in.  When he got up on stage and proved he could do exactly that, Green was hired on the spot. He lost the job on Clapton’s return a few weeks later but Mayall kept in contact and after Eric split to form Cream, Peter got the gig permanently.  Peter Green’s first official show with the Bluesbreakers was July 24, 1966 at the Britannia Rowing Club, Nottingham.
*John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, A Hard Road

A Hard Road, the third John Mayall album (and the first to feature Peter Green) appeared in February 1967 and a consensus was quickly reached.  On this evidence Green was not only the equal of Clapton but in certain areas he may have had the edge over the man the London graffiti artists had labelled “God”.  There was only one way to find out for sure. So, on Saturday May 20, 1967, together with Alan, a like-minded school pal, I hitchhiked to the Derbyshire spa town of Matlock Bath where John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers were booked to play at the Grand Pavilion.
*The Grand Pavilion, Matlock Bath. Today the impressive
Edwardian edifice is home to a museum and community centre  (photo: Tim
Whitemore)
Matlock is a picturesque country town located roughly equidistant from the urban sprawl of nearby Sheffield, Derby and Nottingham.  Although off the beaten track and outside the 60s concert circuit, Matlock occasionally hosted big-name rock shows and in February 1967, just a few weeks before the Bluesbreakers gig, Clapton’s new band Cream had played at the Pavilion. 

*The Grand Pavilion, Matlock Bath opened in 1910
We arrived mid-afternoon just as Mayall’s van crunched into the gravel carpark.  There were no band tour buses back then and even a well-known recording group such as the Bluesbreakers travelled the country crammed into a mid-sized Ford Transit, equipment and all.  With no other fans around we volunteered to help unload the gear and while the roadie (singular, as I recall) and band members struggled up four flights of stairs with Mayall’s Hammond organ and the Marshall speaker cabinets, we were entrusted with drum cases and guitars.  Precious cargo indeed, especially in light of subsequent events. 
*The stage at the Grand Pavilion, Matlock Bath (photo: Tim
Whitemore)
Unlike today’s big-name guitarists who routinely have a clutch of instruments tuned-up and waiting in the wings, I’m sure Peter Green brought just the one guitar with him that day.  But what a guitar it was. The 1959 sunburst Gibson Les Paul nicknamed “Greeny” he used throughout his time with the Bluesbreakers and later, Fleetwood Mac, went on to acquire mythical status.  Following Green’s enforced retirement in the 70s, “Greeny” passed first to Gary Moore and then, more recently, to Metallica’s Kirk Hammett for a rumoured US$2 million, making it one of the most valuable guitars in rock history.
*The $2 million guitar. "Greeny" Peter Green's 1959 Gibson Les
Paul


John Mayall was notorious for hiring and firing his musicians almost at will and the Bluesbreakers’ line-up seldom remained the same from one month to the next.  It transpired that Aynsley Dunbar, the drummer on A Hard Road, had recently been dismissed from the band for his so-called “jazz leanings” and by May 1967 the drum stool was occupied by Mick Fleetwood.  So, with Peter Green on guitar and bassist John McVie, this incarnation of the Bluesbreakers brought together for the first time the core line-up of the yet-to-be-formed Fleetwood Mac. Dunbar would go on to success with numerous projects, of course, including the Jeff Beck Group, Frank Zappa and David Bowie, but in 1967 he couldn’t resist a farewell dig at John Mayall: the sacked drummer’s next band would be named The Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation. Their differences were evidently quickly forgotten however, since Mayall went on to produce the Retaliation’s 1969 third album To Mum, From Aynsley & The BoysDuring Peter Green’s brief 11-month stint with Mayall, no less than five drummers passed through the band.  As well as Dunbar and Fleetwood, there was “Beano Album” veteran Hughie Flint, who was in situ when Peter joined, and Keef Hartley who arrived just before he quit.  Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart alumnus Mickey Waller was also momentarily a Bluesbreaker in April 1967.
But it was Peter Green we’d come to see, and he didn’t disappoint.  Considering he’d appeared on just a few minor recordings before A Hard Road (including a handful of Mayall’s Decca singles and a UK-only collaboration EP with Paul Butterfield) he arrived fully formed and firing on all cylinders.  Not only was Green an unbelievable guitar player, he also had a tremendous singing voice and was already writing his own material.                                
*John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers with Paul Butterfield. UK-only 7″
EP released in 1967
With all the confidence of a veteran guitar slinger, the 20-year-old Green replicated Clapton’s parts on the “Beano Album” classic “All Your Love”, a song he grabbed by the scruff of the neck and turned inside out.  The Freddie King catalogue was a rich source of material for the 60s British blues groups with the instrumentals proving especially popular. Clapton had already immortalised “Hideaway”, while Mick Taylor recorded “Driving Sideways” and Chicken Shack’s Stan Webb tackled “Remington Ride”.  Green’s showcase instrumental was “The Stumble” but during 1967 he was also performing another lesser-known Freddie King piece, “San-Ho-Zay” which became a highlight of the Bluesbreakers’ live set. Green utilised every trick in the book on this instrumental, from delicate B.B.King style vibrato to muscular heavy rock with Hendrix overtones.
*Peter Green onstage in 1967
The Pavilion stage was small and during the set Green played partially hidden behind his Marshall speaker cabinets, prompting Mayall to refer to him as “the invisible man on guitar” during the band introductions.  The support group was One Step Beyond, of whom I remember nothing. Perhaps they were a local act who never recorded? If anyone has any information about them, please let us know in the comments below.
How much would John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers have been paid for a show of this size?  It’s hard to say for sure, but we do know that for a December 1966 gig of similar-size (300-400 fans) in nearby Coventry, Mayall received just £85 (approx. US$105, at 1966 exchange rates) so we can assume he pocketed a similar amount for the Matlock concert. 
After the show we spoke with the band as they were packing up.  Green was cocky, garrulous and his conversation was peppered with expletives.  With his tousled curly hair, beat-up leather jacket, hooped rugby shirt and washed-out Levi's 501s (difficult to find in Britain at that time) he couldn’t have looked cooler.  To a couple of 16-year-old provincial schoolboys like us, he was everything we wanted to be.
*The Original Fleetwood Mac LP shows the 1967 line-up
Whether it was teenage bravado, sheer stupidity or simply a rush of blood to the head I'll never know, but at that moment something came over my mate Alan and he did a very strange thing indeed.  He invited the entire band back to a party at his house in nearby Alfreton! Even stranger perhaps, the band (and John Mayall in particular) seemed surprisingly keen to accept. Visibly warming to the idea, Mayall repeatedly asked "Will there be any women there?".  The affable Green, meanwhile, seemed less interested, saying he’d prefer to go back to his hotel with a bottle of Johnnie Walker.
Even allowing for the fact that Alan’s parents were away for the weekend, the prospect of a bunch of hard-drinking blues musicians turning up in his quiet suburban street bent on carousing long into the night simply didn't bear thinking about.  I quietly took my buddy aside and explained what should have been obvious to him already: this was madness and it probably wouldn’t end well. Thankfully the idea wasn’t pursued much further. 
This Bluesbreakers configuration was together for just three months and other than the single “Double Trouble”, very little official material was recorded. But thanks to Tom Huissen, a Dutch John Mayall fan, we can now hear how they sounded on stage. Recorded on a lo-fi domestic reel-to-reel tape recorder at five shows in and around London in April/May 1967, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers – Live in 1967, Vols. 1 & 2 (Forty Below Records) were released individually in 2015 and, despite the average sound quality, are a good representation of the music we heard in Matlock Bath that night.
*Released June 1967, Double Trouble/It Hurts Me Too

Things moved quickly back then and within weeks Mick Fleetwood was fired for “insobriety”, one of Mayall’s pet hates.  Peter Green quit the Bluesbreakers shortly after and together they formed Fleetwood Mac. With Jeremy Spencer on slide guitar and Bob Brunning filling in on bass temporarily, the new band made its worldwide debut at the National Jazz & Blues Festival, Windsor on Sunday 13th August 1967 (and, yes, I was there, too).  The bill also included Cream, the Jeff Beck Group and, who else but John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, already featuring new whiz kid 18-year-old guitarist Mick Taylor and Keef Hartley on drums.  The “Mac” part of the Fleetwood Mac equation, John McVie, lingered within the financial security of the Bluesbreakers for a while longer until he was persuaded to take the plunge in September 1967.
*From October 1966, Looking Back/So Many Roads
I saw Fleetwood Mac play live several times after that, at festivals and in concert halls, first as the original four piece and then, from late 1968, as a quintet with third guitarist Danny Kirwan in the line-up. This early blues incarnation of the band enjoyed enormous success with hits such as “Albatross", “Man Of The World” and “Oh Well" and in 1969 spent more weeks in the UK singles charts than the Beatles, the first time anyone had achieved that feat since 1963. It didn’t last however and in May 1970 Green left the band, suffering the onset of mental illness thought to be the result of an unsolicited LSD experience in Munich, Germany.  Aside from a few worrying news reports and a couple of low-key attempts to revive his musical career during the 70s, Green gradually slipped from the radar and by the early 80s he was rumoured to be living virtually as a vagrant, his mental health worse than ever. Then our paths crossed again.
One day in 1982 I was browsing through records in an Oxfam charity shop on Sheen Road in the leafy London suburb of Richmond when I noticed that the light-hearted chat between the two old ladies behind the counter had taken on a conspiratorial tone.  "Look, Mabel" whispered one of the women, "there's that strange man again". I turned to see what was happening and there, on the pavement outside, peering into the shop window with hands cupped to his face to cut out the glare was a hunched, yet curiously familiar figure.  Although looking very different to the last time I'd seen him, it was unmistakably Peter Green. 
*Credited just to The Bluesbreakers, the March 1967 instrumental single – Curly/Rubber Duck
I left the shop and followed him as he shuffled along the street.  With his dirty, matted hair and shambling gait he cut a sorry figure.  He was unkempt, overweight and by the look of his clothes he had been sleeping rough.  Unable to restrain myself I stepped in front of him and uttered the immortal words "You’re Peter Green.  You were my hero!". Seeing this brought little response other than an embarrassed shrug and an incomprehensible mumble I made matters worse by insisting on shaking his hand while making small talk about his earlier triumphs.  Gripping the flaccid, seemingly boneless hand, I noticed that his heavily nicotine-stained fingers ended in grotesquely long fingernails which would make playing guitar next to impossible. What had happened to the self-assured, whisky-drinking character I had first met 15 years previously with John Mayall?  I'd read stories about a breakdown, of course, but nothing could have prepared me for this. Back then he had the world at his feet, but the Peter Green whose hand I was shaking was little more than a bloated caricature of his former self. It was all terribly sad. Deciding not to prolong the agony I let him go, watching in quiet disbelief as he shambled off up the road. 
*John Mayall's Bluesbreakers - Live in 1967 CD
That was the last I heard of him for some years until in 1992 a strange news story surfaced. Someone claiming to be Peter Green had somehow convinced several important music industry figures, including original Shadows drummer Tony Meehan and Queen’s Roger Taylor, to fund a 'comeback' album.  It was all a bizarre hoax, of course. The man claiming to be Green was actually Patrick Harper, an Essex farmer, known locally as The Egg and Potato Man. The deception was uncovered when the real Peter Green's brother Michael confronted Harper, who owned up but claimed he had done it all purely to help a local Essex band National Gold.
*John Mayall's Bluesbreakers - Live in 1967 Vol.2
Meanwhile Green’s mental health continued to cause concern.  In a frankly heartbreaking Mojo magazine interview with Mark Ellen in May 1994 he was asked “Do you keep in touch with the outside world?”  "Oh, I just zombie around” Peter replied. “That's what I do. I'm taking tablets of some kind. I don't know what they're supposed to do for me.  They make me feel sleepy. I fall asleep in the daytime. I never used to do that." When asked what music he was currently listening to, Peter admitted he liked watching MTV, adding “I like Björk, is that her name?  I’m a fan of hers.  I enjoy watching her ever so much.  She really brings me alive”.
Not long after that attempts were made to rehabilitate him and with considerable help from his friends, he embarked on a series of comeback albums and tours in the 90s and early 2000s with the Splinter Group.  While it was heartening to see Peter being taken care of and onstage again, his latter-day performances were low-key and perfunctory. The fire was all-but extinguished. 
Of all the guitar giants to emerge from the British blues boom Peter Green was perhaps the most naturally gifted.  B.B.King famously said this about him: "He has the sweetest tone I ever heard; he was the only one who gave me the cold sweats.”  That’s really all you need to know about the man.
At its best, the British blues boom mixed elements of jazz, R&B and acoustic folk blues with the style and attitude of the Mod culture and Swinging London.  It brought about significant changes in social attitudes and fashion while the guitar techniques and advances in amplification technology it engendered formed a blueprint for the progressive rock and heavy metal revolution which followed.  Ultimately it brought about a re-evaluation of the blues in America which opened the door to Southern rock and the rise of artists such as Johnny Winter, Stevie Ray Vaughan and, later, Joe Bonamassa and Derek Trucks.  Bonamassa in particular reveres the sound and style of British blues and never misses an opportunity to champion the music created half a century ago by Peter Green, Eric Clapton, John Mayall, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Paul Kossoff and many others.
*Released in July 1966, the “Beano Album” kick-started the British blues boom

Peter Green - Recommended Listening:
John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers - A Hard Road (Decca 1967)
John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers - Looking Back - compilation [1964–68] (Decca 1969) 
John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers - Thru the Years - compilation [1964–68] (Decca 1971) 
Fleetwood Mac – Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac (Dog & Dustbin Album) (Blue Horizon 1968)
Fleetwood Mac - Mr. Wonderful (Blue Horizon 1968)
Fleetwood Mac - Then Play On (Reprise 1969)
Fleetwood Mac - Blues Jam At Chess (Blue Horizon 1969)
Fleetwood Mac - The Pious Bird of Good Omen – compilation (Blue Horizon 1969)
Fleetwood Mac - The Complete Blue Horizon Sessions - 6CDs [1967–1969] (Blue Horizon 1999)
Various - Peter Green: The Anthology – 4CDs [1966 – 2003] (Salvo 2009)

Thanks to Tim Whitemore for The Grand Pavilion Pics. More Info here  

14 comments:

  1. Well written Stuart. I wish I had your recall ability! I do have a few pics I took of John Mayall (bare chested, that I do remember) taken in a Perth pub playing in the 70s I think.

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  2. first heard him when Oh Well was in charts. He only needed one note like in MOTW meto blow me away.

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  3. I watched a clip of him later on with Carlos Santana and whilst Carlos played with a lot of bluster, I thought that Peter Green hadn't actually lost any fire, but just preferred a quieter life in his guitar and it was none less beautiful.

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  4. Too sad that Lucy in the sky dropped PG on his head. Youth is wasted on the young. There was some zombie in him as he was led on stage for a show at the Central Club in the 90's with the Splinter Group. He still had prodigious gravitas in his Les Paul tone but he was a little "out to lunch" in other ways. Still, I was chuffed to see a legend of the Brit blues school.

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  5. The first time I heard Peter Green I knew he was going to be my favorite guitarist ever and he still is. Being a musician myself at gigs if anyone ever asks me who should listen too, I always answer,"Have you heard of Peter Green?" Who I cover many of his songs. The album (7936 South Rhodes) with Eddie Boyd with Peter Green is a calibration made in heaven, check it out.
    https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLxjksTtZtaCMC_SIJKSesJ29AiYGRWlbH

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  6. I once got picked up hitchhiking in Essex around 1985 by a man with straggly hair and a beard in a potato van claiming to be Peter Green.. must have been Patrick Harper.

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  7. I seen him in Soho in the nineties looked like he had his act together.

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  8. Really good piece, thanks for putting this one out. Wish I'd seen him play live, never did...

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  9. Thanks Stuart, a really interesting read as ever. A sad loss.

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  10. Lovely stuff! I was there, I was just a schoolkid though but it made a big impression on me

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