Peter Green: The Greatest Forgotten Guitar Hero.
One day, in the late 60s, a weekly music paper coined the term “guitar hero” and, amongst the handful of players deemed worthy the accolade (Hendrix, Clapton, Page…) there was Peter Green, who never achieved the same level of fame of those other guitarists…
In the late 60’s, a weekly music paper (Melody Maker – Autumn 1967) published an article highlighting a handful of hot new guitarists who were setting the Swingin’ London on fire. They were the original “guitar heroes”: amongst them Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend…and Peter Green. A name, back them, at least as revered as “god” Eric Clapton, but whose name doesn’t seem to have become as widely known as those other guitarists.
Peter Green first claim to fame was in 1966, when he had the very tough job of replacing Eric Clapton in John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers. Clapton had just recorded his legendary Bluesbreakers album, the “beano” one, which set new standards for guitar players in the UK and earned him the nickname “God” – spraypainted all over London. But he left John Mayall’s band to form Cream, and a replacement guitarist was needed…but how to follow that!? Enter unknown Peter Green, who quickly earned fans of his own, thanks to his class and style as a player, and unique sound – his playing was marked with a distinctive vibrato and economy of notes, as well as a unique tone from his 1959 Gibson Les Paul – a result of the guitar’s neck pickup magnet being reversed to produce an ‘out of phase’ sound.
Green, like Clapton, only recorded one album with John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers, “A Hard Road”, which didn’t achieve the legendary status of Clapton’s album but is still something of a hidden gem waiting to be discovered.
Peter Green didn’t want to be just a hired guitarist, he wanted his own band. And thus, he founded,,,Fleetwood Mac.
Yes…one thing that not everyone seems to know, is that Fleetwood Mac, one of the biggest “Middle-Of-the-Road” bands of the 70s was originally not only a cutting-edge blues rock band, but also belonged to Peter Green, and was initially called Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, eventually shortened to Fleetwood Mac.
Back in the 60s, there was no sign of Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, it was all about Peter Green: he was the leader, main songwriter, leading singer and lead guitarist. Back then, when Jimmy Page was barely out of his session musician days and first achieving fame with the soon-to-be-over Yardbirds, Peter Green was the ace, ripping heavy blues player in London, adored by his fans, who saw in Feetwood Mac a band that was more edgy and faithful to the blues than bigger names such as The Rolling Stones.
Not to say that back then Fleetwood Mac weren’t successful – their self-titled debut album was a huge success in the UK and reached #4 in the charts. It also featured hit single “Black Magic Woman”, written by Green. The song was later covered by Santana and became a worldwide smash. Just like the later success of Stevie Nicks-era Fleetwood Mac eclipsed the Peter Green-fronted Mac, so the success of Santana’s version of “Black Magic Woman” eclipsed that of Peter Green’s…and few people realised Green had written it! (A shame, as the original Fleetwood Mac version is miles better than Santana’s cover…)
But Fleetwood Mac had more to offer. Songs like the delicate instrumental “Albatross” (Fleetwood Mac’s first number one hit), “The Green Manalishi” and the proto-heavy “Oh Well” (which sounds almost like Led Zeppelin) helped the Peter Green-fronted Mac to become one of the most popular rock’n’roll bands in Europe by 1969. In fact, in July 1969 Fleetwood Mac were the headliners of a festival in Central Park, New York, playing above Chuck Berry, The Byrds and Led Zeppelin!
Even The Beatles wanted a piece of Fleetwood Mac, and invited them to sign to their Apple label, but it was not to be.
But worse was to come. Peter Green was very uncomfortable with all the acclaim, and as his mental stability deteriorated, he wanted to give all of the band’s money to charity! When the rest of the band didn’t agree with the idea, Peter Green decided to leave Fleetwood Mac and the music business altogether.
While Fleetwood Mac carried on, to become one of the biggest bands in the world, Green was diagnosed with schizophrenia, a mental illness commonly characterised by hallucinations and paranoia, and spent time in psychiatric hospitals undergoing electroconvulsive therapy in the mid-1970s. Like Syd Barrett, he was the great lost rock star of the 60’s, burned out, forgotten by most.
Only in the late 1990s, almost 30 years after last playing with Fleetwood Mac, Peter Green surfaced again, with his Peter Green Splinter Group. Healthier, jovial and chubby like a little blues buddah, Peter Green is still out there playing the blues now. His place in rock history is undeniable. Those “in the know”, still love and respect him as one of the great guitarists of all time…and he doesn’t seem to care that he never reached the same wide audience as Clapton or Page.
Many guitarists still name Peter Green as their hero, and Vintage recently released a magnificent “Icon Series” recreation of his 1959 “out-of-phase” Les Paul, which is widely regarded as one of the best Les Pauls available at the moment – for a price that makes it possibily one of the best Les Paul deals you’ll ever find! View Page
Peter Green Gear:
Not much info out there on what he played, besides info on his ’59 Les Paul. If you want to have a similar setup, go for the Lemon Drop guitar, which is just super cool, you shouldn’t even care there’s no “Gibson” on the headstock. He reportedly used Fender Twins on Mac recordings…so maybe the Fender Twins with jensens would be a good starting point, also considering the great Fender reverb – Green loved reverb.
He famously used Orange amp heads, though he wasn’t necessarily a big fan of Orange. What he was a big fan of was the big, extreme reverb sounds…if you get a Electro Harmonix Holier Grail, you’ll be able to explore some cool sounds Peter Green would be proud of in his Mac days…
Here’s some more detailed info we found searching the web, about some of Peter Green’s recording secrets:
The Guitar Magazine from England ,a special Fleetwood Mac,Peter Green issue Volume 7 number 3 January 1997.
with John Mayall:
recorded Decca Studios,London,Oct 1966
Equipment:Green used a 50-watt Marshall head through one of Marshall’s very first 4X12″cabs.The amp section of this combination formed the basis of what would later become the Bluesbreaker 2X12″ combo. Green played his legendary ’59 Les Paul.
Peter admitted that the credit for this tune really should go to session producer Mike Vernon(of the famous Blue Horizon label).
“That was his idea. We were in the studio and I was playing this chord sequence on the organ which was really good. I did some guitar and the piece just developed from there. It should have been Mike’s really,but he said;”Have it.It’s yours.”
With Fleetwood Mac:
Recorded:October 1968,8 track,CBS Studios,New Bond St.,London.
Personnel:Peter Green(rhythm,lead and slide guitar);Danny Kirwan(slide guitar);John McVie(double- tracked bass);Mick Fleetwood(mallet drums)
Equipment: Peter Green played the rhythm parts on his ’59 Les Paul as well as the solo and slide ‘seagull’effects. Kirwan used his Telecaster for the second slide part and refrains
Late 1968 and into 1969 proved to be Peter Green’s great creative window. He would never be as happy or as prolific again. Listened to in isolation, Albatross -a product of that optimism-sounds more like an ambient record or a sub-orchestral easy listening experiment than a conventional pop track. Then again,Fleetwood Mac were never exactly a conventional band…
By immersing himself in classical music,African music and jazz, Green was deliberately attempting to distance himself from the blues. Once slide exponent Danny Kirwan entered the Mac picture, Green had all the encouragement he needed. Though familiar now, Albatross (or ‘Albert Ross’ as Green would introduce it on stage) was then a daring experiment. Green wanted to explore the use of reverb, intending the track to mirror the gentle pillow of winds upon which the bird rises and falls through the air currents.
OH WELL (Parts 1 and 2)
Equipment: Green plays a Michigan dobro-style resonator for the intro to Part 1 and his Ramirez flamenco nylon string for Part 2.The electric guitar parts are on his ’59 Les Paul through an Orange GT120.
ECHO BEACH-The Fleetwood Mac Sound
Green and fellow guitarists Danny Kirwan and Jeremy Spencer were reverb freaks; indeed. If Fleetwood Mac had any trademark sound it was the heavy reverb and Green’s choice of amplifiers was dictated not so much by the actual sound of the amps as much as the quality, richness and depth of the reverb.
As the Fleetwood Mac sound grew in complexity from the straight blues to mini-epics like Albatross and Oh Well,so the need to add more reverb grew. Green went from using the Marshall 50-watt head through the 4X12″ cab (one of the first 4X12″s in Britain)to using Orange amps,then the latest stack on the market. The distinctive amps-now favoured by Noel Gallagher, amongst others-did not come with spring reverb systems included. Green’s GT120 120-watt Orange head was put through two Orange 4X12″s while the reverb was taken care of by a seperate valve powered preamp and reverb spring system. The band got the amps as part of an endorsement deal after Dinkie,their road manager saw them demoed at a London music store.
“Dinkie loved volume,”recalls Dennis Keen. He loved thousands of watts of power,like The Who,and when he heard the clean power of the Orange’s he went crazy and bought a whole load.
Peter was never convinced they were any good,but we used ‘em for a year or so and they were certainly good live. When we toured with BB King we played the Albert Hall and BB actually asked if he could use the Orange stacks,cause he rated them really highly.’
Green now maintains that he was always unsure about using Orange amps because they didn’t have the right depth of reverb and were often too trebly for his smooth glissandi guitar breaks. Eventually Green would move over to tried-and-tested Fenders which,even today,feature some of the best dynamic spring reverbs around.
The Green Manalishi (With The Two Prong Crown)
Recorded:Warner Brothers Studios,Hollywood;mixed and overdubbed at De Lane Lea,Holbern,London,London,April 1970
Personnel:Peter Green(vocals,guitars);Danny Kirwan(vocals,guitar);John Mc Vie(bass);Mick Fleetwood(drums).
Equipment:’59 Les Paul and Fender Bass VI through an Orange GT120 with several 4X12″ cabs.
Recording Green Manalishi
The power chords that provide the track with so much of its menace were the result of late night experiment at DE Lane Lea Studios.Using the underground car park beneath the studio, the engineers set out three 4X12″ speaker cabs. They close- miked one, then distance- miked the other two to catch the cavernous reverb generated when Green played the power chords on his Fender Bass VI-the blended guitar sound is one of the most startling ever captured on tape.’It sounds like there must be loads of compression and fuzz and overdrive on the guitars to get that sound,but there isn’t,’ reveals Keen.’Peter had things like Cry Babys and Coloursound distortion pedals but he didn’t use ‘em that often.He was mainly into reverb-that was his big thing.’
The chilling solo guitar,was counterpointed by Green’s demonic howling vocal,was achieved in the same way as the chord bombast-though this time by having one microphone pick up the reflection off the far wall of the car park,effectively giving the sound a complex reverb delay.
For live performances,Green almost exclusively used his ’59 Les Paul occasionaly switching to his Strat ‘when the mood took him.’ On two occasions he used the Fender VI live.’The thing about Pete was that he had all the effects but he never used ‘em adds Keen.’He could make a note distort just by overplucking it;that’s how good he was.Total control.’
Green’s increasing turmoil was never more fearfully expressed than on a live version of Manalishi recorded at The Boston Tea Party club on the Mac’s final US tour in 1971. Black,frenzied and clocking in at around 16 minutes,it is a must for all Green-o-philes.Though barely audible over the the ferocious backing,Green’s screams verge on the ungodly. Bootlegs of The Boston Tea Party are especially worth hunting out(have had a copy for many years-yngwie308)as it features an otherwise unreleased jam with Clapton and Green.
By this point,Fleetwood Mac had dispensed with the Orange backline for their live shows and opted for a selection of Fenders that included Peter’s Dual Showman head and several 2X12″ cabs. At some smaller gigs Green took to using a Tremolux through a 2X10″ simply because he felt the reverb system was unsurpassed.”We were in New York and we had nothing to do,’recalls Dennis Keen.’It was either stay in the hotel room,get bored and get out of it-which wasn’t ideal-or go wandering . So we went down to Manny’s music store off Times Square and just bought a load of new Fender amps. I don’t think Pete was fed up with the Orange stuff,he just fancied a change.’
Peter Green Solo
End of the Game
Recorded: May-June 1970 London
Personnel:Peter Green(lead,rhythm guitar);Nick Buck(Hammond organ);Alex Dmochowski(bass);Godfrey Maclean(drums)
Equipment:’59 Les Paul,sunburst ’67 Stratocaster through a Marshall 50-watt combo,and Marshall 100-watt head through a Fender 2X12″ cab.
Zoot Money played piano on the album and remembers a highly motivated yet verbally uncommunicative Green.’The thing about Peter is that he didn’t really feel he’d met someone or really become a friend unless he’d jammed with them because that was how he spoke to the world.He was a bit of a savant really.Music was his language-notes,scales,joyous harmony…that was how he spoke.’
Recording End Of The Game
‘I think Peter deliberately choose people for that session who were ready for a change,’says Zoot Money.’We all arrived around 10 at night,had a quick chat,then we were into it. We jammed for 20 minutes,tapes rolling,then we stopped…quick chat and off we went again. Six hours later the whole thing was over. No drugs(contrary to much public opinion-yngwie308),no talking,just playing…and I remember it being very exciting,in places. We didn’t go back over anything and Peter only overdubbed one guitar part. I actually recall him being very happy-he was free to jam.For years he’d been caught up in the need to stick to the recipe. Here he was,making music that grew organically,evolved and couldn’t be repeated or replicated.’
At Green’s insistance the band were recorded without baffles or seperation. The room was ambient- miked and the results sent straight to tape. Green then listened back and edited sections together until he had six tracks of varied length.’If you want to know how he worked,it was as if he’d get you to climb up a ladder to one level,then kick the ladder away,then lead you up another and so on,’Zoot ponders.’Peter was obviously influenced by the psychedelic bands but his freeforming was much more about finding the psychic level,the interconnection and the unspoken language between musicians.’
Others recall an altogether darker atmosphere. Bassist Alex Dmochowski believes Green was attempting to ‘find out what was making him scream, musically.’It’s interesting to note that for The End Of The Game sessions Green was persuaded to stop taking his lithium and explore his own rapidly fragmenting psyche.
Whatever the circumstances of it’s recording,End Of The Game is flawed,scary,beautiful and unjustly overlooked.Part ambient,part driving frenetic fractured techno jamming,it was as deep an expression of Peter Green’s inner mind as anything he had ever recorded and was,in many ways,years ahead of it’s time.
‘End Of The Game helped a little,’says Green,laughing as he recalls the unbridled freeform extremism of it’s birth.’It taught me what was and what wasn’t possible.I made it as an expeiment because I felt restricted.I’m still restricted and I can’t learn fast enough to say what I have inside…but I’m learning again.That was the problem in the beginning.I couldn’t play the things I heard in my head.It makes you want to give up sometimes.I thought maybe I could get closer to it by doing it that way.I don’t think it worked too well.But now I’m learning beter to do all the things I should have learned in the first place.’
And here’s a few Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac videos for you. Check how versatile Peter Green was, and enjoy!
MAN OF THE WORLD:
LIKE IT THIS WAY:
THE GREEN MANALISHI: