Fleetwood Mac’s Peter Green saluted with film, album

‘This is about celebrating him,’ says Mick Fleetwood of revered Jewish guitarist.

FILE PHOTO: Rarely seen guitarist Peter Green, of the original Fleetwood Mac band, performs his original song "Black Magic Woman" with Carlos Santana (not seen) following Santana's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation's Thirteenth Annual Inductio (photo credit: REUTERS FILE PHOTOS)
FILE PHOTO: Rarely seen guitarist Peter Green, of the original Fleetwood Mac band, performs his original song "Black Magic Woman" with Carlos Santana (not seen) following Santana's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation's Thirteenth Annual Inductio
(photo credit: REUTERS FILE PHOTOS)
Few music legends have burned as brightly or faded as quickly and tragically as the late Peter Green, the brilliant guitarist, singer and songwriter who in 1967 founded the English blues band Fleetwood Mac and steered it to rock stardom before quitting in 1970.
He is saluted by an all-star lineup in the new concert film, DVD and double-album, Mick Fleetwood & Friends Celebrate the Music of Peter Green and the Early Years of Fleetwood Mac, which was recorded in 2020. It debuts April 24 on-demand on nugs.net and will be released April 30 in Blu-Ray, CD and vinyl formats. Guests range from ZZ Top’s Billy F. Gibbons, Metallica’s Kirk Hammett and Oasis co-founder Noel Gallagher to The Who’s Pete Townshend, Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, original Fleetwood Mac guitarist Jeremy Spencer and three current members of the band Green once led – Fleetwood, Christine McVie and Neil Finn.
“Peter Green was most likely unaware of how significant his contributions remain, yet there are legions of us who still follow the path he trod so early on,” Gibbons said via email.
A famously troubled soul, Green was 73 when he died in his sleep in July. As a young man, he wrote and sang such enduring Fleetwood Mac classics as “Black Magic Woman,” which became a worldwide hit for Santana, “Oh Well, Pt. 1,” which has been covered by everyone from Haim and Aerosmith to Jason Isbell and the late Tom Petty, and “The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Pronged Crown),” which has been covered by such bands as Judas Priest, The Melvins and Corrosion of Conformity.
That his music endures is as undeniable as the fact that Green, sadly, started his downward spiral as a young man and never recovered in his lifetime.
“When I look back on Fleetwood Mac, there are things I would have done differently,” the Jewish musician born Peter Greenbaum said in a 1998 Union-Tribune interview to preview his sluggish performance at San Diego Street Scene with The Splinter Group.
Green, who suffered from schizophrenia and the cumulative effect of too many LSD trips and too many prescription tranquilizers, left music altogether in 1971. He did not record again until the end of that decade. His sporadic, on-again/off-again career after that came to a complete standstill in 2009. He died barely five months after the 2020 London tribute show in his honor, which he was invited to but did not attend.
“The concert was about celebrating the joy of who Peter Green was and what he did, creatively, so I’ve always steered away from [discussing his decline],” said drummer Fleetwood, who has led each of the many subsequent Fleetwood Mac lineups since Green quit 41 years ago.
“But I’m fine talking about that, too, since you interviewed him. For me, though, this is not about the ‘long fingernails’ or someone who became disengaged from creating – and from life – who fell prey to the voices in their head and [moved away] from what we would consider a more ‘normal’ state of mind. This film and concert are all about celebrating someone who was vibrant.”
‘He made me sweat,’ said B.B. King
Thankfully, there is much to celebrate about Green’s short but inspirational musical heyday. No less an authority than B.B. King once told Fleetwood that Green was the only English guitarist whose playing “made me sweat. He had the sweetest tone.”
GREEN FORMED Fleetwood Mac in 1967 with two other members of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, the band in which the then-teenaged guitarist had replaced Eric Clapton in 1965 and again in 1966. Green named the new band after Mayall’s soon-to-be-former rhythm section of drummer Fleetwood and bassist John McVie. But Fleetwood is quick to stress that he, Green and McVie never had a plan to leave Mayall, who also performed at last year’s tribute concert.
“There was no inclination to form Fleetwood Mac when any of us were in the Bluesbreakers,” the 73-year-old drummer said, speaking from his home in Lahaina on the Hawaiian island of Maui.
Green quickly established the new band, whose first album was credited to “Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac,” as one of England’s top blues attractions. By 1968, he began to deftly add elements of Latin music, rockabilly, jazz and more. The music that resulted influenced artists on both sides of the Atlantic, from the young Carlos Santana in San Francisco to The Beatles in London.
Witness Fleetwood Mac’s dreamy 1968 instrumental, “Albatross,” which topped the singles charts in England. It was later cited as a direct inspiration by George Harrison for The Beatles’ similarly atmospheric Abbey Road album song “Sun King.”
Fleetwood, who was Harrison’s brother-in-law for most of the 1970s, is convinced that had the former Beatle not died in 2001, he could very well have volunteered to perform a song at the 2020 concert honoring Green.
“I have a quite lovely, presumptive feeling that George might well have walked on that stage, played ‘Sun King’ and explained how it influenced The Beatles,” said Fleetwood, who spent several years planning the tribute in between his tours with Fleetwood Mac.
“It kind of hit me at the concert that not only was it connected to Peter – someone I knew really well, musically and personally – but that everyone on that stage was connected to Peter, whether they knew him [personally] or not.
“Talk to Billy Gibbons and he’ll tell you that, much like himself, Fleetwood Mac’s members had grown up listening to American blues and that African-American culture was a connective way before we met. Fleetwood Mac, like Billy and ZZ Top, started off playing blues shuffles and emulating our blues heroes – Elmore James, Robert Johnson, Eddie Boyd, B.B. King – and I don’t want that to be forgotten.”
Gibbons, not surprisingly, is quick to sing Green’s praises.
“Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac truly remains a revelation for the many of us who took to the sounds of the four stalwart bluesy interpreters of those famed three chords and more,” the co-founder of ZZ Top said via email. “Here was an English band that had mastered an American idiom and melded it with rock and rhythm. They blazed a trail we’re still on and we were glad to have participated in the tribute concert.
Through a mutual friend, Paul Hoenderkamp, Fleetwood invited Green to attend the sold-out tribute at the London Palladium. It took place February 25, 2020, on the cusp of the coronavirus pandemic shutting down concerts, live events and much of the world.
“Paul was a great friend of Peter’s until the day Peter died. He and Peter used to love to go fishing together,” Fleetwood said. “Peter knew we were doing the show and probably couldn’t have given a damn, in the nicest possible way, because he had no ego, zero, none.
“Paul said, ‘Oh, Peter knows; it’s a matter of how he feels when he wakes up that day.’ I hoped he would be there and I had a seat for him. But I told Paul, ‘Don’t tell me if he’s coming or not, because I sort of don’t want to know.’ And Peter didn’t come. But I sent Paul a couple of the rough mixes of [recordings of] the concert and I think Peter heard a couple of them [before he died].”
CONSPICUOUSLY MISSING from the lineup of musicians who performed at the tribute is John McVie. He has been one-half of Fleetwood Mac’s rhythm section in each of the band’s many iterations since its inception 54 years ago.
“John was not able to be there, somewhat ironically,” Fleetwood said. “He is my best friend. John was one of the first people I asked, and he said, ‘I’ll try to do it.’ Then, the planning of the concert drifted over two years. I would have loved for John to be there. He was unconditionally forgiven ahead of time for not coming. And I’m amazed at how many people I asked two years earlier to play the show came and did.”
Fleetwood credits Peter Gabriel, who was in the audience for the tribute concert, for giving him sound advice when the drummer was planning the event.
“Peter Gabriel loved Peter [Green], and he told me very clearly: ‘Don’t let this get out of control. Have it unfold as naturally as possible,’” Fleetwood said. “What he meant was, ‘Don’t let it become a zoo.’ And it did not. It was very personal for everyone who was there to be able to play and sing Peter Green’s songs.”
The subsequent concert brought Fleetwood full circle. Another circle was completed during the performance of “The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Prong Crown),” which was the last song Green wrote and recorded with Fleetwood Mac before quitting the band in 1970.
The version performed at the 2020 tribute features Metallica’s Kirk Hammett soloing on the fabled 1959 Les Paul guitar that Green played on such Fleetwood Mac classics as “Black Magic Woman” and “Oh Well.” Hammett bought the guitar, which had several previous owners after Green, in 2014 at the advice of Led Zeppelin co-founder Jimmy Page.
“Peter Green had that Les Paul the first time I met him in 1965 when I was in Peter Barden’s Band, The Peter B’s,” Fleetwood said. “He came in to audition – a little guy, very handsome, with a lot of confidence.”
Ironically, Fleetwood admits to having been nonplussed at first by Green’s economical, no-nonsense playing. So, he notes, was Dave Ambrose, The Peter B’s bassist.
“After Peter [Green] played, Peter Bardens said: ‘That guy’s incredible!’” Fleetwood recalled. “I confess that I said to Peter [Bardens], ‘But he doesn’t play very much.’ And Dave said, ‘Yeah, I noticed that, too.’ Peter Bardens turned around and, basically, pulled rank on us. He said, ‘You’re both wrong. This guy is really special.’ So, Peter Green joined the band and, within a week, I was thinking: ‘Thank God no one listened to what I said.’
“I didn’t understand then that less is more, musically. Playing-wise, I learned that from Peter Green. That was a reflection of the power of someone who had the confidence, didn’t buy into showing off and wanted to work....
“That’s the lasting lesson for me that I learned from Peter. I can look at Christine [McVie], or Stevie [Nicks], or other people who have been in Fleetwood Mac, and my comment has always been: ‘Is what they’re doing moving me?’ That’s what I learned from Peter. I’m always looking for passion.”