Peter Green (born Peter Allen Greenbaum; (October 29, 1946 – July 25, 2020) was an English blues rock singer-songwriter and guitarist. As the founder of Fleetwood Mac, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998. Green’s songs, such as “Albatross”, “Black Magic Woman”, “Oh Well”, “The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown)” and “Man of the World”, appeared on singles charts, and several have been adapted by a variety of musicians.
Green was a major figure in the “second great epoch” of the British blues movement. B.B. King commented, “He has the sweetest tone I ever heard; he was the only one who gave me the cold sweats.” Eric Clapton praised his guitar playing; he was interested in expressing emotion in his songs, rather than showing off how fast he could play and used string bending, vibrato, and economy of style.
Rolling Stone ranked Green at number 58 in its list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time”. His tone on the instrumental “The Super-Natural” was rated as one of the 50 greatest of all time by Guitar Player. In June 1996, Green was voted the third-best guitarist of all time in Mojo magazine.
Peter Allen Greenbaum was born in Bethnal Green, London, on October 29, 1946, into a Jewish family, the youngest of Joe and Ann Greenbaum’s four children. His brother, Michael, taught him his first guitar chords and by the age of 11 Green was teaching himself. He began playing professionally by the age of 15, while working for a number of East London shipping companies. He first played bass guitar in a band called Bobby Dennis and the Dominoes, which performed pop chart covers and rock ‘n’ roll standards, including Shadows covers. He later stated that Hank Marvin was his guitar hero and he played the Shadows’ song “Midnight” on the 1996 tribute album Twang. He went on to join a rhythm and blues outfit, the Muskrats, then a band called the Tridents in which he played bass. By Christmas 1965 Green was playing lead guitar in Peter Bardens’ band “Peter B’s Looners”, where he met drummer Mick Fleetwood. It was with Peter B’s Looners that he made his recording début with the single “If You Wanna Be Happy” with “Jodrell Blues” as a B-side. His recording of “If You Wanna Be Happy” was an instrumental cover of a song by Jimmy Soul. In 1966, Green and some other members of Peter B’s Looners formed another act, Shotgun Express, a Motown-style soul band which also included Rod Stewart, but Green left the group after a few months.
John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers
In October 1965, before joining Bardens’ group, Green had the opportunity to fill in for Eric Clapton in John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers for four gigs. Soon afterwards, when Clapton left the Bluesbreakers, Green became a full-time member of Mayall’s band from July 1966.
Mike Vernon, a producer at Decca Records recalls Green’s début with the Bluesbreakers:
As the band walked in the studio I noticed an amplifier which I never saw before, so I said to John Mayall, “Where’s Eric Clapton?” Mayall answered, “He’s not with us anymore, he left us a few weeks ago.” I was in a shock of state [sic] but Mayall said, “Don’t worry, we got someone better.” I said, “Wait a minute, hang on a second, this is ridiculous. You’ve got someone better? Than Eric Clapton?” John said, “He might not be better now, but you wait, in a couple of years he’s going to be the best.” Then he introduced me to Peter Green.
Green made his recording debut with the Bluesbreakers in 1966 on the album A Hard Road (1967), which featured two of his own compositions, “The Same Way” and “The Supernatural”. The latter was one of Green’s first instrumentals, which would soon become a trademark. So proficient was he that his musician friends bestowed upon him the nickname “The Green God”. In 1967, Green decided to form his own blues band and left the Bluesbreakers.
Green’s new band, with former Bluesbreaker Mick Fleetwood on drums and Jeremy Spencer on guitar, was initially called “Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac featuring Jeremy Spencer”. Bob Brunning was temporarily employed on bass guitar (Green’s first choice, Bluesbreakers’ bassist John McVie, was not yet ready to join the band). Within a month they played at the Windsor National Jazz and Blues Festival in August 1967, and were quickly signed to Mike Vernon’s Blue Horizon label. Their repertoire consisted mainly of blues covers and originals, mostly written by Green, but some were written by slide guitarist Jeremy Spencer. The band’s first single, Spencer’s “I Believe My Time Ain’t Long” with Green’s “Rambling Pony” as a B-side, did not chart but their eponymous debut album made a significant impression, remaining in the British charts for 37 weeks. By September 1967, John McVie had replaced Brunning.
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Illness and First Re-Emergence
Green was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia and spent time in psychiatric hospitals undergoing electroconvulsive therapy during the mid-1970s. Many sources attest to his lethargic, trancelike state during this period. In 1977, Green was arrested for threatening his accountant David Simmons with a shotgun. The exact circumstances are the subject of much speculation, the most famous being that Green wanted Simmons to stop sending money to him. In the 2011 BBC documentary Peter Green: Man of the World, Green stated that at the time he had just returned from Canada needing money and that, during a telephone conversation with his accounts manager, he alluded to the fact that he had brought back a gun from his travels. His accounts manager promptly called the police, who surrounded Green’s house.
In 1979, Green began to re-emerge professionally. With the help of his brother Michael, he was signed to Peter Vernon-Kell’s PVK label, and produced a string of solo albums starting with 1979’s In the Skies. He also made an uncredited appearance on Fleetwood Mac’s double album Tusk, on the song “Brown Eyes”, released the same year.
In 1981, Green contributed to “Rattlesnake Shake” and “Super Brains” on Mick Fleetwood’s solo album The Visitor. He recorded various sessions with a number of other musicians notably the Katmandu album A Case for the Blues with Ray Dorset of Mungo Jerry, Vincent Crane from The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Len Surtees of The Nashville Teens. Despite attempts by Gibson Guitar Corporation to start talks about producing a “Peter Green signature Les Paul” guitar, Green’s instrument of choice at this time was a Gibson Howard Roberts Fusion guitar. In 1986 Peter and his brother Micky contributed to the album A Touch of Sunburn by Lawrie ‘The Raven’ Gaines (under the group name ‘The Enemy Within’). This album has been reissued many times under such titles as Post Modern Blues and Peter Green and Mick Green – Two Greens Make a Blues, often crediting Pirates guitarist Mick Green.
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Enduring periods of mental illness and destitution throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Green moved in with his older brother Len and Len’s wife Gloria, and his mother in their house in Great Yarmouth, where a process of recovery began. He lived for a period on Canvey Island, Essex.
Green married Jane Samuels in January 1978; the couple divorced in 1979. They had a daughter, Rosebud (born 1978).
Green died in his sleep on July 25, 2020 at the age of 73.
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