Peter Green: The Green God with the Holy Grail Guitar

Few people today realize what a great and immense talent Peter Green was when he founded Fleetwood Mac.  Forget Mick Fleetwood.  Forget John McVie.  The original spark of brilliance that started it all for Fleetwood Mac was the composition brilliance of, and singing skills of, Peter Green.

Peter Green plays a mean guitar.  The amazing axe in his hands pictured below, is the guitar that made him famous — a 1959 Les Paul — the Holy Grail of Guitars.  B.B. King said Peter Green was the only guitarist who scared him — because he was so enormously talented.

Peter used that guitar to write the classic, and haunting, “I Loved Another Woman” and the jaunty and sexually explicit, “Long Grey Mare,” as well “Black Magic Woman” — which was actually a hit for Fleetwood Mac long before Carlos Santana got his fingers around the song.

Here’s Peter singing — “Oh Well” — live in 1969 with Fleetwood Mac.  Notice the energy and the drive and the passion of the performance?  I love seeing his famous Les Paul in performance.

That’s what Fleetwood Mac used to be before it was dumbed down and gentrified by Lindsey Buckingham.

Peter was so good, in fact, that he was given the nickname, “The Green God,” by his musician friends in a wan attempt to try to play ordinary homage to an extraordinary Blues-infused talent.

Here’s Peter singing — “World Keep on Turning” — with Fleetwood Mac.  It’s a solo performance that stuns as it moves.  His famous Les Paul is front and center:

In this strange, pre-recorded, lip-sync performance, Peter uses a Stratocaster, while he sings “Need Your Love So Bad” with Fleetwood Mac — and you can really see his guitar playing style in this video as he “plays along” live with the tape:

Before joining Fleetwood Mac, Peter replaced Eric Clapton in — “John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers” — and he played on exactly one album, “A Hard Road,” that cemented his legacy as a gifted guitar player.  “The Supernatural” is prime evidence of his unforgettable playing style, but any cut on that album provides clear insight into Peter’s instantly recognizable style.

Peter Green was a brilliant musician and is #38 on the Rolling Stone list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.

Like many children of the 1960’s, he was fatally flawed.  He liked drugs.  He was indulgent.  He self-medicated with alcohol.  Unlike Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison — Peter didn’t die — but he did stop living for awhile.

Peter reportedly had an unfortunate schizophrenic psychic break that broke the back of Fleetwood Mac — Mick Fleetwood replaced him with Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks and the group left their Blues bones behind and headed into the middling, mainstream, stratosphere of success where melodic hooks matter more than musicianship — and Peter Green fell into financial despair and emotional ruin.

He gave up music.  He became a gravedigger.  He sold his beloved — but hard to play — Holy Grail guitar to fellow UK musician Gary Moore for $300.00USD — the same price he paid for it when he purchased it in used condition.

Gary Moore loved his “Peter Green Les Paul” guitar so much that he made it his main performance instrument even though — as Peter claimed before he sold it to him — the guitar was hard to play.  The neck had an impossible width, but no one could dispute the unique sound the guitar had because of its misaligned, out of phase, pickups.

Gary Moore paid a wonderful tribute to Peter Green by recording the “Blues for Greeny” album that covered all of Peter Green’s greatest songs.  Gary played his Peter Green Les Paul on the album.

Gary Moore eventually had some health problems that led to a tour cancellation and money trouble of his own, and so he was forced to sell his Peter Green Les Paul to a collector for somewhere between $750,000.00-$1.2 millionUSD — and that collector turned around and sold that Les Paul Peter Green Gary Moore guitar for $2 millionUSD.

I don’t think anybody went back to give Peter Green a cut of the millions for the guitar he made valuable and famous.

In the 1990’s Peter Green re-emerged from his depression and started “The Peter Green Splinter Group.”  He played Fender guitars instead of Gibson.  His voice wasn’t as clear or as strong as before — but his guitar musicianship was still delightful and eccentric.

Here is Peter Green playing and singing “Long Grey Mare” in concert during September 2009:

Magnificent, isn’t he?

Here’s his “Black Magic Woman” from the same concert.  Be sure to listen for the unmistakable Bluesy guitar riffs that make the song an instant classic.

Peter Green deserves your attention and your admiration and your respect.  Go listen to his music.  Enjoy the gifts he left behind for you.  Celebrate the fact that he emerged from the 1960’s with his life, and his otherworldly talent, still in his own hands for your beholding.

21 comments

  • I’m just old enough to remember there was a Fleetwood Mac before they became Fleetwood Mac. It sure was neat seeing what that band used to be and then what it became. I say my taste leans more toward the early work that Peter Green started. I have a whole new respect for the band and Green and not as much as I once had for Mick Fleetwood because of what he let the band become. Can’t believe Peter sold his guitar and other people made so much money. Doesn’t seem right.

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    • Peter Green is a new name to me. I learned about him over the last year or so, and I was sorry I’d lived so long without understanding or recognizing his immense power and talent for changing our popular modern music.

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  • Wow, what a talent. I wonder if he ever got the opportunity to get back his guitar — or if he put it in his past.

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    • Once Peter gave up the guitar he was done with it. Gary Moore knew that guitar had a lot of value and tried to pay him a fair price — but Peter wasn’t interested in making money on the sale. He told Gary it would be wrong for him to charge Gary any more than what he’d originally paid for it.

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  • What a great article to a great bluesman. If I was to have only one musical influence it would be Peter Green, I wish him health and happiness.

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  • This is a nice site, a great tribute to one of the greatest. Mojo put him at number 3 in the world. I used to listen to the early Fleetwood Mac but drifted away and have come back to it lately.

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  • Thanks for the article, David! Peter Green was one of the greatest white Blues players, if not the greatest of his time.

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  • I was part of the ’60 and early ’70 scene/vibe. It is so heartening to me when some of the true heroes of yesteryear are remembered and, better still, liked by today’s music lovers.

    To me personally, there is only one Fleetwood Mac. The one created by Peter Green. He was the heart and the soul of the whole band.

    It is a great pity that Mick Fleetwood continued with the name, with emphases on “continued with the name”. It spoils the legacy of Fleetwood Mac with the commercially successful tralala stuff.

    Regarding some of the comments above:
    1) Peter Green was a brilliant blues guitarist. Not a pink, green, purple or yellow player. Just a player. Check what BB King said http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Green_%28musician%29 . Ironically, it was the Brits blues copycats in the ‘60s that brought American blues to the music world’s attention. This was instrumental (excuse the pun) in giving recognition to the fantastic blues players like BB, T-Bone, Muddy, et al, that they so richly deserve (and royalties).

    2) The vibe back then was not so commercially focused as it is today. Therefore, I cannot imagine Gary Moore thinking, “Wow, one day I can earn mega bucks with this”, when he bought Peter’s guitar. Gary wanted to recreate Peter’s sound and I suppose to own his hero’s axe. Gary couldn’t quite it right, though. Compare “Supernatural” by the two of them. (R.I.P. Gary)

    Ha, ha. Back then, we had a pact, to all commit suicide before our 30th birthday. Joining the 27 Club was the ultimate. Unbelievably, fifty years later and we are still rockin’ (with a lot less rollin’…… hahahaha)

    Thanks for the blog. Really enjoyed it.

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    • Thanks for sharing your excellent reflections and experiences!

      I agree that Mick Fleetwood should have changed the name of the band to preserver the honor and the legacy of the original group.

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  • The best white blues guitar player the world has had the good fortune to enjoy.

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  • Nice info. Note however that Gary never paid for Peters guitar!

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  • Like Vark above I was one of the group followers 1969 where I was a teenager I loved Peter Green then and it never stopped I was broken hearted when I heard of his plight with his breakdown but thinks are looking up i think for Peter its our duty as kids of the 60 to introduce Peter to our grand children I don’t believe there is a band today could play as good as peters FWmac Aw Well. Keep rocken kids Elyx

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  • I knew Peter back in the late 1960’s and early 70’s just before and after he left Fleetwood Mac. We meet at London’s Roundhouse when FM were doing a Sunday gig there although I’d seen him play plenty of times with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers before he set up FM. We got chatting in the bar between sets and although he was a few years older than me seemed happy to chat about the business.

    This was in the days when some great bands were still starting out and pretty much still “underground” although the “business” was slowly discovering that great musicians were springing up all over the UK but students had already known this for some years! What had been pub bands slowly became stadium bands as their popularity increased. With this rise went money and big business. I’m not really knocking anyone who becomes popular, if they are good then they should be seen and heard my as many as possible, however the result was that bands we had grown up with at local pubs and venues all over London were now charging huge amounts to do gigs and consequently instead of paying a reasonable door price the cost of seeing great live music suddenly shot up.

    I’d had it in mind for some time to put on a series of concerts where the bands would get all their expenses covered which meant we could charge rock bottom door prices. When I told Pete about this idea he said straight away count Fleetwood Mac in, they would do it. After that I was invited to go down to New Malden where Pete still lived in a terraced house with his parents and we became friends.

    I remember one day Pete calling me up and said come down I’ve got something new I want you to hear. When I arrived at his house it turned out they had just finished recording Green Manalishi the night before and we went back into the rear room which had a wall of floor to ceiling speakers and he played the tape. Fantastic stuff!

    Sadly some months later FM went on the fateful European tour and soon after Pete announced he was leaving the band. Despite all the changes taking place Pete still kept his promise and did play at the first of our cut price gigs, albeit with “friends” on stage but he was as great as ever, in fact it was his first public gig after leaving FM. Money had never been his reason for playing and clearly the pressures that went with the fame had become a little too much to deal with. He was and still is the sweetest and kindest guy and his playing reflects that.

    Sadly I lost touch soon after this period and the next I heard about him were the strange tales of working as a grave digger etc. I took my wife to see him when he started playing again in public with the Splinter Group around 1998 I think and although there were glimpses of the old Peter ultimately it was quite sad to see. However, over the years I’ve noticed that slowly he is re-emerging from his torment and the playing, although perhaps not the voice, shows that his sweet guitar can still sing.

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