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.