In 1966, followed by two years of successful recording and critical appraise, John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers were establishing themselves as a pioneer British blues band. Their 1966 release, Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton, was flying off shelves as the blues genre exploded across the UK.
You would think, then, that when Clapton’s inspiration from Buddy Guy led him to walk away from the Bluesbreakers and form super-trio Cream – taking drummer Jack Bruce with him – that Mayall might justifiably have been concerned over the band’s future.
But he wasn’t. Mayall simply said to his panicked producer, Mike Vernon, “Don’t worry, we got someone better.”
Vernon was understandably sceptical: “I said [to Mayall], ‘Wait a minute, hang on a second. This is ridiculous. You’ve got someone better? Than Eric Clapton?’ Then he introduced me to Peter Green.”
Known not only for his perfect tone, quivering vibrato and impeccable control; Peter Green is also one of the greatest blues composers of the 20th century, with songs covered by Santana, Aerosmith’s Joe Perry, and Tom Petty. His work with Mayall & the Bluesbreakers and his creation of Fleetwood Mac have made Green a living legend and an ambassador of British blues-rock.
Born in London in 1946, Green was the youngest of four in a Jewish family. Like his contemporaries, Green had a guitar in hand by age 11 and was playing professionally by 15.
His early professional career was marked by brief stints in several groups where he played both bass and electric guitar. It wasn’t until Green took stage as the lead guitarist for Peter B’s Looners that his career took a turn for the better; for it was with the Looners that Green met drummer Mick Fleetwood. Three months after joining the Looners, the pair jumped at the opportunity to fill two freshly-open positions with John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers.
It was with the Bluesbreakers that Green recorded A Hard Road, the first and last album he would record with the band that included now-classic tracks “You Don’t Love Me” and “The Supernatural”; which later became a trademark for Green.
But his time with Mayall was short-lived. In 1967, not long after he arrived, Green split from the Bluesbreakers to form one of the most prominent blues-rock bands of the 60s and 70s. Taking Bluesbreaker drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie with him, Fleetwood Mac was born.
It wasn’t long before Fleetwood Mac was celebrating enormous success. Their second single climbed the UK charts and retained a place for more than a year, immediately followed by Green’s revered “Black Magic Woman” and the chart-topping “Albatross”.
That success would continue for three years until Green left his own band in 1970. After a couple years of scattered projects and collaborations, Green fell into heavy drug use and was diagnosed with schizophrenia; undergoing years of electroconvulsive therapy before finally re-emerging as a professional guitarist in 1979.
Green has spent over 30 years rebuilding and redefining his career, but has yet to write or produce music on the level he once did. Despite that, he is still undoubtedly one of blues’ most influential guitarists and songwriters and notched his place into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998 for his work with Fleetwood Mac.
His clean tone, swinging groove, vibrato and economy of notes was immensely influential, so much so that B.B. King said of Green, “He has the sweetest tone I ever heard; he was the only who gave me the cold sweats.” Green was also known for perfect feedback control, which allowed him to sustain his darkened minor modes.
But even though his name is synonymous with songwriting, Green was never comfortable with that label. In an interview with Guitar Player he said, “I was never really a songwriter; I was lucky to get those hits. I shouldn’t have been distracted from my fascination with the blues.”
We believe there’s only one place to start to hear the absolute best of Peter Green and no, it’s not Fleetwood. A Hard Road, recorded with Mayall and the Bluesbreakers in ’67, will hypnotize you with just one listen. Tracks like “The Supernatural” showcase his spectacular instrumentals and songwriting in those signature minor modes.
Also be sure to check out Fleetwood Mac’s self-titled release from 1968 and English Rose, which followed a year later and featured that super-hit “Black Magic Woman”.
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