From my forthcoming book, Legends of British Blues:
Peter Green (Peter Allen Greenbaum)
Main Instruments: Guitar, vocals, harmonica
Born: Bethnal Green, London, England: October 29, 1946
Died: Canvey Island, UK; July 25, 2020
Recommended Cuts: “The Supernatural” (John Mayall); “I Need Your Love So Bad”, “Black Magic Woman,” “Rattlesnake Shake,” “Oh Well, Parts 1 and 2” (Fleetwood Mac)
Peter Greenbaum‘s brother taught him his first guitar chords. By eleven he was teaching himself, scoring gigs at fifteen and calling himself Peter Green. After playing with various bands, in 1966 Green played and recorded with Peter B’s Looners, where he met drummer Mick Fleetwood. Green replaced Eric Clapton in John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers but when Eric returned, Green was out. When Clapton left for good to form Cream, Mayall humbly asked Peter to return. Producer Mike Vernon was horrified when Mayall arrived sans Clapton to cut A Hard Road (1966), until Green began to play. In 1967, Peter left Mayall to form his own blues band, taking Fleetwood and bassist John McVie with him. Jeremy Spencer was added on guitar. Their name, “Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac featuring Jeremy Spencer” was (thankfully) shortened to Fleetwood Mac. Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac stayed on the UK LP charts for over a year. “Black Magic Woman” (1968; UK #37; covered with great success by Santana) was followed by 1969’s “Albatross” (UK #1), “Oh Well” (UK #2), and “Man of the World” (UK #2). Green peaked with Mr. Wonderful (1968; UK #10) and their masterpiece Then Play On (1969; UK #6), with Danny Kirwan completing a hot three-guitar front line.
On tour in 1970, after Green binged on drugs at a Munich commune party, he became very religious, appearing in long, flowing robes. Green’s band refused his request to donate most of their money to charity. What seemed like a bad LSD reaction was, sadly, undiagnosed mental illness. In 1970, Green left the band after releasing his eerie, autobiographical song “The Green Manalishi (with the Two-Pronged Crown)” (1970; UK #10). He recorded the unfocused jam LP The End of the Game (1970), then just stopped playing. In 1977 Green pulled a shotgun on his accountant, who was trying to deliver a royalty check. Peter went to jail, then to an asylum. He underwent electro-convulsive therapy prior to finally being properly diagnosed with and treated for acute schizophrenia.
In 1979 Peter recorded the mediocre LPs In the Skies (1979), Little Dreamer (1980), White Sky (1982) and Kolors (1983 ). Over a decade later Nigel Watson and drummer Cozy Powell helped form the Peter Green Splinter Group, releasing nine CDs (1997–2004). A tour and new LP were halted when Green suddenly moved to Sweden. In 2009 he began touring as Peter Green and Friends. Despite a career marred by mental illness and drug abuse, Peter Green (in his prime) is considered by discerning fans as the greatest white blues guitarist ever.
Trivia: During Green’s “lost years”, it was rumored he was a hospital orderly, a gravedigger, a Cornwall bartender and an Israeli commune member. After his 1998 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, he jammed with Carlos Santana on “Black Magic Woman.” He sold his iconic 1959 Gibson Les Paul to Irish blues guitarist Gary Moore. B.B. King said, “He has the sweetest tone I ever heard. He’s the only one (white blues guitar player) who gave me the cold sweats.”
A personal note from Bill:
I am devastated by the loss of Peter Green. He is my all-time favorite white blues guitar player and singer. I was hoping he would live long enough to see his portrait and bio entries in Legends of British Blues. I regret never having met him. I have wanted for years to tell him how much his music meant to me. Track down and purchase the big box set that contains all of his recordings with Fleetwood Mac up to Then Play On; then buy Then Play On, one of the most incredible blues LPs ever to come out of England — or anywhere. The CD version was expanded with vital extra tracks.
I will miss Peter forever. Thank God we have his recordings.