Peter Green passed away yesterday at home in his sleep.
Green was probably the greatest blues guitarist the UK has ever produced. The man’s playing with Fleetwood Mac (the band he founded and named after its rhythm section) in the late 1960s is exemplary. His tone, note choices, phrasing, string bending, vibrato – all absolutely first rate.
Earlier during lockdown I was playing a lot of guitar, trying to sharpen up my lead playing by learning a couple of solos by Green and Mark Knopfler. It was an eye-opening, not to say humbling experience. Yes, I learned the intro and mid-song solos from Need Your Love So Bad and got them to sound passable, but in my hands they sounded like quite generic blues licks strung together over a nice chord sequence. With Green, the genius didn’t really lie in the notes themselves. It was in the phrasing, the split-second placement of the notes. His feel is inimitable. None of his contemporaries – not Eric Clapton, Mick Taylor, Jimmy Page, nor even Jeff Beck – quite had what Green had. There was an emotion and a lyricism to his playing, a fragility almost, that was both utterly distinctive and completely heartbreaking.
Green was not only first among equals as a guitarist; he was also a writer and a singer of rare talent. Any singer-songwriter would kill to write something as good as Man of the World, but balladry was not the only string to his bow. His work also included Albatros, possibly the greatest instrumental in the history of rock, the Latin-flavoured Black Magic Woman (covered memorably by Santana, of course) and the proto-metal The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown), as well as numerous strong blues tracks like Looking For Somebody and The World Keep on Turning.
Green suffered greatly with his mental health toward the end of his time in Fleetwood Mac and for many years afterwards (he was diagnosed with schizophrenia in the mid-1970s, and both he and some of his friends believed it was linked to a particularly intense and nightmarish LSD trip in the late 1960s). He gave up music for a time, saying in interviews that he deliberately grew his fingernails very long so he wouldn’t be able to play the guitar. He worked regular jobs where he could to make ends meet, and spent periods completely destitute.
Yet he never went under. While fragile, he survived, relearning how to play guitar after not touching it for many years, and re-emerging into the spotlight to find that he was still loved and admired the world over, including by some of the musicians who inspired him in the first place; his 2000 album Hot Foot Powder, with the Peter Green Splinter Group, featured contributions from Hubert Sumlin, Otis Rush, David “Honeyboy” Edwards and Buddy Guy, as well as Dr John and Joe Louis Walker. Green was outshined by none of them.
Few guitarists in any idiom have said more in their playing than Peter Green. I’ve no doubt he’ll be remembered and his playing will remain a source of inspiration.