As the 60s folded and the 70s dawned, the members of the English band Fleetwood Mac knew they had a big problem.
Their singer and lead guitarist Peter Green announced he wanted to give all his money away and that they all should do the same.
It got worse. He told them he wasn’t so sure about the idea of being a rock star and he wanted out of the band.
To say the group was stunned would be an understatement.
“I don’t remember trying to talk him out of it. I just remember going … Oh, shit!” bass player John McVie recalls.
Green wasn’t just a great guitarist
He had good reason to be concerned. Green was no ordinary musician. In 1966, he had been called on to replace Eric Clapton in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers.
When he arrived for the first recording session, producer Mike Vernon asked Mayall, “Who the hell is this?”
Mayall replied cryptically: “Oh, he’s Eric’s replacement.”
When he went on to say the new guitarist was just as good as the man they called “God”, Vernon laughed. The laughter stopped a few minutes later when Green started playing.
Green wasn’t just a great guitarist. He was a great band leader and could write. Having poached Mick Fleetwood and John McVie from Mayall’s band, he formed a new group called Fleetwood Mac.
Leading from the front, he encouraged creativity in his bandmates, making them better musicians and big money earners in the US.
Establishing a reputation for their mastery of the blues, Green broadened the group’s musical style, penning original hits including Albatross, Black Magic Woman and Oh Well.
The songs took Fleetwood Mac to the top of the charts, regularly outselling the Beatles.
Green broadened the group's musical style, penning original hits including Albatross, Black Magic Woman and Oh Well.
The man the music world can’t forget
Now, however, things were falling apart in a big way. Green’s final contribution to the band would be a song called The Green Manalishi, detailing his struggle with fame and the voices he was hearing in his head.
Within six months, Peter Green would succumb to mental illness, leave the band and for several decades, virtually disappear from public life.
Green Manalishi detailed his struggles with fame and the voices he was hearing in his head.
Fleetwood Mac, of course, would continue, becoming one of rock’s biggest-selling and longest-running bands.
But Green wasn’t forgotten. Despite his illness and his obsession with privacy, the music world has never stopped talking about him.
Now, five decades after walking away from fame and riches, a who’s who of rock musicians — including members of Fleetwood Mac from different eras, David Gilmour from Pink Floyd and John Mayall — will gather at the London Palladium to pay tribute to the man who BB King described as having “the sweetest tone [of any guitar player] I ever heard”.
The big question is, will the man himself make an appearance and might he be coaxed into playing guitar?
Some think it’s unlikely, but whatever happens, the concert will rekindle old questions about the nature of his precipitous fall.
It will also allow fans young and old to recall what an extraordinary talent Peter Green really was.
Setting the template for a new form of rock
Born in 1946, Peter Allen Greenbaum seemed like many other kids growing up in the suburbs of London. All that changed, though, when he picked up a guitar.
Like many other young musicians, he played in a succession of little-known bands. His big breakthrough came when he joined the Bluesbreakers.
Replacing Clapton was no small task, but Green did it with ease.
The key to his playing was impeccable technique and an ability to sustain a note. He once told a friend his intention was “to express as much as he could in his music, playing as few notes as possible”.
He also had a unique guitar sound. In part, it came as the result of a fateful error. Replacing the pick-ups on his Gibson Les Paul, the technician installed them so they were out of phase. It gave the guitar a tone unlike any other.
But technique and tone were just part of his gifts. He was also a composer. On the first album with Mayall, he stunned the band with a song called The Supernatural.
Taking the blues as his launching pad, Green created something else, otherworldly.
Here, well before Pink Floyd and Santana became famous, Green had set the template for a new form of guitar rock that defied categorisation.
‘I believe they were some sort of cult’
But if Peter Green’s talent will be celebrated at this month’s concert, there will also once again be questions about his descent into illness.
What part did drugs play in his downfall? And what role did a shadowy group of people the guitarist met in Germany, who fed him a powerful and destructive form of LSD, play?
As band members tell it, Green had always been keen to experiment with drugs. By late 1969, they also knew their leader had begun to question fame and fortune.
They had watched while he began wearing robes and crosses on stage, all the while talking about giving his money to the poor.
Nothing, though, prepared them for what happened when they landed in the city of Munich in Germany in early 1970.
Arriving at the airport, Peter was met by a group of people, including a beautiful and mysterious young woman, who whisked him and guitarist Danny Kirwan away to a large house in the country.
Road manager Dennis Keane now believes Green had been targeted because of his wealth and fame.
“I believe they were some sort of cult. That’s what they do, they get you and strip you of your identity and the money helps them to become more powerful,” he said.
With the rest of the band in tow, Keane arrived at the house to find both Green and Kirwan had been fed a very potent form of LSD.
Leading from the front, Green encouraged creativity in his bandmates, making them better musicians and big money earners in the US.
Dennis Keane would later recall the scene as utterly weird. When they finally found Peter, he seemed to have lost touch with reality, playing his guitar in the most bizarre way.
The road manager’s response was to call security from the hotel they’d booked into, to help him extricate the two musicians.
The nail in the coffin
Extricate them they did. But in truth, the real nightmare was just beginning, according to manager Clifford Adams.
“Peter Green and Danny Kirwan both went together to that house in Munich, both of them took acid,” he said.
“Both of them, as of that day became seriously mentally ill … I think it’s too much of a coincidence.”
To this day, Green says the music he played that night was some of the best he ever made. Others saw it very differently.
Either way, according to Mick Fleetwood, that night was the “nail in the coffin” of Peter and the band. It was also the moment when the master guitarist began his long journey through the hell of full-blown schizophrenia.
The decision to hold a concert to pay tribute to the talent and work of Peter Green is timely.
Reports suggest Green is living comfortably, cared for by his family, and still enjoys playing the guitar.
What he doesn’t like is publicity.
‘The reason there is a Fleetwood Mac is because of him’
Mick Fleetwood — a key organiser of this month’s musical gathering — says the concert is “a celebration of the early blues days, where it all began. Peter was my greatest mentor”.
It would be easy to believe that the gathering might simply recall an almost-forgotten period that has nothing to do with later Fleetwood Mac achievements.
Fleetwood disagrees, pointing out it was the lessons of band leadership that Peter Green gave him that allowed him to guide the Mac through five decades of success.
“Peter could have been a stereotypical superstar guitar player but he wasn’t, he named the band after the drummer and the bass player for Christ’s sake!” he says.
“He was always willing to give space and freedom to other band members … the reason there is a Fleetwood Mac at all is because of him.”
It’s quite a tribute and Peter Green deserves every bit of it.
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