Peter Green

Incomparable blues legend whose guitar rang out with passion and intensity


In the summer of 2009, in the unlikely setting of hip music festival, Secret Garden Party, I witnessed a frail, white-haired man being wheeled onto the main stage. Having been coaxed out of the comfort of his obscurity, this man, perched unassumingly on his chair, cradling his Fender, and partly hidden by his music stand, played a mesmeric set. Despite barely communicating with the crowd, Peter Green, once considered the greatest British Blues guitarist of his generation, captivated me for the next hour with a sublime performance, his fingers effortlessly dancing across his fretboard, drawing me back to a time when his evocation of the blues surpassed most of his peers. A time before the drugs had collided with his fragile mental health, causing the guitar legend and founder of Fleetwood Mac to all but disappear.

Green was born in Bethnal Green, in 1946 to Joe Greenbaum, a postman, and his wife Anne. When he was 10, his brother Len gave him a guitar and set him up with a few chords. Green made swift progress, gravitating from skiffle, to rock ‘n roll and the blues. Hank Marvin was one of his early inspirations. In a 1996 interview with MOJO magazine Green expressed his admiration: “His playing was lyrical, his phrasings melodic. Hank made the guitar into an instrument that talked colours.”

At 15, he discarded the “baum” after experiencing antisemitism at school and became Peter Green. Those painful memories were recalled in a 1990s JC article, where he explains that his use of LSD was “to get to a place where I wasn’t Jewish, but I wasn’t not Jewish’ either”. He began playing professionally – his first job was in a rock ‘n roll covers band, followed by a couple of R&B bands before being spotted in 1965 by John Mayall who asked him to play a few dates with his band Bluesbreakers, covering for Eric Clapton. Green became a permanent member after Clapton left to form Cream. Despite having big boots to fill, he won over Clapton’s loyal fans through his uniquely expressive playing, earning the moniker “The Green God”.

In 1967 Green and Bluesbreaker drummer Mick Fleetwood recorded a track with bassist John McVie. Green named the track Fleetwood Mac and insisted it became the fledgling band’s name. It speaks of his modesty that, despite his impressive capabilities as guitarist, songwriter and singer, Green did not name the band after himself. His playing reflected his humble persona, using minimal notes to obtain maximum emotion, and his vocals matched the emotion and authority of his playing. “Peter could have been the stereotypical superstar guitar player and control freak,” Mick Fleetwood told The Irish Times. “But that wasn’t his style. He named the band after the bass player and drummer, for Christ’s sake.”

Fleetwood Mac didn’t have to wait long for success. In 1968 their eponymous debut reached No.4 in the UK album charts, selling more than a million copies. Just two years after forming, the band was selling more records than The Beatles and The Rolling Stones combined. Hits such as Oh Well, Need Your Love So Bad, Black Magic Woman and Albatross forged Fleetwood Mac into the hearts of millions of fans worldwide.

Yet it wasn’t to last. Touring in the US with The Grateful Dead had introduced Green to LSD and his increasing encounters with psychedelic drugs unleashed a torrent of mental health issues. Paranoid and withdrawn, he became obsessed with guilt at his growing profits and wanted the band to give away all their money, at one point pointing a gun at his accountant, demanding he stopped sending royalty cheques. In 1970, at the height of the band’s fame, he chose to walk away from it all.

The following years were spent in the wilderness. Green wandered from place to place, spending time on a kibbutz, taking various odd jobs, often bedding down with friends. He was ultimately diagnosed with drug-induced schizophrenia, spent time in psychiatric hospitals and underwent electroconvulsive therapy.

Fleetwood Mac meanwhile, grew from strength to strength: with new members Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, it achieved worldwide success, becoming a chart-topping rock band and selling out stadiums.

After time away from the limelight, Green did make a few tentative comebacks, including an uncredited contribution on guitar to Fleetwood Mac’s 1979 album Tusk, forming a blues splinter group in the late 1990s and returning again in 2009 with Peter Green and Friends. But he reverted back to obscurity, shunning his own tribute concert as recently as February 2020.

Green fundamentally shaped the British Blues Explosion of the 1960s and it is no surprise that BB King claimed he was – “the only one who gave me the cold sweats”. Perhaps because, like his Mississippi Delta blues heroes, he was able to understand the pain of the outsider, this poor boy from Bethnal Green interpreted those mournful tones with a truthfulness that allowed emotion to pour from his fingertips.

That quality was still present when I witnessed Green’s festival performance. It was as if all the mental anguish he had endured only served to raise his playing. His guitar rang out with a subtle passion and intensity that seemed to override the tragedy of his wasted years.

Green is survived by daughter Rosebud from his brief marriage to Jane Samuels, and son Liam Firlej from another relationship.


Peter Green (Peter Allen Greenbaum): born October 29, 1946. Died July 25. 2020

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