Peter Green, Blues Guitarist

Peter Green & Fleetwood Mac
Peter Green (far right) & Fleetwood Mac. Photo courtesy Warner Music

If not for the cruel hand of fate, Peter Green (born October 29, 1946 in London England) might today be considered the greatest British blues guitarist, on par with Eric Clapton, instead of the somewhat obscure cult artist he is today. Green's struggle with addiction and mental illness are the stuff of rock 'n' roll legend, even more so when one considers that he contributed greatly to both John Mayall's Bluesbreakers and the first incarnation of Fleetwood Mac. That Green has managed to conquer his personal demons and forge a career of substance is a testimony to the man's spirit and talent.

The Swinging '60s

Peter Allen Greenbaum was born in the working-class enclave of Bethel Green in London, the youngest of four children. Growing up on a musical diet of British rock (The Shadows); the blues (Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Freddie King); and Jewish music, Green began playing guitar at the age of ten when he received a hand-me-down instrument from an older brother. He would be known as "Peter Green" by the age of 15, playing bass and guitar in amateur bands before he went pro by joining Peter Barden's band, Peter B's Looners at the age of 19 years old. One of his bandmates was drummer Mick Fleetwood.

When Eric Clapton left John Mayall's Bluesbreakers to vacation in Greece in 1966, Green convinced the bandleader to take him on as Clapton's replacement. Green played only three concerts with the band before "Slowhand" returned to reclaim his seat, but when Clapton left for good a few months later, Green jumped onboard. Green contributed his stellar guitar tone, as well as two original songs, to the 1967 Bluesbreakers album A Hard Road, and even sung on two songs. A Hard Road became one of Mayall's most successful recordings, climbing to #8 on the U.K. album charts, and making a star out of the young guitarist.

The Fleetwood Mac Years

Green became good friends with both bassist John McVie and drummer Mick Fleetwood while with the Bluesbreakers. When he made the decision to leave and form his own band, Green recruited both musicians, and they would form Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac with guitarist Jeremy Spencer. The band, later shortened to just "Fleetwood Mac," would make its first performance in August 1967 at the Windsor Jazz and Blues Festival. They would release their self-titled debut, Fleetwood Mac, in 1968, and later add a third guitarist, Danny Kirwan, to help expand the band's sound beyond basic blues-rock.

Green's imaginative six-string work and quickly-maturing songwriting skills, combined with the powerful rhythm section of McVie and Fleetwood, would propel the band to the top of the charts in short order. Fleetwood Mac scored a number of hits like "Black Magic Woman" (later a hit for Santana), "Oh Well," "Man Of The World," and the #1 hit instrumental "Albatross." Albums like 1968's Mr. Wonderful and 1969's English Rose and Then Play On firmly placed the band at the upper reaches of the British rock world.

The Trouble Years

As Fleetwood Mac became more successful, Green's experimentation with LSD led to his physical and emotional decline. Green would disappear for days at a time, and his turn to religion would result in an irrational state. After Green's bandmates rejected his idea to donate most of their earnings to charity, the guitarist would quit the band in mid-1970. Green would stick around long enough to complete a U.S. tour when Spencer bolted to join the Children of God cult, then largely disappeared for much of the 1970s (resurfacing only to contribute uncredited guitar to Mac's Penguin album in 1973).

Green would subsequently be diagnosed with schizophrenia and would reportedly spend time in psychiatric hospitals receiving electroshock therapy. During the 1970s and '80s, the guitarist dabbled in music, releasing a handful of mediocre solo albums as rumors circulated in the British music press about his condition. Green would contribute guitar to Mick Fleetwood's 1981 solo album The Visitor, but would suffer a mental relapse in 1984 and would become a virtual recluse until his brother and sister-in-law took him in and helped him regain his health and vitality.

Peter Green's Splinter Band

In the late 1990s, Green would form the Peter Green Splinter Band with his friend guitarist Nigel Watson. The band represented a respectable second act in Green's musical career, releasing its critically-acclaimed self-titled album in 1997, followed a year later by The Robert Johnson Songbook, a collection of covers of songs by the Delta blues legend that would earn the band a W.C. Handy Award. Green would join the other members of Fleetwood Mac in January 1998 when the band was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, joining Carlos Santana for a jam on "Black Magic Woman."

Several more recordings would be released by the Peter Green Splinter Band until Green broke up the band in 2004, citing problems with his medication affecting his guitar playing. After a few years of rest and recuperation, Green popped up again in 2009 with the band Peter Green and Friends, touring the U.K. and Europe. While Green remains a major influence on a generation of guitarists, artists like Gary Moore and Aerosmith's Joe Perry citing his importance, even contemporaries like Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page consider Green one of the best in the blues.

Recommended Albums: The John Mayall's Bluesbreakers album A Hard Road introduced the young Peter Green to a blues-hungry audience, and offers up an inspired performance from the guitarist. The self-titled debut album from Fleetwood Mac is an excellent collection of guitar-driven British blues-rock, featuring original songs from Green and Jeremy Spencer, as well as choice covers of Howlin' Wolf, Elmore James, and Robert Johnson songs. All of the Peter Green Splinter Band albums are admirable, but if you had to choose one to enjoy, go with Hot Foot Powder.