The family of Fleetwood Mac co-founder Peter Green said the guitarist died “peacefully in his sleep’” this past weekend at age 73. If he did pass in such a fashion, peacefully, he did not die as he had lived.
Green was a sensitive soul with melancholy in his fingers – so much fury and vulnerability transmitted through his instrument. Now considered Southern California rock legends, Fleetwood Mac was at the forefront of the British bell-bottom blues movement when Green split for good in 1971, after just four years with the group.
He was disillusioned. He donated his money to various charities. Green gave everything away – really. And what he didn’t give, others took. Led Zeppelin based the a cappella vocals of its classic Black Dog on Green’s Oh Well. Another of Green’s Fleetwood Mac compositions, Albatross, was the inspiration behind the Beatles’ Sun King.
Prior to creating Fleetwood Mac, Green was with John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, as was the rhythm section of drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie. In 1967, Green formed Fleetwood Mac around those two, selflessly naming the band after them.
Like Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones and Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd, Green was too brittle, though. An acid-trip-too-far and a spiritual crisis immediately preceded Green’s departure from Fleetwood Mac. Over the years, suffering from mental illness, he sporadically retired and unretired from music.
By the time Green briefly married a Canadian fiddler in the late 1970s, Fleetwood Mac had went on to fame and fortune without him. Green was just one more entry in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Eats Its Own file.
He will be remembered for the sweet tone of his Les Paul model guitar. Green could do more with three notes than most could do with seven, and his economy extended to his lyrics:
Can’t help about the shape I’m in
I can’t sing, I ain’t pretty and my legs are thin
But don’t ask me what I think of you
I might not give the answer that you want me to
The song is 1970′s Oh Well (Part 1). Epitomizing the apologetic self pity of the blues and the sneering defiance of punk, the verse is rock ‘n’ roll encapsulated. A god’s hammer guitar riff was the bravado Green otherwise lacked.
Green’s Latin-tinged Black Magic Woman flopped as a Fleetwood Mac single in 1968, but another band, Santana, had huge success with it as a cover version. One of the last compositions Green wrote for Fleetwood Mac was The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown). It later became associated with the metal group Judas Priest.
All that memorable music, from a forgotten man.
A line of singer-guitarists took Green’s place handling Oh Well over the years, including Bob Welch and Lindsey Buckingham. Fleetwood Mac booted Buckingham out in 2018. On the band’s 2019 tour, Mike Campbell from Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers sang the “I can’t sing” bit.
No one is irreplaceable. Fleetwood Mac is a business. Green helped build it, but he wasn’t built for it.
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