He had never fully “recovered” from the later existential and clinical journey – started in 1969 – from fame to schizophrenia to anything. But later that evening, when he gave his signature instrumental Albatross, Green’s musicality had shifted from the technical and emotional strength of his previous work to something bordering on, frankly, the sublime. As if the agony and ecstasy he had long since abandoned wording or conventional communication could be expressed more clearly than ever through music.
Green was born Peter Allen Greenbaum, spotted by British blues playmaker John Mayall for his band, the Bluesbreakers, which Green imbued with a resonant power that blossomed with Fleetwood Mac. I saw them in the spring of 1970, at the Roundhouse in London, fascinated not only by Green’s technique, but by some inner understanding of what “blue” meant in music, especially black music, despite the color of the music. Green skin.
He seemed to be struggling with his own compositions, like Oh Well’s dazzling requests, with the same intensity as one of his idols, Buddy Guy, as if he was looking for something in a track he didn’t yet have. understood. This mastery of the blues – technical and empathetic – was triumphantly tested when Fleetwood Mac faced off for a double album with Guy, Otis Spann and Willie Dixon in Chicago in 1969.
There was something intangible but obviously generous about Green, the way he shared the sound space with musicians, performed in front of an audience. Unlike many of his peers, he seemed to possess an almost mystical modesty. He protested to the other members of Fleetwood Mac that the money the group was making wasn’t really theirs.
Green’s departure from what we call “normal” consciousness was heralded by one of the most poignant songs of the time: Man of the World, 1969: a scorching, lonely but lyrical musical-poetic departure, which Green himself then followed in person.
Throughout the 1970s he wandered between diagnoses of schizophrenia, misadventures with drugs – mostly LSD – and what show business calls “the dark”, even sleeping in the streets on park benches. . A 2009 BBC Four film provided some insight into what happened, but was unimportant, and its illustrious cast over-mounted.
The mystery – and the story – was in the music when Green returned, occasionally in the 1980s, and then convincingly, with his polished but still spontaneous Splinter Group in the late 1990s. The revival was almost therapeutic, thanks in large part to guitarist Nigel Watson and former Jeff Beck and Black Sabbath drummer Cozy Powell. Green retained his technique, smiled as he played and chatted between the two, seemed “himself” again no matter what the odd place that was.
In the early 1980s, I went to hear the then 70-year-old Charley Booker – one of the last Mississippi Delta blues greats of his generation still playing – at the Halstead Blues bar in the Near North Side of Chicago. Booker lived in nearby Indiana, and his group was young and white, which begged the question, during the break: can they do it? Can white men play the blues?
“There are three white kids who can play the blues well like any black man,” Booker replied. Which? “Johnny Winter, Stevie Ray Vaughan and, oh, your Englishman, uh… now what’s his name…?”
“Eric Clapton? I volunteered.
” No no! Not him, the other – Peter Green.