Fleetwood Mac meant little in the U.S. Their singles did not burn up the chart, and in the incarnation that featured Peter Green, there was almost no underground FM radio other than in the metropolis, if that. In other words, getting into Fleetwood Mac was a secret process, via word of mouth, there was no big ad campaign, no media presence at all, but as a result of touring some people knew the band…but very few.
Whilst the Brits were embracing the blues, in America we were focused on folk. The blues legends walking in our midst didn’t impress us, weren’t exotic, the pop chart was filled with studio concoctions, like in that movie “The Idolmaker.” It’s not radically different today if you think about it. Fabian was a big star, his name was everywhere, ever hear anybody talk about him recently, even heard his music on the radio? Of course not, it was disposable.
But in the U.K., the blues records imported by sailors and embraced by the populous inspired teenagers to pick up the guitar. They were wailing while across the pond people were sleeping. The cultural consciousness in America was ruled by the Yankees, Mickey Mantle was a bigger star than any musician.
And then came the Beatles.
When the Beatles arrived in the U.S. they were fully-formed. It would be like getting version 3.0 of the software instead of the beta. They’d paid their dues on the road, they’d had radio success in the U.K. and when America saw them on Ed Sullivan…it wiped what had come before right off the map, instantly. You see there was a ready stable of acts to follow the Beatles in their invasion of the U.S. If it wasn’t British, it wasn’t cool. And Americans didn’t reign again until the San Francisco sound, which started to make a dent in ’67, three years later.
In the interim, Dylan went electric. Folk music disappeared, other than at singalongs at summer camps and houses of worship. And if you wanted to know which way the wind blew, you turned on the radio.
And at this point, most people were still buying singles. The album truly didn’t become desirable until “Sgt. Pepper,” and that was in ’67. And sure, the Yardbirds had hit with “For Your Love” and to a lesser degree “Heart Full of Soul,” but gunslingers, guitar gods, were not yet a thing. George Harrison was good enough for us. Until Jimi Hendrix. An American who had to fly across the pond to get recognized.
But the music Hendrix was making…they never played it on AM radio. It was an underground thing. But then along came Cream, and in the summer of ’68, “Sunshine of Your Love” crossed over to AM radio and the hoi polloi, your regular American, was exposed to the album rock sound, something not made for AM radio, records that were embraced by AM for fear their audience would defect. Which eventually it did, but in most burgs it took until the seventies before FM, which was no longer underground and free-form, was a thing.
Now when an act hits, listeners go back to the catalog. Back before you were expected to have a hit the first time out, when you were trying to create a body of work, when it was about the music…and the money and the chicks…in that order. Brand? Endorsements? Privates? Sponsors? They weren’t even a thing. If for no other reason than being a musician paid well enough, assuming your manager didn’t rip you off, or you didn’t blow all the money. There were no billionaires. If you were a star, you had plenty. And you didn’t want to compromise the music, no way.
So, suddenly, starting in ’67, Clapton became God. To a small cadre of listeners, members of the mainstream public didn’t come along until Cream’s final album “Goodbye.” As for Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck…well, Beck was that guy in “Blow-Up,” but that’s all most people knew of him, if they knew him at all.
But they knew Clapton so they needed more, and they went back to the source, John Mayall’s “Blues Breakers” album, with a young Eric on the cover. Older boomers were cottoning to the blues sound, they were moving away from AM, breaking their own trail, you didn’t want to be a member of the group in the sixties, being unique was a badge of honor.
So, just like with the British Invasion following the Beatles, there was one that followed Hendrix and Clapton. Eventually, in ’69, Led Zeppelin appeared, but that band didn’t really hit until the fall of ’70, with “Whole Lotta Love,” they went from unknown to everywhere, but by this time, Peter Green had already left Fleetwood Mac.
Now a few fans of the “Blues Breakers” album stayed with Mayall and purchased the next LP, “A Hard Road,” with Peter Green, but the star, the attraction to the previous LP, was Eric Clapton, and they followed E.C. and his work and some of the new bands who were less steeped in the blues, who injected more rock, which were coming to America in droves.
And in the fall of ’69, assuming you were looking, assuming you went to a record shop as opposed to a discount store stocked by a rack jobber, you saw the Fleetwood Mac LP “Then Play On” in the bins, with its attractive cover, but once again, you had to buy it to hear it, and not hearing it on the radio, most people did not.
Now it was different in the U.K. Peter Green was a known quantity. As were Mick Fleetwood and John McVie. And the country was smaller and radio was more open and the band got airplay over there, but absolutely none in the U.S. Except for “Oh Well,” which somehow made it to #55 on the “Billboard” chart, but this was pre-Soundscan, when the chart was manipulated, and in reality, anything below 40, really more like 20, wasn’t played anyway. Yes, underground FM stations were playing it, but once again, there weren’t that many of them and they had no chart…that would be offensive to the ethos of the format.
So I knew “Oh Well.” From the radio. But I was lucky enough to be in the New York radio market.
But there were Fleetwood Mac fans. Primarily from the road work the band did. You hoped radio and the road went hand in hand, but prior to “Then Play On” Fleetwood Mac was on Blue Horizon, with little budget or impact, whereas “Then Play On” was on Reprise.
But then, Fleetwood Mac became known for its bizarre story as opposed to its music. Yes, by this time there was a rock press. And word was spread that Peter Green had left Fleetwood Mac because he was mentally ill, back when this had a huge stigma, when no one admitted it. Better to O.D. than to quit because you were hobbled by the problems in your brain.
The remaining members regrouped and recorded “Kiln House,” and delivered a radio track, “Station Man,” broadening its audience. But then Jeremy Spencer left the band mid-tour to join the Children of God, back when cults were new…you couldn’t help wonder what inspired him, especially in an era were musicians were gods.
Meanwhile, Christine McVie joined the band…she was a known quantity in the U.K., but completely unknown in the U.S. Paul McCartney let his wife Linda sing and play, but that was considered a joke, but Christine came with a CV and her presence added an exotic element, as well as a new dimension to the sound.
And now, being part of the Warner family, there was album after album until… The band’s manager, Clifford Davis, put a bogus version of the act on the road to fulfill dates and the story blew up, bigger than the music ever had. Could you get your money back if you bought a ticket? Who owned the name? How could he do this? The story was in the rock press for months.
And then the band comes back, astoundingly, because this looked like the end, yet now everybody knew their name and “Heroes are Hard to Find” was their biggest LP ever in the U.S. and then guitarist Bob Welch promptly quit.
This is where the rest of the public comes in, at this down and out moment Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham are asked to join the band, and the rest is history.
A long history. With multiple guitarists and sounds. And Peter Green was at the beginning, his story was mostly unknown.
But the fan base the band had remembered him, so when Stevie and Lindsey came on board…they had to play his songs. Lindsey could play “Oh Well” – both “Pt. 1” and “Pt. 2,” they went together, the first raucous, the second slow and meaningful, kinda like “Layla” if you think about it, and “Green Manalishi” was often part of the set too.
But Lindsey didn’t write them.
Today there are ten year olds who can shred like Jimmy Page.
But they can’t write. And few can sing. As a matter of fact, even Jimmy Page can’t sing. But Peter Green could do all three! And he was there at the beginning, he was inventing the sound, plowing the way.
Progenitors. They don’t often get the acclaim they deserve. Or they get a victory lap or an award way down the line. But without them, history would be different.
Now by time the Stevie/Lindsey Fleetwood Mac became superstars, people hungered for more information, and the saga of Peter Green became more well-known. And eventually Green even re-emerged, a shadow of his former self, but he could still play.
And now he’s dead.
The truth is Fleetwood Mac could never replace Peter Green. It was impossible. You see at this level, everybody’s got a different style, a different tone, as for writing…
“Oh Well” wasn’t Peter Green’s only composition that lives on.
There’s the aforementioned “Green Manalishi.”
And “Albatross,” a track that most boomers have heard, but being an instrumental many are unaware it’s written and played by Peter Green, never mind Fleetwood Mac.
And, of course, “Black Magic Woman.” The biggest hit Santana ever had, other than those on the ersatz comeback album of 1999, but I ask you, when was the last time you heard “Smooth,” never mind “Maria Maria.” You see those two tracks are commerce, “Black Magic Woman” is art, like it says in the title, MAGIC!
Now Carlos and his band did an incredible version of “Black Magic Woman,” but the blueprint was right there in the original, which is more stripped-down, and has more soul.
And to this day, most people don’t know “Black Magic Woman” was written by Peter Green, never mind that it’s a Fleetwood Mac original.
So, what have we learned?
Not much about Peter Green the man, he’s an enigma. Oh, when he was smoothed out in his later years, he gave some interviews, but that does not mean they contained the truth, never mind the whole story. A story wherein a teenager practices and practices for his opportunity, truly becomes world class, and not only reaches the pinnacle, playing with John Mayall, but then breaks away and leaves an indelible mark on rock history.
If he’d died in a plane crash, if as a result even AM radio played “Oh Well” and “Albatross,” he’d have the name value of Ritchie Valens or the Big Bopper, who left much less of a footprint, or the rest of those who succumbed to tragedy in rock history.
But Peter Green lived on. He was hiding in plain sight, and now he’s gone.
Kind of like the delta blues legends who inspired him and his cohorts to begin with.
It’s been a long time. Over fifty years. Longer than it took for Robert Johnson to infect all these British legends. And in this case, all the recordings still exist, and they’re not disposable crap, like the stuff on “Supernatural,” they’re pure, they’re instruction manuals, they’re easily accessible to everyone online.
So, the book closes on Peter Green. But in truth, the book closed on the sound he helped create long ago. It’s not the sound the current iteration of Fleetwood Mac purveys, it’s not what youngsters are exploring today, it’s dormant. Oh, you can hear it on oldies stations, classic rock, but I haven’t heard of any youngsters doing anything other than imitating guitar gods, if that, never mind being inspired to write something new, that pushes the envelope.
And speaking of writing… Got to give Jimmy Page credit, even if some of his great compositions were “inspired,” or totally ripped-off from others. But as I said above, Page can’t sing.
And neither can Jeff Beck, the best gunslinger of them all, he can’t really even write.
And then there’s Eric Clapton. Who has been able to do all three. But Duane Allman wrote and played the legendary riff on “Layla.” And…oh, I don’t need to bring Clapton down a notch, I’ll just say that Peter Green was in his league. And years from now, when all these legends are gone, and we realize what’s been lost, we’ll study this era and only the music will remain, and Peter Green will ascend to his rightful place in the pantheon.
This is what happens when you practice, follow your muse, get inspired, lay it all down. Your streak might be very brief, but your mark will be left for ages to come.
Like Peter Green’s.