Peter Green’s 20 greatest guitar moments, ranked

The late Peter Green was unquestionably one of the blues-guitar greats. Yet as his prolific early career progressed from the Bluesbreakers and on to Fleetwood Mac, his prodigious talent revealed itself in many other ways, too.

Way more than a skilled imitator – and quickly proving himself to be way more than just a blues player – for guitarists, Peter Green remains a chimera, with a style that’s tantalisingly simple and direct but also indefinably difficult to crack. Leaving aside his versatile, soulful voice with its indefinably ‘real’ character, listening through his output before LSD and illness derailed his talent is an endless lesson in using phrasing, timing, dynamics and tone, in that order, to convey emotion through six strings.

Plus you never get the feeling with Peter Green, as you do with say, SRV, Clapton, BB King even, that a stock of licks are being strung together in new ways. He rarely ever played the same thing the same way twice and used doublestops, unison bends and even passing notes sparingly, preferring to rely on the mix of major and minor pentatonic for variety. During his brief tenure with the Bluesbreakers and his three years and three studio albums with Fleetwood Mac, he was on a mission to continually develop his songwriting, style and sound and it’s from this era that we’ve picked our 20 greatest guitar moments.

In a 1967 interview with Record Mirror, the man himself put it best: “It doesn’t mean a thing, playing fast. I like to play slowly, and feel every note – it comes from every part of my body and my heart and into my fingers. I have to really feel it. I make the guitar sing the blues.”

20. Out Of Reach

Appearing as a B-side to 1967 Bluesbreakers single Sitting In The Rain, and left off the original A Hard Road album, Out Of Reach is an overlooked gem of British – or indeed any other kind – of 60s electric blues. Written and fronted by Green, its spectral lope was obviously intended to showcase the more dynamic side of his supernatural talents as a vocalist and lead guitarist, but this slowest burning of slow blues is equally notable for the sparseness of its backing and the ghostly slide playing in the gaps between the vocals. From the rapid burst of notes that begins the solo at 2:27 to the plangent bends at 2:56, Green’s darkly sustaining, reverb-soaked lead playing offers students of haunting blues phrasing so much to ponder.

Did you know?

Peter Green wasn’t yet 20 years old when he replaced Eric Clapton in the Bluesbreakers.

19. Someday Soon Baby

“I want you to start playing… I want BB King shit,” barks Otis Spann, directing a 1969 Chess Records session that saw the great blues pianist teamed with Fleetwood Mac: and despite the pressure, Green duly obliges, reeling off a minute of unaccompanied soloing through a Silverface Deluxe reverb that’s fragile, piercing, musically adventurous and authentic in equal measure – from a standing start. Spann is clearly impressed and halfway through, he can be heard shouting “Don’t stop that, man, let’s play’ em,” to the guitarist over the insistent studio hum. An abridged version of the song ended up on The Biggest Thing Since Colossus, the album they subsequently recorded together, but it’s this version that shows Green’s unfazeable talent as an improviser.

Did you know?

The fruits of this one-day session at Chess, featuring Fleetwood Mac together with Spann, Willie Dixon, Buddy Guy and others, spawned three albums: Fleetwood Mac In Chicago and Blues Jam In Chicago, Volume One and Two.

Peter Green
Image: Graham Wiltshire / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

18. I Loved Another Woman

This dry run of Green’s later hit Black Magic Woman from Fleetwood Mac’s 1968 debut is in fact anything but ‘dry’, given that its lead guitar is positively soaked in pools of reverb. The song’s fusion of minor-key blues with a Latin rhythm was adventurous enough, but it’s the cascading bloom of notes materialising out of the haze that was the real innovation. Together with The Super-Natural and 1967 Bluesbreakers single cover of Otis Rush’s Double Trouble, If I Loved Another Woman was another refinement of the ethereal sound the guitarist was to become associated with.

Did you know?

An intriguing live version from San Francisco in 1968 featuring Paul Butterfield on harmonica can be found on Before The Beginning 1968-1970: Rare Live & Demo Sessions.

17. Worried Dream

This BB King cover is an opportunity to appreciate the differences between Green’s more measured take in the studio and his more exploratory approach live. For all of the 60s guitar legends, live performance was an arena for altering arrangements and stretching out improvisation, and contrasting the studio version of this song (featuring guest pianist Christine Perfect) with the Carousel Ballroom version from 1968 offers a prime example. On the studio version, Green’s guitar is diffident, clean-sounding and delicate; on the near-10-minute piano-less San Francisco version, he runs the full spectrum of emotions, playing off the dreamy reverb and spaciousness of the venue to deliver one of the era’s most dynamic and soulful slow-blues guitar performances.

Did you know?

Green was hugely influenced by BB King and often covered his songs. The feeling was mutual, with BB King famously commenting that Green was “the only living guitarist to make me sweat. He had the sweetest tone I’ve ever heard”.

Peter Green
Peter Green performing with Fleetwood Mac in 1969. Image: Estate Of Keith Morris / Getty

16. Rattlesnake Shake

Proto-rock, right down to the leery masturbation metaphor, Rattlesnake Shake was a crowd-pleaser from 1969’s Then Play On that showed another side of Green’s uninhibited and versatile songwriting. Its mighty testosterone-laced main riff at 1:09, supplemented by glam handclaps, practically invents whole genres of future rock, and the sparring between Kirwan and Green incorporates a lot of subtlety and tonal variation amidst the grinding rhythm. And clearly the band really liked the song – Live In Boston has a 24-minute version, which Mick Fleetwood classed as “our way of being in the Grateful Dead”.

Did you know?

The rustling sounds at the end of the breakdown are recordings Green found of an actual rattlesnake.

15. So Many Roads

A Hard Road’s version of this song replaces the 1960 Otis Rush interpretation’s jauntier backing with a brooding, horn-laden wall of sound, giving Green licence to out-Clapton his predecessor in the Bluesbreakers and shower proceedings with strident outbursts of spiky, soaring leads. Yet a version on John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers Live In 1967, recorded at The Manor House in London by a Dutch fan on one-track tape, finds Green – with his future Fleetwood Mac rhythm section – jettisoning the characteristic gaps in his phrasing to deliver a frighteningly fluid barrage of licks as though it was his last night on Earth. It’s a rare glimpse of Green delivering the repeated lines, fluid hammer-ons and pull-offs and intense high-register bends that characterised Clapton’s extended soloing with the Bluesbreakers and later, Cream.

Did you know?

Deeper digs into the short-lived Green-Fleetwood-McVie-Mayall lineup of the Bluesbreakers are only possible thanks to the blind-eye bootleg recordings of Tom Huissen, now officially collected on Live In 1967.

Peter Green with John McVie and Fleetwood Mac
Peter Green (right) and John McVie in 1969. Image: Michael Putland / Getty Images

14. Fighting For Madge/Searching For Madge

Compared to its predecessors, Green’s last album with Fleetwood Mac was a wildly creative affair, with the wild part exemplified by a two-part jam, Fighting For Madge/Searching For Madge – a frantic freeform blues odyssey seemingly very loosely based on Baby Please Don’t Go. Dedicated to the titular Madge, who was a dedicated fan of the group, it’s a trippy, stop-start collage of psychedelic wigout soloing and dirty doublestop riffs from Green and Kirwan which, for no reason whatsoever, trades its grimy electric leadwork for an excerpt from a mystery classical piece, before leaping straight back in again. Head music, man.

Did you know?

The first …Madge is credited to Mick Fleetwood and the second is credited to John McVie; Searching For Madge was assembled from seven separate jam sessions.

13. Greeny

A great deal has been said about ‘getting the Peter Green tone’ – of course, there were many Peter Green tones throughout his career, ranging from Dobros to Strats and more. But what’s being referred to is the out-of-phase tone from Green’s 1959 Les Paul, which remained a constant companion from the Bluesbreakers to the end of Fleetwood Mac, before embarking on further adventures in the hands of Gary Moore, Kirk Hammett, Joe Bonamassa and others. If you want to hear that guitar in all its expressive glory, this Bluesbreaker-era instrumental dedicated to it functions almost as a demo of all the tones it was capable of in his hands – as well as being a beautiful jazz-inflected major-minor blues instrumental in its own right.

Did you know?

Peter Green bought his iconic Les Paul Standard secondhand for $300 around 1966.

12. Underway

One of Then Play On’s more reflective moments drifts in and out at under three minutes on the original pressing of the record, but fuller realisations, both live and in studio, exist on various compilations and Green re-recorded it for his Time Traders album: he’s even said that he felt it was the best thing Fleetwood Mac ever did. Akin in feel to some of Hendrix’s more meditative travels outside of the rock realm, it’s a shapeshifting companion piece to Albatross, built around Green’s tentative, dreamlike melody that for once betrays no hint of blues. Green told Rolling Stone: “It was spontaneously composed by the whole lot of us all just playing in the studio and recording whatever we came up with – free-form. It’s what I used to play before I had my problems.”

Did you know?

You can hear a more elaborate 16-minute version of the song on Fleetwood Mac’s The Vaudeville Years.

11. The Stumble

 

The entry requirements for the Bluesbreakers were simple: be ridiculously talented, be just-about old enough to drink, play a Les Paul – and do a turbocharged update of a Freddie King instrumental as a calling card. Clapton had Hideaway, Mick Taylor had Driving Sideways and in between, Peter Green was awarded The Stumble: each one a rite of passage for electric blues players ever since. While the version we all know and love on A Hard Road does a fine job of taking the infectiously melodic ideas of the Texas Cannonball’s original and running with them, for the real deal, the gritty Live In 1967 recording is an almost superhuman effort; a fountain of improvised lead-guitar licks that’s as precise and musical as it is utterly relentless.

Did you know?

Clapton stumbled across the Les Paul/Marshall sound combination when he was attempting to mimic the recorded tone of Freddie King (which was partly down to King’s use of metal finger- and plastic thumbpicks).

10. Stop Messin’ Round

Fleetwood Mac’s second album Mr Wonderful bursts into life with Green’s uptempo shuffle, augmented by saxophones and the piano of Christine Perfect. Five takes of the song were recorded live, with no overdubs, using a PA in the studio that producer Mike Vernon described as imparting a “dirtier, gutsier sound – closer to that generated at a club performance”. Green’s vocal is raucous and his tone is fiery and cutting, but it’s his playing – all hovering quarter-tone bends and terse, BB King-esque major-minor Q&A with the horns, plus the way he spans several octaves within a single phrase – that elevates the track way beyond the energised but throwaway workout it would’ve been otherwise.

Did you know?

Mick Fleetwood described Mr Wonderful in his autobiography as: “ragged low-down blues by the seat of the pants… It was recorded in four days, and it sounds like it”.

9. I’ve Got A Mind To Give Up Living (AKA All Over Again)

Live performances of BB King material seemed to transport Green to a different realm and this one, recorded at the Warehouse in New Orleans in January 1970 while on tour with the Grateful Dead.  showcases the differences rather than the similarities between the two players’ styles. Whereas King approached this funereal blues with terse, abbreviated lines, Green’s take over a sparse descending progression is pure flow, from the first note to the last. Building from delicate melodic ideas, the solo when it comes is an outpouring of howling, emotional string bends, expressive vibrato and fleet-fingered flurries of notes that’s instinctive and intense rather than measured or studied. He may have left Fleetwood Mac just a few months later, but at the turn of the decade, he was at the peak of his playing powers.

Did you know?

Peter Green was no purist when it came to his choice of amps, progressing from Marshalls to Voxes through to Orange/Matamp stacks and on to Fenders between 1967 and 1970.

8. Man Of The World

Man Of The World is the first cry for help we heard from Peter Green,” biographer Keith Altham said in the TV documentary named after the song. “You listen to that lyric, you can hear that the pressure is beginning to get to him. The intensity of the music business, the circus, is beginning to hit him.” So obvious in retrospect, perhaps, but the band was too distracted to see it at the time when this mournful outlier ballad was recorded in 1969. Again, mastery of dynamics is to the fore; first, the introspective fingerpicking at the heart of its arrangement is appropriately decorated by Kirwan and Green with tender Les Paul and overdubbed nylon string, before its brief but emotionally powerful middle section simmers back down to a diffident outro and a final, hopeful rake of harmonics.

Did you know?

The B-side to the single was Somebody’s Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonite – you definitely wouldn’t want to play the wrong side at a funeral.

7. Jumping At Shadows (Live In Boston 1970)

There are people, believe it or not, who are put off the 60s electric blues sound by the over-indulgence of its guitarists. “Too many notes,” they say. “Where’s the authenticity and the soul?” The answer is, it’s right here. Over a scaled-down slow shuffle, Green delivers a heartfelt, haunted rendition of Duster Bennett’s song that’s among the all-time-great lessons in the power of quiet-loud lead-guitar dynamics: a lesson largely ignored by 99 per cent of the players that came after him. Ranging from fragile tones so hushed you have to strain to hear them to sudden flashes of lightning and everything in between, Jumping At Shadows is five minutes of proof that the 23-year-old Peter Green was on a different plane to anyone around him.

Did you know?

The song was written by Welsh one-man-blues-band Anthony ‘Duster’ Bennett, who played a 1952 Goldtop given to him by Green.

6. The Green Manalishi (With The Two Prong Crown)

During his final months with Fleetwood Mac, a Mescaline-induced dream about an undead green dog barking at him prompted Green to wake up and write this fevered, portentous full-moon vision. Struggling to capture the demonic sonics, he and Danny Kirwan stayed in the studio all night to perfect them, leading to Fleetwood Mac’s only Green/Kirwan songwriting credit. Its rolling, proto-Iron Maiden backing – the song’s producer was Martin Birch – featured Green on a Fender VI six-string bass (the version on Boston Tea Party features an extended solo on the instrument) and Green was proud of the results: “Lots of drums, bass guitars… Danny Kirwan and me playing those shrieking guitars together… I thought it would make No. 1.” In the end, it charted at a respectable No. 10 in the UK, but soon after it was released, Green left Fleetwood Mac regardless, tired of his stardom and the hypocrisy of the music industry.

Did you know?

Green became increasingly uncomfortable about his wealth and gave most of his savings to the War On Want charity.

5. Need Your Love So Bad

This cover of a 50s rhythm ’n’ blues hit, by way of a BB King version, eventually reached No. 2 in the UK chart on re-release. It features one of Green’s most effortlessly sublime vocals and is topped off by its subtly directed organ, horn-and-string arrangement; and while Green mimes with an unplugged Strat probably belonging to bandmate Jeremy Spencer in the song’s famous video, the heartrending clean tone for the song’s solo parts is surely his Les Paul with its unique out-of-phase middle-position pickup combination.

Did you know?

As well as owning Peter Green’s Les Paul, Gary Moore was a devout fan and his 1995 Blues For Greeny tribute features a lyrical eight-minute version of this song played on the instrument.

4. The Super-Natural

Green’s brief stint in the Bluesbreakers yielded this timeless instrumental from A Hard Road, their only album together. As well as possessing a guitar tone regularly ranked as one of the greatest ever, The Super-Natural also proved to the Bluesbreakers audience that there was more depth to Green’s playing than just an alternate take on Eric Clapton’s high-octane Chicago blues. Les Paul soaked in reverb, on the verge of feedback, the long sustaining notes Green wrung from its neck provided a Eureka moment of inspiration for Carlos Santana, among many others.

Did you know?

Peter Green credited Mike Vernon with the idea behind The Super-Natural. “He said he’d seen this guitarist who’d played a high note, sustained it and then let it roll all the way down the neck. But I played it and I decided on the sequence”.

Peter Green
Image: George Wilkes / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

3. Oh Well (Part 1 & 2)

The success of this game-of-two-halves instrumental from Then Play On – one part a stop-start blues-rock riff-fest, the other an ambitious flamenco-guitar instrumental – was apparently resented by its creator. “I never really intended Oh Well to have the first section,” he told Guitar Magazine in 2007. “I just wanted it to be the classical second side. I took the idea for the lyrics from that old blues song by Muddy Waters about, ‘Oh well, if I was a catfish…’ The riffs of its main section have long been cherished as a formative strand of hard rock’s DNA, but it’s also worth acknowledging the inventiveness of its instrumentation: as well as using a Dobro for the opening riff on the first half, Green played a Ramírez flamenco guitar, cello, timpani and electric guitar on the second section, too.

Did you know?

Guitarist Jeremy Spencer contributed piano to Part 2, while Peter Green’s girlfriend Sandra Elsdon added the recorder.

2. Black Magic Woman

So all-conquering was Santana’s reimagined cover of this song that it still comes as a surprise to many that it was written by Peter Green. That’s just one of the many overlooked aspects of Fleetwood Mac’s first UK Top 40 hit, among them its spooky opening chord overlaying Kirwan’s slide with Green’s guitar, the wobble of amp tremolo intermittently enveloping the rhythm guitar, Green’s beautifully lyrical solos paraphrasing the vocal melody and on to the galloping 4/4 outro that hints at an enticing jam that fades far too soon. Not to worry – as usual, plenty of extended live versions exist, including an excellent runthrough on Live In Boston.

Did you know?

Santana and Green (both playing PRS guitars) duetted on the song at Fleetwood Mac’s 1998 Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame inauguration.

Peter Green
Image: David Redfern / Redferns

1. Albatross

Fleetwood Mac’s first UK No. 1 was Green’s 1968 instrumental Albatross, which was recorded at the first session to feature the Mac’s new addition, guitarist Danny Kirwan. A huge sideways swerve for a garage-y blues band it may have been, but the seeds for its dreamlike ambience had already been sown in previous Green compositions: and in any case, it may not have been a 12-bar, but it still retained the all-important ‘feel’ of the blues that Green prized above all else.

Inspiration for the song came from diverse sources, including Rime Of The Ancient Mariner, Santo & Johnny’s 1959 steel-guitar surf-rock instrumental Sleep Walk and a Clapton guitar line Green heard on a Bluesbreakers cover of My Last Meal. In turn, it inspired The Beatles to write Sun King. “How’d I come to write it? Copying Eric Clapton,” joked Green in the 2009 Man Of The World documentary. “I was watching Eric Clapton. He might’ve wrote it, I don’t know… He might tell me one day, ‘Stop saying you wrote my song.’”

The song was recorded and mixed over two days at CBS Studios in London and Green recalled of the sessions: “Jeremy didn’t play on that record. I double-tracked the bass and did the slide guitar as well, playing a Stratocaster flat on my lap. When we did the video, Jeremy faked the slide part. In fact, I used a Hawaiian third string on my Les Paul as an aid for vibrato; it sounds like a Hawaiian guitar when the player’s left his slide at home! I bought it because that was only string the shop had that was the right gauge.”

Although Peter Green remains one of music’s great ‘what if’ figures, seemingly destined to be underrated and overlooked, for a brief time in 1968 at least, the world was blown away by his music – and if you’re going to have one song stand in for your true legacy, then it might as well be something as beautiful as Albatross.

Did you know?

In a 2003 interview, Peter Green said of Albatross: “I’d like to do that again on Hawaiian guitars with Eric Clapton. I always liked Eric’s playing: he was much better than Hendrix, although I thought Jimi was a great person”.