"Cold Sweats" - The Lost Potential of Peter Green

2020 is taking far too many music icons from us. On 25th July, another one ascended to music heaven, as Fleetwood Mac co-founder Peter Green died aged 73. A blues-rock guitarist of the highest calibre, he was instrumental in forming the early sound of Mac, though they would achieve their biggest success without him in the late '70s.

His life and career was far from smooth-sailing. After building his reputation with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers (in which he replaced Eric Clapton), in 1967 he co-founded Fleetwood Mac with ex-Bluesbreakers drummer Mick Fleetwood. Originally specialising in Blues music (both covers and originals), their sound developed over their first three albums, spawning hits such as 'Oh Well', the guitar classic 'Albatross' and 'Black Magic Woman', the latter of which was famously covered by Santana.

Unfortunately, towards the tail end of the decade, Green's mental state began to deteriorate and, fueled by heavy doses of LSD, his mind became unstable. Fleetwood first noticed his friend's mental decline when he heard the lyrics of 'Man of the World' and held conversations with him afterwards, saying that Green "was obsessive about us not making money, wanting us to give it all away. And I'd say, 'Well you can do it, I don't wanna do that, and that doesn't make me a bad person."

The situation came to a head whilst touring Europe in 1970. After another large LSD dose in Munich, he ended up playing music at a commune which he then refused to leave, prompting two roadies and Mick Fleetwood to go and fetch him. At the time, he said "that's the most spiritual music I've ever recorded in my life" and showed no regrets later in life, saying in 2009 that he'd had a great time playing there. Nevertheless, he left the band in May that year (though would appear with them on a US tour in 1971 and make an uncredited appearance on their 1973 record Penguin).

After leaving the band, he released a solo record and worked with likes of John Mayall and B.B. King; however, his mental health continued to decline and he was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia. He spent the rest of the 1970s in recovery, and began to re-emerge in 1979, when he again came back to Fleetwood Mac to appear on the song 'Brown Eyes'.

Photo credit: Hulton Archive/Getty

He continued to work steadily on music throughout the 1980s, though it was a slow process. In 1988, he discussed his illness, saying that "it was drugs that influenced me a lot. I took more than I intended to...I thought I could do it, I thought I was all right on drugs. My failing!" Ten years later, he would be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, along with the rest of Fleetwood Mac.

And that's about it, really. He did form a new band, Peter Green's Splinter Group with whom he released a number of Blues albums, but in truth, there isn't much to speak of in terms of a career. His successful beginnings in the 1960s looked set to pave the way for decades at the top, but it seems that drugs, more than anything, robbed him of this success. LSD affected his mental health, his train of thought, and it rendered him unable to build on the foundations he had laid, which is a huge shame.

Even so, he did enough to inspire and influence some of the greats of the time, as well as some of the future. Gary Moore, Joe Perry and Noel Gallagher have all cited Green as an influence, and his songs have been covered by the likes of Moore, Aerosmith, Tom Petty, Midge Ure and Judas Priest.

What endeared Green to his compatriots wasn't necessarily his ability - it was his style. It wasn't about speed or technical ability for him, it was about what feelings he could express, what emotions he could pour into his songs via the guitar. This style was praised by Eric Clapton (his Bluesbreaker predecessor), and Blues legend B.B. King said of Green "he has the sweetest tone I ever heard; he was the only one who gave me the cold sweats." Only a truly special player could provoke such a reaction from someone of King's calibre.

With Fleetwood Mac's biggest success coming after Green left the band, and Green's obvious talent and potential stifled by problems with drugs and mental health, it's hard not to think that his career is more about what could have been, rather than what it was. But that isn't what we should dwell on; without him, there is no Fleetwood Mac, and B.B. King never experiences cold sweats. Regardless of where his career could have gone, we ought to be thankful for what he did manage to give us, and appreciate his talent all the same. We're going to stick on 'Albatross' now as a tribute, and you should do the same too.

RIP Peter Green. Thoughts go out to his friends and family.


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