Remembering the genius of Fleetwood Mac founder Peter Green

Fleetwood Mac co-founder Peter Green

One of the greatest rock bands ever, Fleetwood Mac, would not have been born if not for founder-guitarist Peter Green [born: Peter Allen Greenbaum], who would have turned 75 on October 29, 2021.

On February 25, 2020, a very special concert was held at the legendary Palladium theatre in London, celebrating the songs of their founder and the original incarnation of Fleetwood Mac, dubbed as ‘Mick Fleetwood & Friends celebrate the music of Peter Green and the early years of Fleetwood Mac’. It would have been an ideal situation for a visit to London then, but a friend and I had already booked ourselves for viewing The Who on March 16 at the Manchester Arena [which, unfortunately was cancelled mere days after the first case of COVID-19 was discovered in the U.K., as the subsequent pandemic necessitated the suspension of a rock(ing) society, as we know it, as all mass events in U.K. were cancelled from mid-March 2020 onwards].

Nevertheless, while audio streaming the tribute concert on Spotify, it was obvious that the 2,200-audience at that sold out show witnessed something unique, and one that would be the last live concert anyone in U.K. would attend until the Download Festival occurred at Donington Park in England on June 18, 2021. The tribute took on a particularly poignant meaning with the unfortunate passing away of Peter Green, five months later, on July 25, 2020. David Coverdale, the lead singer of Whitesnake, said he was an artist that he “truly loved and admired”, while Black Sabbath’s Geezer Butler described Green as “one of the greats”.

The players gathered were an all-star cast, and the musicians present that night appeared to have a cosmic connection with Green; after all, his songs had changed their lives, and impelled them to play music that continues to rouse rock generations.

Legendary producer Glyn Johns [Eagles, Eric Clapton, Steve Miller Band, Rolling Stones, The Who] joined as the executive sound producer and the house band featured Mick Fleetwood himself on drums supported by Zak Starkey, along with Dave Bronze [bass], Ricky Peterson [keyboards], and guitarists Jonny Lang, Andy Fairweather Low, and Rick Vito.

Mick Fleetwood, the tall, bearded figure, in sitting behind his drum kit, delightfully introduced an extraordinary cast that he managed to assemble for this tribute to his Fleetwood Mac partner Peter Green. From U.K., there was Fleetwood’s one-time boss, veteran blues hero John Mayall, along with David Gilmour, Pete Townshend, former Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman, and Oasis’ Noel Gallagher. The American contingent included Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top, Steven Tyler from Aerosmith, and Kirk Hammett from Metallica.

The finest aspect of the concert was Mick Fleetwood wanting the early Fleetwood Mac years remembered. So he curated this high-profile event (which was also filmed and released theatrically on September 7th and 21st, 2021), focusing on the band’s role in the ‘60s British blues boom and the importance of Green within it.

For the uninitiated, Green was one of the guitar heroes – and, paradoxically, a casualty – of the ‘60s. He had the seemingly impossible task of taking over from Eric Clapton in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, but he did so in his own style. In 1967, Green poached drummer Fleetwood and bass player John McVie from Mayall and formed Fleetwood Mac, which he named after the surnames of the members of his rhythm section. A series of successful albums showed that Green not only wrote thoughtful ballads and atmospheric instrumentals but, when required, he edged their sound towards hard rock. Green was introduced to LSD at a Grateful Dead concert, left Fleetwood Mac in 1970, and was diagnosed with schizophrenia during the mid-‘70s.

A little known fact is that Green continued to work with Fleetwood Mac even after his formal departure from the band that he founded and, although uncredited, he played on their ‘Penguin’ album, on a Bob Welch song called “Night Watch” and, on the ‘Tusk’ album too, playing guitar on Christine McVie’s “Brown Eyes”. During the late ’90s, he formed the Peter Green Splinter Group, later touring as Peter Green And Friends, and with the British Blues All Stars.

Steven Tyler

This celebration of Green’s work during the tribute started with the blues as Fleetwood’s unhurried drumming drove the guests. ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons can be heard placing his stamp on “Doctor Brown”; Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler features a furious, yet amusing treatment of Green’s risque “Rattlesnake Shake”; and current Fleetwood Mac member, keyboardist Christine McVie provides a reminder of her blues roots with “Stop Messin’ Around”. Gallagher seems worried that he was out of place (“I know what you’re thinking…”), but produces a fine, no-nonsense acoustic treatment of “World Turning”.

The Who guitarist Pete Townshend was considered as a particular surprise at the tribute. “Pete turned up, and I don’t know him very well,” Fleetwood reminisced later, “[and] I said, ‘Well, why did you want to come?’ He said, ‘Are you kidding me? One of my most famous songs was, to put it mildly, very influenced by you.’” For the trivia-minded, Townshend played on a rendition of “Station Man” – a song featured on ‘Kiln House’, the band’s fourth studio album and the first one after the departure of founder Peter Green and their last album to feature co-founder, guitarist Jeremy Spencer – providing Townshend an opportunity of going full circle as the chord progression on this song eventually influenced the composition of Townshend’s epic for The Who, “Won’t Get Fooled Again”!

The finale is dominated by the hits. Neil Finn sings the poignant “Man Of The World”, while Gibbons and Tyler run through the pained “Oh Well (Part One)”, before Gilmour comes on to play the ominous guitar instrumental, “Oh Well (Part Two)”, a song never before performed on stage.

“Black Magic Woman” is followed by a real surprise: an appearance by Jeremy Spencer, one of the original four members of Fleetwood Mac, who quit in 1971 to join a religious cult. His slide guitar technique, and musical love for bluesman Elmore James, remained remarkably intact, much like when he performed in Mumbai too, where he performed in 1998 [which was captured for posterity on a CD called ‘In Concert – India ’98’, which I managed to have autographed during Spencer’s subsequent Mumbai concerts, either in 2000 or in 2007].

David Gilmour

The historic show ended with one of Green’s most compelling songs, the pained “The Green Manalishi (With The Two Prong Crown)”, performed by Kirk Hammett, expectedly with suitable frenzy, as Hammett apparently utilised the same 1959 Les Paul guitar that Peter Green had once played with; the set ending with the haunting instrumental, “Albatross”, with Gilmour playing  the lap steel guitar.

It is not often that you get members of Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd, The Who, Aerosmith, Metallica, and Oasis present on the same stage. In fact, that never happens. Except, that is, when it is Mick Fleetwood organising a “dream come true” celebration of his one-time bandmate and mentor, Peter Green.

From Freddie Mercury in 1992 to George Harrison in 2002, we find a rock star’s death is followed by a tribute gig, but Mick Fleetwood’s idea came with a twist: the honouree was still alive then!

Fleetwood had little problem bringing friends into the fold for the concert. Gibbons and Tyler, Fleetwood remembers, had committed up to two years before the actual tribute date. Fleetwood Mac’s roster provided him the facility of approaching both past and present members such as Jeremy Spencer, Christine McVie, Rick Vito, and Neil Finn, the Split Enz/Crowded House member, who is part of Fleetwood Mac’s present line-up.

Mick Fleetwood w/ Noel Gallagher

Mick Fleetwood is also, in hindsight, grateful for the timing of the concert, just before lockdowns began around the world during the COVID-19 pandemic. “My stomach comes up in my mouth when I realize if it had been four days later, what might have happened,” he subsequently noted.

Mick Fleetwood, who curated the list of artists performing, said: “The concert was a celebration of those early blues days where we all began, and it’s important to recognize the profound impact Peter and the early Fleetwood Mac had on the world of music. Peter was my greatest mentor and it gave me such joy to pay tribute to his incredible talent. I was honoured to be sharing the stage with some of the many artists Peter has inspired over the years and who share my great respect for this remarkable musician.”

Following Green’s demise, Fleetwood added: “For me, and [for] every past and present member of Fleetwood Mac, losing Peter Green is monumental! Peter was the man who started Fleetwood Mac along with myself, John McVie, and Jeremy Spencer. No one has ever stepped into the ranks of Fleetwood Mac without a reverence for Peter Green and his talent, and to the fact that music should shine bright and always be delivered with uncompromising passion!”

“Peter, I will miss you, but rest easy, your music lives on. I thank you for asking me to be your drummer all those years ago. We did good, and trail blazed one hell of a musical road for so many to enjoy. God speed to you, my dearest friend…”

Green’s death, meanwhile, also led to a pleasantly surprising reconciliation between Mick Fleetwood and estranged Mac member Lindsey Buckingham, who had been controversially fired from Fleetwood Mac in 2018. “He wrote to me and said, ‘I know how sad you must be,’ and then we spoke, and it was a lovely way to reconnect,” Fleetwood said later. The two have since bonded over Fleetwood’s desire to learn how to play guitar, and Fleetwood does not rule out the possibility of having Buckingham back in the band at some point in the future.

Meanwhile, Fleetwood, never gave up his dream of bringing Green back to Fleetwood Mac. Green, he added, was aware of the concert but, despite hopes, did not turn up. “He was a major, lovely friend, for sure. And no better musical lessons were learned by all of us, including me, in all of that work we did together and what (Green) did to lead us as a band.” Another notable absentee at the tribute was Fleetwood Mac bassist John McVie. “He got himself a new boat and was sailing,” Fleetwood recalled, but added that, after the band’s last tour, the bassist “was travelled out.”

A recording of the concert was released as a double-album, ‘Mick Fleetwood & Friends celebrate the music of Peter Green and the early years of Fleetwood Mac’, which provides true justice for a talent who is certainly on par, for many aficionados like me, with the likes of Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page…

Here is the complete track listing of the tribute show –

Act I

  1. “Rolling Man” (feat. Rick Vito, ex-Fleetwood Mac)
  2. “Homework” (feat. Jonny Lang)
  3. “Doctor Brown” (feat. Billy Gibbons)
  4. “All Your Love” (feat. John Mayall)
  5. “Rattlesnake Shake” (feat. Billy Gibbons & Steven Tyler)
  6. “Stop Messin’ Round” (feat. Christine McVie, Fleetwood Mac)
  7. “Looking for Somebody” (feat. Christine McVie, Fleetwood Mac)
  8. “Sandy Mary” (feat. Jonny Lang)
  9. “Love That Burns” (feat. Rick Vito, ex-Fleetwood Mac)
  10. “The World Keep Turning” (feat. Noel Gallagher)
  11. “Like Crying” (feat. Noel Gallagher)
  12. “No Place to Go” (feat. Rick Vito, ex-Fleetwood Mac)
  13. “Station Man” (feat. Pete Townshend)

Act II

  1. “Man of the World “(feat. Neil Finn, Fleetwood Mac)
  2. “Oh Well (Pt.1”) (feat. Billy Gibbons & Steven Tyler)
  3. “Oh Well (Pt.2)” (feat. David Gilmour)
  4. “Need Your Love So Bad” (feat. Jonny Lang)
  5. “Black Magic Woman” (feat. Rick Vito, ex-Fleetwood Mac)
  6. “The Sky Is Crying” (feat. Jeremy Spencer, ex-Fleetwood Mac)
  7. “I Can’t Hold Out” (feat. Jeremy Spencer, ex-Fleetwood Mac)
  8. “The Green Manalishi (With The Two Prong Crown)” (feat. Billy Gibbons & Kirk Hammett)
  9. “Albatross” (feat. David Gilmour)
  10. “Shake Your Moneymaker” (group finale)
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