Remembering a British blues legend
Michael Stuart revisits his youth
Pure self-indulgence this, but I’m not apologising.
I’m a committed fan of live music and especially blues or old-style R & B. Having been a teenager in the 1960s, the blues first came to my attention via the Rolling Stones, probably their Little Red Rooster single, if I’m trying to be precise.
A couple of years passed and, when the British blues boom of the mid-Sixties first hit the pop headlines, I was already too late for John Mayall and The Bluesbreakers – well, both the Eric Clapton and then Peter Green versions – but then the Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac debut album (with the famous ‘Dog and Dustbin’ cover) arrived on my radar with the impact of a bolt of lightning.
The attraction was partly the fount of the music – driving 12-bar blues and Elmore James covers – and partly the majesty of Peter Green himself, not only a consummate guitarist with a purity of tone few could match, but a soulful singer clearly steeped in the genre he loved.
Later, of course, we all know the story of how he became disillusioned with the success his own band was having and – weighed down by mental and drug issues – gave away all his money, ‘disappeared’ and eventually became a grave digger for a time.
In the meantime, Mick Fleetwood (drummer), John McVie (bass guitarist) and Christine Perfect (McVie’s wife) eventually took off to America and – teaming up with Lindsay Buckingham and Steve Nicks – formed the version of Fleetwood Mac that dominated the world in the 1970s and 1980s, now a far cry from the blues band that Green had formed.
Peter Green re-emerged properly in the public eye in the late 1990s with Peter Green’s Splinter Group. I’m sure he still makes an acceptable living, but – having seen him twice in concert in the past fifteen years – I know he’s no longer the guitarist or front man that he one was.
I bought the latest issue of The Blues Magazine recently, specifically because it was trailing a major article recalling Fleetwood Mac’s early incarnation, i.e. that originally formed Peter Green after he left the Bluesbreakers.
In those days, not only was Green one of the great guitarists – B.B. King once said of him “He has the sweetest tone I ever heard – he was the only one who gave me the cold sweats …” – he was one of the coolest men on the planet.
Need Your Love So Bad (composed by Mertis John and first recorded by his younger brother Little Willie John) is one of my all-time favourite blues tracks. It has been recorded many times over the years but, in my view, Fleetwood Mac’s version – which reached Number 31 in the UK chart in August 1968 – is definitive and would be one of my Desert Island Discs if ever the call came.
Here’s a video clip of Peter Green and Fleetwood Mac playing (miming) the song, which I believe was shown on the BBC’s Top Of The Pops in 1968, courtesy of YouTube – FLEETWOOD MAC