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You had to be there … or did you?

Some internet operations are a wonder of the modern world – as an example (and I’m not being paid to suggest this) I’d cite YouTube which, for those just browsing or perhaps searching for ‘footage’ items half-remembered or recommend to them, is as good as they come as a potential source of enlightenment.

Here’s an example I came across recently.

By way of introduction, personal experience – and logic – tells you that, when it comes to music, one’s formative years (teenage to maybe 35 if you’re lucky) is the period when your musical preferences are set.

My line whenever asked or in the mood to hold forth is that as regards ‘popular’ music – pop, rock, jazz, blues, Hollywood musicals etc. – mine stopped evolving in the 1980s, after which I gradually lost interest in ‘new’/current fashions, fads and obsessions.

Though I still notionally kept abreast of things after that the hard truth is that I ‘switched off’, dragged my wagons into a circle and remained forever fixed in the era pre-1985.

This didn’t mean that I refused to accept that anything produced after that could possibly be worth more than a hill of beans – I have found the odd song or artiste pleasing or easy on the ear, and still do – but never to the point where I get excited enough about them to the point where I want to ‘keep up’ and live in the present.

Nostalgia is not necessarily a particularly fundamental mine at which to prospect. One has to guard against the distorting effect of the proverbial rose-tinted glasses. Anyone with children, or regular social access to youngsters (those aged up to 35 when you’re my age), has to remind themselves of the universal truth that – for those who come after you – access to the individual artiste, song or musical genre that ‘floated your boat’ in your own youth lies purely in the recording(s) they either come across by accident and/or are forced to listen to when someone like you enthusiastically recommends something or someone to them.

Take the Beatles, for example.

Any youngster today can appreciate that the group/band was a class act that could carry a tune now and again. On radio, television and the internet they are exposed to routine testimony from presenters and commentators of the Beatles’ supreme quality and impact upon the world, musically and culturally.

What they miss, of course, is the experience of living through the era during which the Beatles produced their recorded body of work (for the sake of this piece I’d suggest the years 1962 to 1970).

In a sense this is a blindly obvious point to make, but say at this point in time (April 2019), in the unlikely situation a UK youngster never previously exposed to Beatles music decided to fill this gap in their musical knowledge, they could buy or download the entire 12 studio albums, 13 EPs and 22 singles the Beatles issued in the UK and – let’s be reasonable about it – over the course of a month could familiarise themselves with the lot.

But what said kid would never be able to do is replicate the extraordinary experience of those of us who born before (say) 1955 who – from the moment we first became aware of the Beatles – lived every year, month, day [and each 24 hours of that day] during which the Beatles evolved, both musically and as cultural icons, grew to dominate everything and everybody, around the globe … and then just called it a day. As the Beatles, I mean.

It’s the same with Elvis … and any other all-time great musical artiste of the past.

Never mind the old gag about the 1960s [“If you can remember it, you weren’t really there …”]. If you were really there during the 1960s, you will never forget the experience. And not least the sense of growing national anticipation as it was announced that the new Beatles single or album would be released in another three weeks … or was it sometimes two months … time. And then the ‘explosion’ when that item first hit the airwaves and shops.

Anyway, to my purpose today.

For me – packed away in a countryside boarding school in the second half of the 1960s – leaving puberty behind and hitting teenagehood and discovering everything that entails (e.g. hormones, rebellion, boredom, anxieties about everything – to name but a few), the sheer hard-edge guts and ‘rage against the world’ of the British Blues Boom was a seminal moment.

Incongruous as it might seem to me now, even for a white, middle class, some might say privileged, wet-behind-the-ears little wimp, the agonised cries of poor, downtrodden, deprived, blacks bemoaning the travails of ‘working for the man’, having woman troubles of all kinds … and yet, despite it all, still revelling in the egotistical confidence of self-identified sexual magnificence and presence (true or false) … struck enough interest points and chords, real and metaphorical – [not that with the blues there needed to be too many chords which, now I think of it, may have been part of their attraction!] to become an obsession.

Thus it was that the likes of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Savoy Brown, Chicken Shack and tens of other bands including Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac became staples of my daily experience, certainly the leisure hours thereof.

Peter Green was a particular hero of mine.

Fellow Rusters may know well the story well so I’ll keep it brief, but he first came to my attention as the guy who replaced Eric Clapton in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. To get picked by Mayall was a huge accolade in itself – but to replace the already-marked-out-to-be-a-superstar Eric (“Slowhand”) Clapton, who had prompted “Clapton is God” graffiti to be left around knowledgeable haunts of London for his guitar playing, was both an accolade and a milestone.

Or it would have been, had not Green been such a brilliant guitarist in his own right, combining a clean, restrained – sparse even – style and tone with a soulful touch that made even the great original bluesmen sit up and take note.

The blues lament Need Your Love So Bad – composed by Mertis John Jnr and recorded by his younger brother who went by the name of Little Willie John – reached Number 5 in the Billboard R & B chart in 1956.

It sounded so ‘down’ that you could not help feeling for the singer. There was  something about the line “… Or write it on a piece of paper, baby/So it can be read to me …” too. The guy was so poor and illiterate that he had never learned to read!

When Peter Green left John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers in 1967 and formed his own band – comprised of Mick Fleetwood on drums, John McVie on bass guitar and Jeremy Spencer (guitarist) – they immediately had a British blues hit album with their debut entitled Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac.

In 1968 they recorded a cover version of Need Your Love So Bad. Peter Green’s blues calling cards were all over it – his soulful, weary-sounding, voice and of course his unique guitar style. I loved it the moment I first heard it and to this day it would rank in my top five tunes of all time.

One element of the original release of Green’s version – which lasted just 3 minutes 37 seconds – was that right at the end of the last verses and chorus, he begins to play a guitar solo … which then fades away to nothing in about 5 seconds flat.

From 1968 until about a week ago (that’s 51 years!) it has been a source of frustration to me that I never got to hear where that solo was going. I may even silently have blamed the sound engineer, the producer, the band and even Peter Green himself for the fact they ‘chopped it off’ when they did.

I wrote there “until about a week ago” because that was the point where I found this – a version of the Peter Green version of Need Your Love So Bad which last 6 minutes 15 seconds and appears to consist of a 1968 studio recording of the original session that contains the remainder of that end solo. At least I hope it does – it could of course simply be something that a clever engineer or wishful thinker has ‘spliced together’ to give that impression.

See here – YOUTUBE


About Michael Stuart

After university, Michael spent twelve years working for MELODY MAKER before going freelance. He claims to keep doing it because it is all he knows. More Posts