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Publication: Guitarist Magazine, Issue: September 1999

 

 Peter Green, 1998

Bluesbreaker, Fleetwood Mac founder, guitar legend speaks

As Peter Green's Splinter Group releases a band-new album, the Mayall/Mac guitarist grows ever more confident. Neville Marten spoke to Greeny about Clapton, Les Pauls and Steve who?

Peter Green occupies a special place in the hearts of British guitarists. Being right there at the forefront of the blues explosion that hit our shores around 1966, Peter's contributions to John Mayall's 'A Hard Road' album showed a blues player of immense talent. As well as instrumental virtuosity - listen to his never-bettered take on Freddie King's The Stumble, or the incredible feel in Someday After A While, if proof were needed - Greeny also showed his writing ability with tracks like The Supernatural and The Same Way.

Having replaced 'God' in Mayall's Bluesbreakers and managed to fill those huge Claptonian boots with grace and confidence, Peter quit the band to form his own outfit with fellow Bluesbreaker John McVie on bass, drummer Mick Fleetwood and an unheard-of brace of extra guitarists, Jeremy Spencer and Danny Kirwan.

Although Fleetwood Mac began as a generic blues band, Green's introspective compositions soon dominated the group's output. Black Magic Woman, Man Of The World, Oh Well Parts 1&2, Green Manalishi and Albatross all made the British charts, before Peter's well-publicised withdrawal from the scene left us without him for more than 20 years.

Back on the road with his Splinter Group and with a new album, 'Destiny Road' out now, Greeny is as self-effacing as ever, refusing compliments and simply cannoning praise on to his own heroes and influences.

I met up with Peter and fellow Splinter Group guitarist Nigel Watson recently in London, and began by asking him what it feels like to be up on stage again, as the centre of attention…

"Well, I never did that kind of thing with Fleetwood Mac, so why should I start to do it now? I'm only Eric Clapton's replacement, I'm not Eric Clapton. Look what happened to Mick Taylor for replacing me - look what happened to the Rolling Stones."

But you went on to far greater things after Mayall. The songs you wrote with Fleetwood Mac were pop classics…

Well John Mayall went somewhere fantastic too; really powerful singles - a bit too powerful, when I think about it. And especially with (drummer) Aynsley Dunbar - when he came into it, it was really a powerful outfit.

Did you come from the blues, or were you like Eric and got into it via Chuck Berry?

I've never been that much into Chuck Berry; I prefer Bo Diddley. When you say Chuck Berry, that takes me to the Yardbirds; they were categorised as playing R&B and this was Chuck and Bo. They did Little Queenie and it was out of this world.
But I was a Rolling Stones fan and a Beatles fan. Then I met a couple of girls and they said, 'Who's your favourite group?' and I said 'Rolling Stones, who's yours?' They said, 'Yardbirds' and I said, 'What's that? Yardbirds?' I couldn't even pronounce it. They said, 'Yeah, you should go and see them; they play at the Marquee Club and the Crawdaddy Club; they've got a really good bass player'. I was playing bass then, so I went to see them and she was right. It was very advanced bass playing; lovely Epiphone Rivoli bass and a Marshall 50-watt amp and it sounded fabulous. Paul Samwell-Smith used to play chords on the bass, three strings at once, and it sounded really super. Anyway, I got in a little group called the Muscrats and I got to play the Yardbirds stuff.

Clapton didn't impress you much at first then?

Well, I wasn't a lead guitarist then, I played bass. Anyway, he was the other side of the stage so I couldn't hear it too well. It was all very good, though, very exciting. And I decided to go back on lead guitar after seeing Eric Clapton. I'd seen him with The Bluesbreakers before he considered singing and his whole concentration was on his guitar - he had a Telecaster - and it was really impressive. Then he had a Les Paul and his fingers were marvellous. It took everything away from me, like my birthday, Christmas; you forgot everything, just listen to this. All music that you'd ever heard was washed away by this group of guys that were letting Eric Clapton take the floor.
I loved Les Paul and Mary Ford and I was surprised to see this guitar turned over to this style, but once it got there it was just… you couldn't compare it to anything. This guy knew how to do a bit of evil, I guess.

So you had to go and buy one?

I stumbled across one when I was looking for something more powerful than my Harmony Meteor. I went into Selmer's in Charing Cross Road and tried one. It was only £110 and it sounded lovely and the colour was really good. But the neck was like a tree trunk - like the tree trunk was spliced down the middle and half of it was used for your guitar neck! It was very different from Eric's, which was slim: very fast action. I've never seen another guitar with such an old-fashioned neck. But I couldn't consider a Telecaster for some reason and I didn't want a Stratocaster.
Y'know Eric's Les Paul would go for fifty million now. It was a special one. Mine was a funny old fuddy-duddy, sweet old thing. If I had my time again I wouldn't sell my Harmony Meteor, I'd progress on that because the sound was so lovely at the Mayall audition. I use a Fender Strat now and a Gibson Howard Roberts Fusion model, but I'm thinking of getting a Gretsch Roc-Jet as well - the Roc-Jet is a lovely old thing.

So the sustain your Les Paul gave, was that the inspiration for The Supernatural?

No, Mike Vernon (producer) came up with the idea for The Supernatural. 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 placed it and I decided on the sequence.

Carlos Santana said he heard The Supernatural and that was his inspiration to play the guitar. So you've got a lot to answer for.

Yes, sorry about that…

After John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, you immediately fell into writing great pop songs. Did that just come naturally?

Well I was forced into songwriting. I'm not really a songwriter. John Mayall said to me; 'What other things do you do?' I think he liked my harmony in Coming On Top Of The Hill ('A Hard Road'), so I didn't fail completely with him. But I've never really had the blues like someone who lived in America. I could really only scrape about with my love for American music, for rock and roll, and somehow it went from that to the blues. But it's not far away from the blues when you think about it; same type of chord sequence.

Do today's audiences persuade you into doing all the old songs?

Well, we don't know what else to do. We don't have that many tunes. But I've done Man Of The World so many times - you can't conceive how many times - and I don't want to do it any more. I used to do them in my sleep.

What do you think of Clapton these days?

Unpredictable.

Do you still like The Beatles?

I don't think of them. They're not John Lennon any more; never really were Ringo Starr; George, I'm still working on and Paul is the only one - Paul McCartney all the way.

How about popular music today?

Far more popular than it used to be.

Frank Sinatra?

Died recently.

What about BB, Albert and Freddie King?

I don't have to go to work because of them. Their styles were simple enough for me to get into professional music.

When you were with Mayall, you and Clapton were at the cutting edge. There wasn't really anybody who could play faster than you guys at that time…

Well, there was, but it was nonsense. What they played was rubbish; that's the best comment you could make. They were just playing for speed, not even lingering on one note long enough to make it anything but a high-speed joke. I didn't really know what I was doing on the guitar. I was very lucky to get anything remotely any good. I used to dash around on stepping stones, that's what I used to call it. But 'safe' notes, you know? And I was finding that things were running away with me. It was very embarrassing.