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Blues Therapy for Peter Green Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

BLUES THERAPY
Legendary guitarist Peter Green has found his salvation in the music of blues master Robert Johnson.

Vickie Casey; Staff Writer

Blues guitarist Peter Green might be a living legend, but his story is a twofold tale.

It begins with Green's mythic guitar prowess as a pioneer in the 1960s British blues movement. He was an original member of John Mayall's Bluesbreakers and, with bandmates Mick Fleetwood and John McVie, founded Fleetwood Mac in 1967.

But Green left as soon as fame arrived. A long stint of untreated mental illness kept him out of music for more than two decades. Rumors that he routinely rejected royalty checks, was a gravedigger in London, or had met an untimely demise all served to shroud Green in intriguing mystery.

"Too much blues can make you a very mundane, mundane person, couldn't it?" Green said. "You feel like you're living in a little mudhole. I was actually glad to get away from the blues for a while."

A routine of medication and a supportive ally, guitarist Nigel Watson, have allowed Green, 53, to find his way again. Saturday, their band Splinter Group will return to the Cabooze in Minneapolis, along with Mayall's latest version of the Bluesbreakers.

Speaking from his London home, Green's lucid moments come and go. His voice is a low murmur that rumbles with a childlike, questioning air. Watson frequently cuts in to clarify points.

When asked what it's like to tour again with Mayall after 30 years, Green points out that it's a co-bill, not a shared stage. "It's not one of these oldies fiascos where everyone gets up and jams," Watson adds.

AT A CROSSROADS

What has put Green back in the spotlight is the follow-up to his 1998 comeback CD, "Robert Johnson Songbook." "Hot Foot Powder" is another collection of Johnson tunes, but it's a stronger effort than Green's initial foray into the blues master's music.

Featuring an array of guests that include original Johnson sideman Honeyboy Edwards, Howlin' Wolf guitarist Hubert Sumlin, pianist Dr. John and guitarists Otis Rush, Buddy Guy and Joe Louis Walker, it channels Johnson's woeful spirit while updating it with fuller arrangements, subtle additions of chords and melodies and the weary but rich vocals of Green and Watson.

Green tackled such classics as "Hell Hound on My Trail," "Come on in My Kitchen," "Cross Road Blues" and "Traveling Riverside Blues." Some tunes, including the obscure "Little Queen of Spades," weren't easy for him to figure out. "I couldn't really understand my boy," he said of Johnson. "I couldn't hear any sort of basis for myself."

Green's idiosyncratic, experimental approach has riled some blues purists, but as far as Watson is concerned, the group captures the right amount of soul and feel.

"You put your heart in a song and interpret it yourself. What's the point of doing all Robert Johnson songs just like him and releasing it?" he said. "When we play Robert Johnson live, we get people's attention.

"The thing about playing the guitar - in my experience - is that you go from one thing to another and express it in a certain way. The guitar is so versatile in expressing sadness, anger and all those things far more than most instruments, and you can sing with it. I mean, Peter plays with touches of genius. He doesn't really know technically what it is, but it comes out, and he might forget it when he plays something really great, and he won't be able to do it again."

"Oh, but I'd like to remember," Green added, laughing.

He said working with Edwards was "therapeutic," but that time constraints in the studio kept things at a fast clip and that he wishes he had more time to work on the material.

"It's all water under the bridge," he said. "I love listening to it now."

When he's not on the road or in the studio, Green said he likes to take photographs of "curious" things in and around his house. He is particularly interested in photographing older people because he finds the lines in their faces fascinating.

"Music's not such a visual thing," he said, joking about his own fading sex appeal. "But first of all, music is `sound art,' a form of art. . . . And the art form of your sound has to be your lure."