Peter Green was the founder of Fleetwood Mac and the music he produced with them in their first few years was, in many people’s opinion, miles removed from the later Lindsey Buckingham “pop” oriented days. I would argue that you can draw a pretty straight line from Green to Buckingham, however. In fact, if you listen to the 1980 Fleetwood Mac Live album, you’ll hear Buckingham’s mostly-faithful-to-the-original version of Green’s “Oh Well”. Regardless, there are few other bands (except maybe Peter Gabriel-era Genesis vs. Phil Collins-era Genesis) that have inspired such a polarized opinion on which part of their history produced the “better” music.
But, it’s like comparing apples and oranges. Band personnel changes, cultural changes, and even technological changes impacted the group to such a degree that for all intents and purposes the early Fleetwood Mac was a different band than the later post-1975 Fleetwood Mac. Besides, “better” is in the ear of the beholder… but that’s a subject for a whole other post.
Progressing quickly from blues covers, Green began composing his own songs in earnest by the time of Fleetwood Mac’s first album, though they were still very much rooted in blues. By 1969, Green’s instrumental “Albatross” was #1 on the British singles charts. This illustrates how vastly different the times were then from today. Can you imagine a song such as “Albatross”- a gorgeous, mellow, instrumental guitar piece- being the #1 song today?
In 1968 FW Mac recorded Green’s “Black Magic Woman”. It would only be moderately successful for them, but would be a huge hit for Santana two years later and become their signature song. Another enduring song of Green’s during his FW Mac days was “Oh Well”, from their Kiln House album. This was a very ambitious composition, divided into two parts, with the second part being an instrumental with classical overtones and a “spaghetti western” feel.
By this time Green was admired by fans and fellow musicians, such as Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Steve Hackett, and acquired the nickname “The Green God”. His guitar style was unique, featuring a haunting tone, often with long sustained notes and harmonics (best evidenced in his song “The Supernatural” recorded pre-FW Mac with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers). However, things were not going so well with Green on a personal level. Perhaps brought on by his reported prodigous consumption of LSD, he became averse to making any money and wanted the band to give all their money away. He joined a commune (shades of Jeremy Spencer?) from which he had to be retrieved and brought back to the band. It was soon after that he played his final performance with FW Mac.
Diagnosed with schizophrenia (not helped any by the LSD), he released one solo album in 1970 and spent most of the rest of the decade being treated for his illness and indulging in more drug use. A popular, though unverified, story is that he threatened his accountant with a gun because his accountant wanted to give him money. Perhaps surprisingly, he resurfaced with the strong In The Skies in 1979 and continued with some not as strong albums through the early 80’s.
Green made a second comeback in the late 90’s with Peter Green’s Splinter Group, a well-received blues-based rock band who released a number of albums through the mid 2000’s. Peter Green And Friends is the most recent moniker of Green’s band and recording outfit. Though still on medication for his schizophrenia, he appears to have made a successful transition from his Fleetwood Mac days, albeit a long transition.
Even though my focus of these “ex-Fleetwood Mac solo’s” posts is on the solo output of these guys after they left the band, I gotta include this video of a 1969 performance of Green’s “Oh Well” (short version) featuring the triumvirate of Jeremy Spencer, Danny Kirwan (who woulda thought the kid wailing on guitar here would be primarily recording soft rock love songs a few years down the road?), and Peter Green:
Looks like you can watch the whole BBC documentary “Peter Green: Man of the World” on Youtube (in 9 parts):