The Big Mac… No, not that Mac… or even that Mac!
Mention Fleetwood Mac to most Eagle listeners and they think of Stevie Nicks and the band that made 1977’s Rumors, which sold in excess of 10-million copies.
But allow archeologist Bob Keller to dig into the ancient history of the band and explore some of their early works as a Blues band and one of the most revered guitar players to ever pick up a Les Paul, Peter Green. Who? Is the response you get from most people, but many guitarists… and many brilliant guitarists in their own right, worship the playing of the guitarist that led a very different Mac: the 1967 to ’69 edition led by guitarist Peter Greenbaum, better known as Peter Green.
No slight to the modern Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham, another brilliant player, but the earliest incarnation of Fleetwood Mac milestone in the British blues scene. Green, bassist John McVie, and drummer Mick Fleetwood jumped ship from John Mayall’s influential Bluesbreakers (The band that brought Eric Clapton and the Stones, Mick Taylor their earliest fame) to form the band. Along with guitarist Jeremy Spencer, they were joined in 1968 by a third guitar player, Danny Kirwan, giving us the version of the group that recorded Fleetwood Mac’s third album, 1969’s Then Play On.
The Mac’s first two albums were true Blues revivals. But there was a hint of things to come in the Green-written singles, “Black Magic Woman” and the instrumental “Albatross”. Fleetwood Mac would become much more than just Blues tribute/cover band on Then Play On.
The historic album is a masterpiece of blues-rock psychedelia and one of the greatest guitar romps ever set to Memorex. In addition to the now-classic riff-rampage of “Oh Well,” the album features the rumbling slide guitar exhibition, “Showbiz Blues” and the shivery “Rattlesnake Shake”. The album is a mix of acoustic and electric moods that is comparable to Pete Townshend’s textural approach with the Who. But the Peter Green version of Fleetwood Mac was more organic. Instead of synthesizers they employed roadhouse piano and hypnotic drones on tunes like “Oh Well” not with sequencers, but with good old-fashioned finger power.
Greens would amaze with physically taxing riffs, but he was equally as staggering with his emotional, moody and melodic flights he took on his now legendary 1959 Les Paul. He achieved his dark creamy sound by serendipity; equal parts physical skill and accidental good fortune. At some point — a luthier working on Green’s instrument reversed the neck pickup putting it electrically out of phase with the bridge pickup, achieving a unique and distinctively throaty sonic quality.
That guitar made its recording debut on John Mayall’s A Hard Road, where it can be heard surfing the crest of feedback on “The Supernatural,” an instrumental that’s a perfect illustration of Green’s taste for shaded, minor-key melodies and singing, voice-like tones. Hearing “The Supernatural,” it’s obvious Green’s influence on Carlos Santana extends well beyond the Carlos’ cover of “Black Magic Woman.”
After leaving Fleetwood Mac, Green sold the guitar to his then student, Thin Lizzy guitarist, Gary Moore for a few hundred dollars. Earlier this decade Moore sold Green’s former guitar for well over $1-million, a big, fat testimonial to the instrument’s iconic status.
Sadly, Green’s health degenerated after leaving Fleetwood Mac in 1970. His dabbling with LSD may have worsened his predilection for schizophrenia. Green spent much of the ’70s and ’80s struggling with his illness. In the ’90s he regained enough of his former self to begin playing again and the Peter Green Splinter Group. The Splinter Group recorded several albums, including 1998’s The Robert Johnson Songbook, before disbanding. Today Green tours occasionally with a new outfit billed as Peter Green and Friends.
So if you want to explore a forgotten gem in the annuals of Rock history, let Professor Bob suggest, the Mac before they were the big Mac… massive Mac and listen to Fleetwood Mac’s, “Then Play On”.