By Walter Weinschenk
This part 2 of a post on the great Peter Green. Part I is here. Above is “The Green Manalish” and below is “The Supernatural.”Exceptionally talented, Green was nevertheless only one among many gifted blues musicians who were pushing boundaries and creating new forms of expression during the course of the late 1960s. His music was another variant of an idiom that was absorbed and adopted by so many other musicians of his generation and his efforts as an artist were supported and propelled by the force and inertia of great cultural shifts and realignments that were taking place at the time. These cultural changes seemed to awaken the consciousness and creative process in many other young artists as well. Even so, within the pulsating musical world in which innovation was the norm and Clapton, Hendrix and other gifted artists were using the blues as a framework to create a new music, Peter Green’s blues were unique, undeniable and stood out. His music, simply put, was irresistibly poignant, personal and urgent.
Peter Green’s personal story could also be considered fairly typical except, once again, he let himself venture far into uncharted territory and, in fact, veered far off course. As his star rose and the end of the decade approached, Green embraced extremes in terms of philosophy and lifestyle. He developed a predilection for LSD, found religion of sorts and would confront and admonish band mates with requests that they renounce wealth and give away their earnings. However, if his behavior was erratic or his choices misguided, his drug use and lifestyle reflected the values and attitudes held in common with so many others who came of age at the time. Substance abuse was, in many ways, a cultural phenomenon but one with devastating consequences. Drug use resulted in death for many artists of that era including a number of high profile musicians. For many of those who survived addiction or even short term drug use, the physical toll and psychological effects were overwhelming and many lives were abruptly and permanently altered. If there were those who managed to avoid the harm and continue to develop artistically, it was not so in the case of Peter Green: his relationship with LSD was calamitous. Though he was not new to the drug, his ingestion of LSD on one particular occasion – a party in Munich, Germany in 1970 – marked a point at which his mental health, already on the decline, began to unravel. The use of the drug may have caused or contributed to the onset of a schizophrenic condition that incapacitated him and permanently altered his ability to manage his life and practice his art.
By the end of the 1960s, Peter Green was a very sick man and the years of his life that began at the dawn of the new decade were cruel. He was directionless as a musician and his illness resulted in several hospitalizations and reliance upon electro-shock therapy as a method of treatment. Although he was able to release several albums during the late 1970s and early 1980s, his work was not highly regarded. Midway through the 1980s, Peter Green plunged further down and it was at this point that he lost all touch with his music, experienced homelessness and was, essentially, lost.
Through the efforts of his family, he slowly regained some degree of stability and started, once again, to play and perform. Thankfully, he has been able to participate in a number of musical projects in recent years. From 1997 to 2004, his primary means of musical expression was the Peter Green Splinter Group and he toured, performed and recorded once again. The group released nine albums during its seven year existence, a span of time that far exceeded the few brief years of sonic intensity that Green spent as the driving force behind Fleetwood Mac. The Splinter Group produced a sophisticated, carefully woven amalgam of rock, blues and jazz though, as one might expect, the recorded music of the Splinter Group was relatively subdued and was not imbued with intensity and emotional overdrive that had characterized the music of Fleetwood Mac during its early years. Peter Green has, most recently, formed an “and Friends” group and he has taken this particular opportunity to perform many of the older songs for which he is best known.
As one might expect, Peter Green’s music is less strident than before and there is little of the thunder and dynamic that characterized his earlier work. However, his skill is still formidable and it cannot be denied that Peter Green remains a gifted artist despite all that he has endured. He is still fluent and, at times, he is still brilliant. The story of his survival, aside from achievements as an artist, is compelling.