Review: Mick Fleetwood & Friends, ‘Celebrate The Music of Peter Green And The Early Days of Fleetwood Mac’

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“If music be the food of love, play on.” – Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

These days if you mention Fleetwood Mac most people think of what is now referred to as their “classic” lineup (meaning their biggest selling roster): Mick Fleetwood (drums), John McVie (bass), Christine McVie (vocals, keyboards), Lindsey Buckingham (vocals, guitar) and Stevie Nicks (vocals, spooky outfits). I have to admit, even if you’d have asked me about Fleetwood Mac in the late 70s/early 80s when I started listening to music and buying albums I would have thought of the Fleetwood Mac – Rumours – Tusk version of the band. Recently I wrote about that lineup’s new, expanded live LP from 1980, ‘Live.’ I was unaware until much later of their extensive, bluesier history. Rock and roll had been around a lot longer than I realized in 1978 and had a deeper, richer history than I knew about when I was 13. Spelunking into rock n roll or a certain band’s history is part of the fun of being a fan for me and Fleetwood Mac’s rich history was no exception… but not everybody is wired as obsessively as I am.

Fleetwood Mac did indeed have a history that dated back to 1968, before Lindsey and Stevie. Hell, it even pre-dated Christine (Perfect) McVie. And that early Fleetwood Mac was steeped in the blues. To really tell the story of Fleetwood Mac and their early period one must step back to blues rock legend John Mayall. I’ve posted before about John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers first few albums. Mayall’s lineup for his first studio LP included not only John McVie on bass but Eric Clapton on guitar. This was circa the “Clapton Is God” era. Clapton met Jack Bruce who had also briefly played with Mayall – the Bluesbreaker were more of a consortium than a band it seems – and they grabbed a drummer from the Graham Bond Organization named Ginger Baker to form a new band. Without Mayall, there’d have been no Cream. What do you do when you lose a legend like Clapton on guitar? Apparently Mayall had a nose for great guitarists that rivaled Ozzy Osbourne’s… he quickly had a replacement for Clapton.

When Mayall brought his band into the studio to record his second studio LP, A Hard Road, his producer fearfully asked where Clapton was? Mayall reportedly said, “Don’t worry, we got someone better.” That guitarist he was talking about was the 20 year old Peter Green. You don’t hear much about Peter Green, a seemingly unsung hero in rock n roll, but he was one of the foremost guitarists in the second great British Blues explosion of the late 60s. What I have always admired about him is the tone he got out of his guitar. It’s like David Gilmour, instantly recognizable to me. Even Clapton praised his playing. But the highest praise for Peter Green came from blues legend B.B. King who said of him, “He had the sweetest tone I ever heard; he was the only one who gave me the cold sweats.” High praise, indeed.

After A Hard Road, Green like Clapton decided to leave the Bluesbreakers and form his own band. Mick Fleetwood who had also been a member of the Bluesbreakers but had been fired quickly agreed to join. Green wanted John McVie to leave Mayall and join his band so he named it Fleetwood Mac – after the drummer and bassist – but McVie waited until they were recording their first, eponymous LP to join. That name, Fleetwood Mac, was prescient as those two guys are the only mainstays of the band. Green was always a generous band leader and didn’t want to be a guitar hero like Clapton so he insisted that a second guitarist, Jeremy Spencer – an Elmore James influenced slide guitarist – join the band. Their eponymous first LP is a great blues rock classic. I love that late 60s blues rock era. Back in those days all the rock bands, when they needed material, turned to the blues. I can’t name a band – Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, the Jeff Beck Group – who weren’t doing Willie Dixon covers. The Mac’s debut may not have received the attention in the U.S. that it did in the U.K., but it should have. Although, admittedly, I didn’t put any tracks from the debut on my Blues Rock playlist a few weeks ago… although I did include a few early Fleetwood Mac tunes.

Sadly, Peter Green only lasted for three albums with Fleetwood Mac, the band he founded. I’ve read that he started dabbling in LSD. I’ve always heard that someone dosed him at a party in Germany and it really affected his mental health. I don’t know if he was schizophrenic or if he was an acid casualty like Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd. Regardless his mental decline resulted in his departure from the band. And sadly, he sort of floated into obscurity in terms of the annals of rock n roll history. I know he made an uncredited cameo on Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk album on the Christine McVie track “Brown Eyes.” Green’s departure from Fleetwood Mac led to a revolving door of musicians who came and went, even after Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined and then left the band… and then came back and then left…or were fired.

I started reading in 2019 that Mick Fleetwood was putting together a tribute concert for his former band leader, Peter Green. I really loved this idea, it was really a well-deserved thing. I read that Green was invited but didn’t show up. The concert took place in February of 2020 right before the dark curtain of COVID fell across the world, darkening stages and lives everywhere. The concert is structured like a blues jam. There was this bar I used to hang out in on Saturday afternoons in Kansas City named Harling’s. Every Saturday this woman, Big Mama Ray would lead a blues jam. She could have been forty or could have been seventy, you just couldn’t tell. She typically had a Marlboro 100 dangling from her lips, when she wasn’t singing, and it was hard to see her through the smoke. This tribute album for Peter Green reminds me a bit of those old Saturday blues jams – only with considerably more talented and famous musicians involved.

I know they also shot this as a movie/documentary but I haven’t seen that, I’m only speaking of the LP in this post. We do so love our live LPs here at B&V… I’ve scoured the internet and what I’ve been able to determine is that joining Mick Fleetwood (who is the Master of Ceremony and drummer here) in the “house band” at the London Palladium is: Rick Vito (guitar), one time blues wunderkind Jonny Lang (guitar), Andy Fairweather-Low (guitar), Ricky Peterson (keyboards), Dave Bronze (bass). Mick introduces drummer Zak Starkey, Ringo’s son, who has played with both Oasis and the Who a few tracks in but I don’t know if he plays the whole time. A blues jam is structured around a core “house” band with other musicians who get up and take over guitar, vocals, bass or drums. This live LP is a great tribute to Peter Green, early Fleetwood Mac and the blues in general.

It is staggering to think about how many people have been in Fleetwood Mac and many of them show up at this show. First and foremost, it was great to hear Christine McVie sing a couple of blues tracks. I especially like her rendition of “Stop Messing Around.” Rick Vito who along with Billy Burnette replaced Buckingham in the late 80s sings a couple of tunes and really tears it up on “Love That Burns.” Neil Finn of Crowded House fame, who I almost forgot was in Fleetwood Mac to replace Buckingham (again) appears and sings “Man of the World.” The most surprising ex-Mac member to show up is original guitarist/vocalist Jeremy Spencer. Mick introduces him by stating that they hadn’t been on the same stage together in 50 years. I only wish that Peter Green could have been there to join in. Spencer actually brings ex-Rolling Stone bassist Bill Wyman with him to the stage. Spencer does a great take on Elmore James’ “The Sky Is Crying.” The only ex-Mac member who didn’t show up was John McVie… well nor did Lindsey or Stevie.

Speaking of Bill Wyman, he’s only the tip of the iceberg here in terms of famous cameos. By my count we hear members of : The Stones, The Who, Metallica, ZZ Top, Aerosmith, Pink Floyd and Oasis during the course of the bluesy evening. Wow, those appearances really signal what a special event this was. I was thrilled to hear John Mayall who Fleetwood introduces as “our mentor” perform “All Your Love.” It brings it full circle in a way. Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top shows up early and plays on the early Mac chestnut “Doctor Brown.” That took me back. Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler does a great take on “Rattlesnake Shake” a track Aerosmith used to do live which can be found on Pandora’s Box. More proof of Green’s influence… Kirk Hammett comes out to provide pyrotechnic solos on “The Green Manilishi” with Gibbons… a track so rocking it was covered by Judas Priest. Noel Gallagher does a few tracks and they’re all acoustic blues based which I really dug. Pete Townshend comes out and rocks out on “Station Man.” For me the emotional highlight of the evening is when Tyler/Gibbons start off with the rocking part of “Oh Well, Pt. 1” and then Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour (who probably emerges from the shadows) comes out and plays the long guitar suite “Oh Well, Pt. 2.” Gilmour also does a beautiful version of Green’s signature “Albatross.” He doesn’t sing but Gilmour’s guitar is always so recognizable.

The evening ends as many jams do, with everybody on stage joining in on the final track. In this case it’s a rollicking “Shake Your Money Maker.” Mick ends thing with the Shakespeare quote that gave one of Fleetwood Mac’s early LPs its name. And I can’t agree more, “if music be the food of love, play on.” This is a great little live album for any fan of early Fleetwood Mac, Peter Green or 60s British blues rock. A truly fitting tribute to a great guitarist we don’t hear enough about. Sadly merely months after this show, Peter Green passed away in his sleep. It’s never too early to recognize a genius for we never know what’s around the corner.

I realize not everybody is into the blues like I am, but I highly recommend everybody check this great live LP out. I’m hoping to actually see the video when it comes out, I think it’ll only add to the experience.

Cheers!

Artist Lookback – John Mayall’s Blues Breakers: The Guitar Hero Trilogy 1966-1967

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Ah, the blues. I must admit, when it comes to classic rock, my first love was and always will be the Rolling Stones. I picked up ‘Some Girls,’ my first album ever and it was the beginning of a life long obsession. The Rolling Stones, in many ways, were a gateway drug for me into the broad array of rock music in the world. The Stones led me to Zeppelin, then to the Beatles, Black Sabbath and beyond. It wasn’t long before I was in the basement of seedy used record stores looking for out of print Faces albums or Springsteen bootlegs. I made my friend Doug go to a used record store in a strip mall in Dallas after he’d just broken up with a girlfriend so I could look for the out of print Buckingham Nicks LP… a trip he still hasn’t forgiven me for, although it may be his unpleasant memories of that trip unrelated to “Buckingham Nicks.” I wasn’t musically sophisticated enough to understand what the root of my musical infatuation was. I didn’t understand that the common thread that links all the music I love is the blues.

By the 1960’s the blues was an underground music in the United States, segregated like so much was, in the black community. It took some groovy English youth to rediscover and reawaken interest in the blues in the States. Much of what came out of the British Invasion was what is now described as “blues rock.” There were so many key figures, people you don’t hear about any more, that were critical to that early blues rock movement.  Alexis Korner was a guy that was at the center of a lot of it and he helped fan the flame of blues in London. If time travel is ever invented, you’ll know where to find me… 60s swinging London.

Another name that I don’t hear much any more is John Mayall, leader of the intrepid Blues Breakers. I posted about these British blues rock pioneer’s American cousins, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, who were also 60s era masters of the blues, a few months ago. In the comment section, Moulty58 (whose blog, The Future Is Past is phenomenal, check it out) mentioned Mayall and the Blues Breakers. In the ensuing conversation he mentioned the album Mayall did with Peter Green, ‘A Hard Road.’ The only Mayall & the Bluesbreaker album I’d ever heard or heard of was the masterpiece, “Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton.” Could I have missed something? As a musical spelunker, I pride myself on owning anything I consider critical in music. Oh sure, I have some blindspots, like say, jazz, but I own most the LPs in the “Must Have” canon. I’m that weird guy who buys the live solo Gregg Allman albums or the solo Lowell George of Little Feat LP… Maybe I have a problem, but as Van Morrison sang, “it’s too late to stop now.” Perhaps I needed to give Mayall’s catalog another look.

In retrospect, John Mayall’s Blues Breakers could be looked at more as a musical collective than a band. They changed personnel more often than Yes, and that’s saying something. Almost every band has a connection to the Blues Breakers. Just on bass guitar alone, John McVie, Jack Bruce and Andy Fraser of Free fame all played with them. On drums, amongst a large number of people, Mick Fleetwood and Aynsley Dunbar both played with Mayall. I think Dunbar played in every band ever… I think he was even in Journey for a while. Mayall actually sang, played keyboards (mostly piano), guitar and harmonica. The thing about the Blues Breakers that is probably the most remarkable is the guitar talent that went through this band. Not only did Eric Clapton play with them but so did Peter Green (Fleetwood Mac), and a very young Mick Taylor (The Rolling Stones). Those are just the big names. Rick Vito (Fleetwood Mac) and Jimmy McCulloch (Wings) also played with the Blues Breakers, just to name a few. Paul Butterfield even shows up playing harmonica on one album. It’s quite an impressive roster. It seems if you were a British rock band in the 70’s and needed a player, you looked no further than the Blues Breakers. It was like a British Prep school for guitarists.

I quickly began an investigation of the Blues Breaker’s catalog and found that I had indeed missed a couple of essential LPs, beyond “With Eric Clapton.” There are really three albums that I consider “essential” for blues or blues rock fans. As you might guess, it’s the three albums featuring the three greatest of the Blues Breaker’s guitarists. With all due respect to fans of “Blues From Laurel Canyon,” which does feature Mick Taylor, I consider that a John Mayall solo album. The Blues Breakers moniker had been abandoned by that time. Without further adieu, here are the three John Mayall and the Blues Breaker’s LPs every fan should check out:

Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton (1966)

When Eric Clapton, who judging by his autobiography was an enormous twat, left the Yardbirds because they were veering away from his “blues purist” view of music, there was a lot of speculation about what he’d do next. He joined the Blues Breakers and their popularity began to soar… just as that looked like it was going to peak, Clapton runs off to Greece with a group calling themselves “The Glands.” They must have been a group of teenage boys with a wanker name like that. Jeez, Eric. Anyway, he realized he’d made a mistake and came back to rejoin Mayall and the Blues Breakers. This album was the result and it’s a tour de force. I love Cream, but I truly think this was the best lead guitar playing of Clapton’s career. He plays with a strength and confidence I rarely hear. This album is considered a blues rock milestone. I read in Rolling Stone magazine that this record and Clapton’s solo LP, “From the Cradle,” taken together are Clapton’s greatest blues achievement. It’s hard to argue. The instrumental “Hideaway” is simply amazing. “What’d I Say,” the Ray Charles cover is inspired. “All Your Love” is the perfect blues tune. Clapton does his first vocal on Robert Johnson’s “Rambling On My Mind” one of his first and best Robert Johnson covers. Clapton split after this record to form Cream with Jack Bruce (also a Mayall alumni) and Ginger Baker. It’s a shame we don’t have more of Mayall and Clapton together, because it’s one of the greatest albums of all time.

A Hard Road (1967)

How do you replace a messianic guitarist (well, they did used to scrawl “Clapton is God” as graffiti) like Eric Clapton? You find Peter Green. I don’t know anybody outside of Ozzy Osbourne (Randy Rhoads, Jake E Lee, Zakk Wylde) with a nose for guitar talent like John Mayall. I was surprised when I first heard this record that the Blues Breakers, despite line up changes and losing Clapton didn’t miss a beat. This is a great blues/blues rock album with inspired guitar work. The Peter Green penned instrumental “The Supernatural” is worth the price of the LP alone. I may be crazy but I hear the seeds of “Black Magic Woman” in that tune. Great, great guitar work. Green’s guitar sound is different than Clapton’s and this may sound weird, but I almost feel like Peter Green’s guitar sounds… well, sadder. The guy really conveys emotion in the way he plays. Where Clapton was more powerful, Green is more expressive. Just one man’s opinion, and I don’t play guitar. I absolutely love the Elmore James’ cover, “Dust My Blues,” and the incendiary slide guitar Green plays. They also do two great Freddie King covers, the instrumental “The Stumble” which is another stand out and “Someday After While (You’ll Be Sorry)” that blew me away. “It’s Over,” the opening track is a great John Mayall penned tune as well. This is just a spectacular album that I never heard about. You definitely hear the seeds of Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac on this album, which makes sense because after this record Peter Green, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood split to form Fleetwood Mac… I guess the formula in the 60s was, do one album with Mayall, split and form a legendary band of your own… At least there was some additional material Peter Green recorded with Mayall that turned up on the remastered, “bonus track” version of the album that came out years later.

Crusade (1967)

What do you do when you’ve lost not one, but two legendary lead guitar players. Apparently if you’re John Mayall you discover a teenage Mick Taylor. I had always known Taylor had gotten his start in the Blues Breakers but I’d never dug deep enough to check out his record with them. Actually, he stuck around for three albums, unlike Clapton and Green, before being recruited to join the Stones as Brian Jones’ replacement. “Crusade” is just another blues rock classic in the same vein as it’s two predecessors. The album kicks off with “Oh Pretty Woman” (not the Roy Orbison tune) and it’s again as if nothing has changed with the band. Although I will say I can tell Taylor’s guitar is different than Green’s. Mick Taylor had such an amazingly melodic way of playing the guitar. Even on these blues recordings I can hear how his lead guitar would mesh with Richard’s ragged rhythm guitar. There’s an instrumental on here “Snowy Wood” which is just fabulous playing (do I hear “Can You Hear Me Knocking” here?). Mayhall had employed a horn section on his previous LP, but never this prominently, they’re all over this record. I like the sax, harmonica interplay on “Man of Stone.” I love, love the version of “I Can’t Quit You Baby” the old Willie Dixon tune that was also done by Led Zeppelin and years later the Rolling Stones, post-Taylor. “Driving Sideways” sounds like a tune a blues band would open a show with… This is just another great blues guitar album.

If you’re a fan of the blues, blues rock, Cream, the pre Buckingham Nicks Fleetwood Mac or the glory years of the Rolling Stones, there is a hell of a lot to like here. A lot of people own ‘With Eric Clapton’ and if you enjoy that record I can’t more highly recommend ‘A Hard Road’ and ‘Crusade.’ Mayall went on to have a long, storied career but other than ‘Blues From Laurel Canyon’ you’re not going to find better blues/blues rock than these three albums. Any fan of guitar will absolutely fall in love with these albums.

This isn’t cry in your beer blues, this shuffle around, chooglin’ music. Pour yourself something strong, dark and murky and start moving, baby!

Cheers!