The sweetest tone

By Sergio Ariza

Peter Green had become the shiniest star in the British blues/rock universe when he took over from Eric Clapton in John Mayalls Bluesbreakers. His tenure with the band was as brilliant as it was fleeting, managing to record just one record, A Hard Road. In a world where guitarists had become like Gods, Green was the absolute focus of the Bluesbreakers. On April 19, 1967 John Mayall cut the single Double Trouble at the Decca Studios in London, at the time the Bluesbreakers were Green on guitar, his legendary ‘Greenie’ Les Paul Standard from 1959, John McVie on bass, and drummer Mick Fleetwood. Mayall let them the studio after recording the song, and they recorded four more, including the instrumental Fleetwood Mac.


When Green decided to leave Mayall and begin his own career, he wasted no time in calling his favourite rhythm section. Furthermore, as he was against hogging the spotlight, he chose to name the band with both their surnames, as they had done for that instrumental. Fleetwood signed on immediately (of course Mayall had fired him for his fondness for drinking) but McVie had to think about it, he didn’t join right away, so his substitute Bob Brunning was called in. To fill out the band, and take some of the spotlight off himself, he recruited a young protegé named Jerry Spencer, who played slide guitar. So they recorded the band’s first single before McVie chose to quit Mayall, who was beginning to flirt with jazz, and joined the band named in his honour.    

With this first formation Fleetwood Mac recorded in the final months of 1967 their debut with the self-titled name (of course the album is known today as Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac not to be confused with the record with the same name they released in 1975 when Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined the band). The album comprises four covers of classic blues, eight originals: five by Green, and three by Spencer. Contributions from Spencer, who was in charge of three of the four covers were good but not especially outstanding, highlighting his My Heart Beat Like a Hammer, which opens the album, and his brutal version of Shake Your Money Maker by Elmore James which matches the original and bests the Paul Butterfield Blues Band version. On these you can appreciate his enormous debt to the king of the slide.   

However, the really exceptional thing came with Green’s songs (which makes you think what incredible things could have happened to this album if this guitarist had taken full reins of the band without sharing the weight). The first one up is Merry Go Round, an exceptional blues number, with his trademark licks, which makes it clear he’s a candidate for the title of best white blues player in history. Then there’s Long Grey Mare, built on a playful riff, and a remarkable harmonica solo by Green himself. This was the only song recorded when Brunning was still playing bass, before the arrival of McVie. Looking For Somebody has Green once again on harmonica, besides singing a phrase that best sums up his philosophy, “I got a feeling, blues gonna be my only way”. The World Keep on Turning is an acoustic blues piece, with just Green and his guitar proving he also knows something about the Delta. And I Loved Another Woman, the great dark jewel on the album, a real gem that starts with an intro on guitar that will make you shiver, one of these wonders that make people worship him and be able to listen to the perfect TONE that he gets out of the Holy Grail of guitars, his ‘59 Les Paul Standard. A guitar with one of its pickups flipped over that gave it that sound in half position, as if it was out of sync which was so characteristic of his sound. However, at the end of the day, we all know that it was Green’s finger tips that managed to get out that tone that B.B.King would refer to, and he was absolutely right, as “the sweetest I’ve ever heard”.

(Images: ©CordonPress)