Saturday, 03 April 2004
Pix Of The Day: Quiet Desperation In Life & Song
CREDIT: © Peter Grant/The Peter Green Web Site
WHERE: United Kingdom. WHAT: the Blues and Peter Green.
Thumbnail click pops-up source page with larger image.
Alert readers of yesterday's feature may have spotted that the Fleetwood Mac poster in the middle of the thumbnail strip showed a band member unfamiliar to many, unless they were around in the latter half of the 1960s, or are sufficiently enthusiastic fans of the group to have done some research. 'Fleetwood Mac', the archetypal West Coast soft rock band was formed in England in 1967 from members of 'John Mayall's Bluesbreakers', and was at first called 'Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac'. In this composite name 'Fleetwood' was drummer Mick Fleetwood, and 'Mac' was guitarist John McVie. The gifted blues guitarist on the poster is Peter Green.
Peter Allen Greenbaum was born in Bethnal Green, London, England in 1946, shortening his name to Peter Green when he became a professional musician. He was brought in by John Mayall to replace Eric Clapton who had gone on an extended vacation to Greece. Clapton returned briefly, and when he finally left permanently he was again replaced by Green in the ever changing Bluesbreakers line-up.
The notion of a British Blues movement may seem odd, for as Peter Grant remarks the Thames Basin and the Mississippi Delta are not twinned with one another. Grant's article is worth reading to make sense of how the musical influences of Delta Blues contributed to the development of popular music in the 1960s and beyond. Green's own contribution is probably best summed up by an often quoted BB King remark to the effect that Green was the only guitarist who ever made him sweat.
A brief aside on research using the Internet: that last remark from BB King has been peddled in various forms, most commonly referring to sweating, though sometimes tingling is offered as an alternative. There is a story about Peter Green, a rifle (probably an air powered rifle as sometimes mentioned, rather than a more deadly firearm), and an unwanted publisher's royalty check. In some versions Green opened fire on a delivery messenger; in other versions he threatened the publisher but without actually having the gun in his hands at the time; yet another variant, flying in the face of other band member's reports that Green wanted to give away all his money, has him threatening the publisher for unpaid royalties.
Earlier Blues legends arose from a paucity of information, such as the tales surrounding Robert Johnson: it seems that with the growth of the Internet, legends have and will arise from an excess of information. On this web site we try to avoid retreading the more chattering anecdotes, but in the absence of authoritative sources (a casualty of the democratization of publication), we do repeat the general tenor of common legends, as perceived if not actual truths.
The generally perceived truth is that Peter Green became a heavy user of hallucinogenic drugs, and the effect on his psychological health was devastating. Jan Freedland & John Fitzgerald at FMlegacy.com cover the details in a sympathetic biography. Sporadically Green would surface after leaving Fleetwood Mac, to make a fleeting personal appearance or issue a recording.
In the late 1990s there seemed to be a chance of recovery and a return that at least hinted at the genius identified in earlier years. Forming 'Peter Green's Splinter Group' [PG-SG] with the support of an old friend Nigel Watson, the signs seemed good. Amongst various other works, two albums of covers of all of Robert Johnson's known work were issued,  'The Robert Johnson Songbook', and  'Hot Foot Powder'.
Critical reception from the informed was affectionate and respectful rather than enthusiastic. When Eric Clapton released 'Me & Mr Johnson' last month we expected parallels to be drawn, but that seems not to have happened.
Recently, we have listened to all three albums extensively. Those who are informed on such matters have written that PG-SG lack fire, or a sense of agony even, compared with old time Bluesmen. The band is further charged with lacking polish, though all these criticisms are leavened with the affection and respect to which we alluded earlier. While not specifically arguing against what we have read, our own findings, at the expense of sounding a little artful and far fetched, are that the PG-SG tracks are like a cross between belly dancing and Henry David Thoreau's 'Walden': the genius arrives in a brief flash, observed only by those who are immersed and attentive, and the Blues spirit is indeed neither fiery nor agonized, but characterized rather by world weary quiet desperation. On that basis we rate Green ahead of Clapton on this occasion. Singing the words clearly is always a plus point!
A Splinter Group tour ended in December 2003. Reports say Peter Green's affairs were being managed by the PGO and COP [Public Guardianship Office & Court of Protection]. Immediately after the tour ended the other band members say they received letters from the COP advising them of Greens intentions to quit the band, dashing plans for the planned 2004 tour. Green's present whereabouts and condition seem to be only known to the PGO. Perhaps another legend in the making for the end of the next century. We wish Peter Green peace in his own time.
There is an official PG-SG [Peter Green Splinter Group] web site that may be speaking volumes with its silence. We keep a watching brief.
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Jules Laforgue (1860-1887)
"Ah! que la vie est quotidienne."
Oh, what a day-to-day business life is.
'Complainte sur certains ennuis' (1885)