Obituary: Troubled Peter Green, East End legend who founded Fleetwood Mac, dies at 73
PUBLISHED: 17:00 27 July 2020 | UPDATED: 11:58 28 July 2020
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One of the East End’s great rock musicians who helped set up chart-topping Fleetwood Mac has died at the age of 73.
Peter Green went down as one of the greatest guitarists of a generation, but had troubled times with mental illness after growing up in Bethnal Green.
His brother Michael taught him his first guitar chords and by the age of 11 he was teaching himself.
Peter Greenbaum was born into a Jewish family on October 29, 1946, the youngest of Joe and Ann Greenbaum’s four children.
He began playing professionally by the age of 15, while working for shipping companies in east London after leaving school, playing bass guitar in a pop group performing chart covers and rock’n’roll standards.
His early influences apart from traditional Jewish music included Hank Marvin of the Shadows
“Marvin was my first guitar hero,” Peter revealed in a Mojo magazine interview in 1996. “His playing was lyrical, his phrasings melodic. Hank made the guitar into an instrument that talked colours.”
But the 1970s for Green were hit by spells in psychiatric hospitals and courses of electrocovulsive therapy after drugs misused with LSD.
Guitarist Nigel Watson, who performed with him on many recordings, said: “Very often after having a treatment he came into my brother’s shop only 100 yards from the hospital and stood there for hours in a trance, telling me how very frightened of it he was.”
Blues singer John Mayall first recognised his talent and recruiting him to replace Eric Clapton in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers.
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Peter Green is largely remembered for compositions such as Need Your Love So Bad and the instrumental Albatross that went to No 1.
But he walked away from the glitter of the blues and rock scene in the grip of what would later be diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenia.
He had anxiety about Fleetwood Mac’s growing wealth and wanting to give it all away. Peter was famously arrested in 1977 for aiming a shotgun at his accountant, demanding that he stopped sending him his royalty cheques for Fleetwood Mac’s early work worth around £30,000 a year, according to legend.
He blamed much of his mental problems on experimenting with LSD, saying in a 1988 interview: “The effect of that stuff lasts so long. I went kind of holy, not holy, religious.”
But there were also “painful memories of anti-Semitism” during his childhood growing up in Bethnal Green, recalling in a Jewish Chronicle feature in the 1990s that he had taken LSD “to get to a place where I wasn’t Jewish, but I wasn’t ‘not Jewish’ either”.
Peter had vanished from public life for 25 years, working as a cemetery gardener, a pathology lab assistant and a hospital orderly for a while. He began to experience hallucinations that prompted doctors to prescribe electro-convulsive therapy.
He returned to music in the 1990s when his brother Michael helped him find a record label.
His old buddy Mick Fleetwood said at the time: “I asked him the last time we were playing Wembley Stadium to come along. He said no, then said, ‘Play a real great one for me, won’t you?’ It just broke my heart.”
Some of the leading musicians Peter inspired staged a tribute concert last February, featuring Fleetwood, The Who’s Pete Townshend and Oasis co-founder Noel Gallagher.
The name Fleetwood Mac came from an instrumental during a jam session Peter had with Fleetwood and bass guitarist John McVie, which he called Fleetwood Mac.
Peter insisted the title become the name of the new band they were forming, which went on to grow in reputation largely due his capabilities as a guitarist, vocalist and songwriter. The band had blues hits such as Black Magic Woman, Oh Well, Man of the World, Rattlesnake Shake and the instrumental Albatross, showing his composition brilliance.
Rolling Stone magazine ranks Peter Green at 58 on its list of “the 100 greatest guitarists of all time” while Mojo magazine places him at number three.
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