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Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac: A Green Sun Sets On The Blue Horizon


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There are times when the stars align in a dramatic and symbiotic way. Although Mick Fleetwood had talked about a tribute concert to honor friend and British blues slide guitar giant Peter Green for years, Fleetwood was tenacious and succeeded in bringing together an all-star roster of close to 20 musicians on February 25, 2020, days before the world began to shut down and people were forced to sequester. The event may never have happened if it had been delayed by a few weeks. At the same time, 2020 was also when Blue Horizon Records, the British blues label founded by Mike and Richard Vernon in the 1960s, was preparing to launch a series of reissues. There is a treasure trove of archived blues albums by artists including Elmore James, B.B. King, Otis Spann and more. And then there is Fleetwood Mac. First up for the 2021 Blue Horizon reissues was the band's first three albums, all fronted by Green. As those LPs were rereleased, the film of the 2020 All Star Tribute concert debuted on screens in February 2021 and the concert album arrived in April. To add an unpredictable plot twist, Green passed in his sleep in the summer of 2020 at the age of 73. He quietly slipped away when no one was watching. Peter Green may be gone but his star has risen once again. Here is a look at the discs and the tribute concert...

Fleetwood Mac
Fleetwood Mac
Blue Horizon Records / Fat Possum Records
Original release: 1968 / Reissued: 2021

For those passionate fans who believed Fleetwood Mac began when Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham joined in the mid-1970s, let's rewind the clock to 1967. After a few months with a temporary bassist, four dedicated blues fans joined forces—Peter Green (guitar), Jeremy Spencer (guitar), Mick Fleetwood (drums) and John McVie (bass.) Christened "Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac," they spent a few weeks recording their debut album (compare that to the agonizingly long gestation period of over a year for the Rumours LP of the mid-1970s.) A 45 single was released in the fall of 1967 with modest success. Singles and LPs were still different beasts in the 1960s so the band and producer chose a totally different set of songs for the debut LP, released in the UK in February 1968. A long, successful journey had begun.

Although the original goal of Fleetwood Mac was to worship exclusively at the altar of their blues gods, the first three songs were originals. Both Green and Spencer immediately conjured up pure blues magic of their own from their slide guitars and passionate vocals. They mixed brisk Spencer songs and languid Green originals with blues classics by artists such as Elmore James, Howlin' Wolf and Robert Johnson. As for the rhythm section, Fleetwood created a solid, reliable foundation that allowed the others to shine. McVie insistently ran his fingers up and down the fret board in search of the deepest tones while consistently anchoring the music with rolling waves of thick bass. It was straight from stage-to-studio since much of what they recorded were the same songs they had performed live during the previous months.

Stand out songs on the first side featured a hyperactive Spencer leading the charge on Elmore James' "Shake Your Money Maker," and a lonely version of Green's "Looking for Somebody." The second side featured Spencer's "My Baby's Good to Me," Green's eerie and haunting "If I Loved Another Woman" plus "The World Keep Turning," a stripped-down primitive blues, also led by Green. The UK press embraced the raw, authentic sounds and the album moved into the top ten, staying in the charts for close to a year. Stray "import" copies worked their way to the States but, for the most part, the US would have to wait a few more months for the arrival of the band—or the official arrival of their records—which is one of the reasons the debut disc did not chart in the States.

Fleetwood Mac
Mr. Wonderful
Blue Horizon Records / Fat Possum Records
Original release: 1968 / Reissued: 2021

In an effort to quickly follow the success of Fleetwood Mac's self-titled LP, the second LP, Mr. Wonderful—made its UK debut in August 1968 while a US release was postponed into the future. A combination of Green and Spencer originals interspersed, again, with classic blues, it was a piercing, searing collection of songs. The vocals cut passionately to the bone as they captured a "dirtier, gutsier sound" according to producer Mike Vernon. The LP was another cohesive pure blues picture of what Fleetwood Mac was about and what they sounded like when performing live. It even introduced a horn section to add some depth to several songs.

After a bit of studio chatter, Green kicks it with "Stop Messin' Around" then Green and Spencer alternate for the rest of the side. Spencer elevates Elmore James' stunning "Dust My Broom" and then Green's haunting "Love That Burns." The side even presents a spirited instrumental, "Evenin' Boogie," and the group closes things out with "Trying So Hard to Forget," one of several cuts to feature Green on harp.

Top 10 in the UK but, again, not much going on in the States. Maybe it was the odd gatefold cover—a crazed looking Fleetwood is pictured holding a doll and a (probably) toy dog. (Of note, English Rose, a vastly altered version of the album, was released in the US in early 1969. It was a hodgepodge compilation of a half— dozen songs from Mr. Wonderful, a few singles and several previously unreleased songs.)

Fleetwood Mac
The Pious Bird of Good Omen
Blue Horizon Records / Fat Possum Records
Original release: 1969 / Reissued: 2021

This was a "cut-and-paste" collection of several singles, a few selections from previous LPs and a couple songs featuring American blues artist Eddie Boyd in which Fleetwood Mac backed the pianist (later, various reissues of Pious Bird... would alter sequence and songs.) There are a half dozen songs written by blues vets such as Robert Johnson and, surprise surprise, Elmore James. The A and B side of Fleetwood Mac's very first 45, "I Believe My Time Ain't Long" b/w "Rambling Pony" were also promoted to LP status. The disc also had the advantage of sweeping up two mega popular singles, "Albatross" and "Black Magic Woman," and safely welcoming them into a full- length album. The instrumental, "Albatross," was alluring, hypnotic, and could be as soothing as a meditation session. Instead of drawing inspiration from the blues, Green took note of the instrumentals of American guitar duo Santo and Johnny. As with "Albatross," "Black Magic Woman" was written and dominated by Green. This time around, the guitar danced and soared while Green passionately pleaded with a spell casting vixen. Santana would soon introduce the song to just under a half million people at Woodstock. It was a superb collection of originals and covers with deep emotive vocals and top—notch guitar work from Green, Spencer and the new kid, Danny Kirwan. Loose, raw and oh so natural!

Mick Fleetwood & Friends
Celebrate The Music of Peter Green and the Early Years of Fleetwood Mac

An all-star cast of musicians was waiting to take the stage in London on Tuesday February 25, 2020. The A-List of nearly 20 veteran performers, with emissaries from British Rock Royalty bands such as the The Rolling Stones, The Who, Pink Floyd and the The Beatles, had rehearsed and were ready to celebrate Fleetwood Mac's founder, Peter Green. The venerated London Palladium, circa 1910, which seated 2,300 people, was on standby ready to rock to the sound of the blues. Backstage personnel were in place, spotlights were fired up, cameras were manned and waiting for the first cue. The combined 800 years of experience from the twenty musicians would soon be abundantly evident. These consummate pros crafted a stunning presentation, one that rivals The Band's The Last Waltz from forty years earlier.

In a spring of 2021 conversation with Rick Vito, a former Fleetwood Mac member and one of the key musicians performing that evening, Vito, recalled when he first saw Peter Green perform live in the late 1960s. Vito was in awe. "He was a master of dynamics. He could play very quietly and then he could build up to something outrageous. It was always tasteful. Everything he did was tasteful... he had a little restraint and a little more emphasis on the traditional blues approach— like say B. B. King where you don't overplay—yet you can unleash some fury whenever you want to, that made a strong impression on me," Vito recalled.

As for preparation and rehearsal leading up to the February 2020 show, Vito recounted when many of the musicians journeyed to Hawaii where Fleetwood lives and owns a music venue/restaurant. "There was a lot of preparation which started in Maui, Hawaii, with the core band (plus producer Glyn Johns "to help guide things along") ...and we rehearsed for two weeks out there." Initially, Vito was not going to be involved in the tribute concert itself since he had not worked with Fleetwood for several years but Fleetwood called Vito on Christmas Day 2019 and said, 'I don't think I can do this without you.' Vito quickly confirmed that he would be there. "Because of the fact that I knew all of that music already—since I'd been playing it since I first heard it—and then playing it with the Mick Fleetwood Blues Band for ten years, then it started coming together. After that, we took a half week break, and then went to London and rehearsed with David Gilmour, Pete Townsend, Steven Tyler (another Hawaii resident) and all the other guys —Jeremy Spencer, John Mayall, Christine McVie—and then we rehearsed for another week there. When we hit the stage, it initially was supposed to be for two nights but, for some reason, that didn't happen." From a production perspective, the option was always there to stop mid-show if there was a problem but Vito proudly remembered that "the amazing thing was that no 'train wreck' happened, it flowed really really well... and there was what they call 'the magic of the event,' it was there in full force. It just had the energy, the spontaneity and it was such a special occasion that everyone wanted to be a part of it and certainly loved that music, and the man." One of the reviews of the show even stated that Vito was one of the highlights of the show. Sure, Fleetwood was the ring master but, in many ways, Vito was the captain. Vito's response was modest when he was reminded of the quote—stated simply—he remembered that "I was more prepared" due to several factors since he had been a passionate believer in Green since the late 1960s and, more recently, Vito was at all the rehearsals in both Hawaii and London.

Absent that evening was Green himself. Mick Fleetwood conceded that, after years of hoping for a sentimental return to 1967, an on-stage reunion was probably never going to happen. A reserved, reluctant and reticent Green was home that evening. Fleetwood forged ahead anyway since he always felt that Green has consistently been "such a powerful entity" and the tribute needed to happen.

Time for the show. Lights down, music begins to drift into the hall. The evening opened with "Rolling Man" from Fleetwood Mac's second blues drenched LP. A couple songs later, Billy Gibbons sauntered onto the stage and took on the persona of an earthy "Doctor Brown." If you look really closely, you may see some Texas dirt on his boots or dust on the shades. Next up was John Mayall. With Fleetwood, Green and John McVie in a mid-1960s version of Mayall's Bluesbreakers (and Vito in a later iteration,) Mayall truly was the spark that ignited Fleetwood Mac. Steven Tyler, bringing every ounce of his swashbuckling star power with him, burst onto the stage and helmed "Rattlesnake Shake." Christine McVie sang "Stop Messin' Round" and saturated it with a rich, deep blues patina. The real deal! The spotlight then shifted back to Vito as he channeled Green on "Love That Burns." Other artists continued to take the stage (while others such as the evening's co-drummer, Zak Starkey, briefly stepped back) as a trio of songs featuring Fleetwood on percussions and several guitarists— including Jonny Lang and Noel Gallagher—conjured up pure blues that could have radiated from a rickety porch in the delta.

As the motley crew segued into the unofficial "second half," Pete Townsend chose a song from the Kiln House LP while Gibbons and Tyler teamed up for a potent "raveup meets jam" rendition of "Oh Well (Part 1)" and then transitioned to a subdued "Oh Well (Part 2)" as Gilmour and his guitar continued to shine on. As memorable as that presentation was, Vito (with help from Lang) took it up a few notches with his "call and response" bullseye rendition of "Black Magic Woman." And then an unannounced guest strolled onto the stage. Mick and company were re-united with Jeremy Spencer, one of the founding members of Fleetwood Mac. But the historic reunion almost didn't happen. As Spencer explained to me in the spring of 2021, "When Mick first phoned me asking if I would participate, I said I would think about it, and, with reservations, I initially agreed. Then I backed down, saying that with such an illustrious line-up I would hardly be missed. He strongly objected, and his pleading induced me to agree to do it, but on a last minute, no prior publicity basis." A persuasive, persistent Fleetwood did it again and the two original members were officially united after many years. As for the vibe that evening, Spencer recalled that it was "Very convivial. I was petrified before going on, but Bill Wyman, who played bass on my numbers, was encouraging, telling me, 'We're behind you.' Together, they presented a pair of songs and Spencer even gave a shout-out to 'Mona,' one of his favorite guitars. And then another guitar—"Greeny"—was escorted on stage by owner Kirk Hammett and, with Gibbons growling away, turned in a version of "Green Manalishi" that rivaled the original. A stunning version of Green's instrumental, "Albatross," was transcendent as presented by the team of Vito and Gilmour before almost all the musicians returned for a final jam that was spontaneous yet amazingly well organized.

The Super Deluxe package—two vinyl LPs, two CDs and a concert film—has an expensive list price but is smartly packaged and is a must have for Fleetwood fanatics. Luckily, there are more modestly priced packages available. One question: with a rainbow of colored vinyl albums released for a variety of reasons, why didn't they use Green vinyl this time around? Exclusive pressings have driven consumer demand through the roof, making vinyl the new coveted and collectible merch drop. Just askin.'

So, after over a half century of a myriad of twists, turns and early balls-to-the wall performances, Fleetwood continues to keep going and going and going. I asked Vito how one of the founding fathers of Fleetwood Mac managed to maintain and elevate his high level of energy. "He is extremely health conscience... he is on a strict regimen of really really good food. He doesn't eat any junk, doesn't smoke, doesn't drink and he exercises every day. That's his lifestyle now." As for Vito, 'have gun will travel.' "I'm doing a lot of recording and, as always, when opportunity knocks, hopefully I'll be as ready as ready can be" he confirmed with a positive and satisfied tone in his voice.

Tracks and Personnel

Fleetwood Mac

Tracks: My Heart Beat Like A Hammer; Merry Go Round; Long Grey Mare; Hellhound On My Trail; Shake Your Moneymaker; Looking For Somebody; No Place To Go; My Baby's Good To Me; I Loved Another Woman; Cold Black Night; The World Kept On Turning; Got To Move.

Personnel: Peter Green: Vocal, Guitar, Harmonica; Jeremy Spencer: Vocal, Slide-Guitar, Piano; John McVie: Bass; Mick Fleetwood: Drums; Bob Brunning: Bass.

Mr. Wonderful

Tracks: Stop Messin' Round; I Lost My Baby; Rollin' Man; Dust My Broom; Love That Burns; Doctor Brown; Need Your Love Tonight; If You Be My Baby; Evenin' Boogie; Lazy Poker Blues; Coming Home; Trying So Hard To Forget.

Personnel: Peter Green: Vocal, Guitar, Harmonica; Jeremy Spencer: Vocal, Slide—Guitar; John McVie: Bass; Mick Fleetwood: Drums.

The Pious Bird of Good Omen

Tracks: Need Your Love So Bad; Coming Home; Rambling Pony; The Big Boat; I Believe My Time Ain't Long; The Sun Is Shining; Albatross; Black Magic Woman; Just The Blues; Jigsaw Puzzle Blues; Looking For Somebody; Stop Messin' Round.

Personnel: Peter Green: Vocal, Guitar, Harmonica; Jeremy Spencer: Vocal, Slide—Guitar, Piano; John McVie: Bass; Mick Fleetwood: Drums; Danny Kirwan: Guitar, Vocals; Eddie Boyd: Piano, Vocals.

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