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Rock & Roll Feature: Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac Plays the Blues

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This is the sixteenth in a series of Rock & Roll features I'm writing for this site. I'm a rock and roller, so this column is a way for me to feature a different album that I like, from different genres every month.

It seems a little strange that in the 21st century many of the best rock and roll albums of all time are celebrating major milestones, especially for someone like me who wasn't around back in the 60s/70s and is discovering a lot of classic rock for the first time. They just seem so immediate, exciting, and fresh. So to realize that they're 40 years old is odd. The album I chose for this month's feature is one such album that celebrated a recent anniversary. I'm talking about the first album from Fleetwood Mac, Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac, which I believe debuted in February 1968 making last month it's 40th anniversary.

I don't know about most people, but when I first started listening to Fleetwood Mac many years ago, I didn't even know who Peter Green was, let along that he was one of the founding members of the band or that they had quite a different sound when first starting out. I did however know of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks and was quite familiar with songs like “The Chain” and “Rhiannon” giving me a basic idea (and an incorrect one at that) of what to expect.

It took many years for me to actually hear some of the early albums with Peter Green. I kept hearing them mentioned every so often along side phrases like “blues” and “the beginning of blues rock.” Peter Green's name kept popping up in guitar related conversations. I just didn't get around to checking it out though and I never heard any of the tracks on classic rock radio. In fact, to this day I can't remember the last time I did hear a Green era Fleetwood Mac song on the radio. That's really a shame because there are some amazing albums from the early days, and because the tracks aren't played all that regularly, they often go unrecognized by the masses.

If  you're more familiar with the later Fleetwood Mac, be prepared for a slight shock as this album is not in the same pop/rock style at all. In fact, the band didn't even start in the same country as the two who would become it's primary members in later years. Where Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks hailed from California, Fleetwood Mac began as a British blues band. Peter Green replaced Eric Clapton in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers before breaking off with bassist John McVie and drummer Mick Fleetwood to form their own band. This early Fleetwood Mac album really hearkens back to their roots as it is a very bluesy album with great guitar work from Green (and Jeremy Spencer on slide as well) and tons of soul.

Starting off with the upbeat bluesy swagger of “My Heart Beat Like a Hammer”, there's no doubt where the band's musical tastes lie as they carry their blues roots throughout the entire album. There's even a number of covers of songs by Robert Johnson, Elmore James, and Howlin' Wolf. The slow blues of "Merry-Go-Round" is a personal favorite of mine because of soulful guitar work to match the equally soulful vocals, while “Long Grey Mare” is more upbeat with a great riff, sweet harmonica lead, and a touch of humor in it's lyrics.

The band's take on Robert Johnson's “Hellhound on My Trail” is incredibly stirring with just piano and vocals, sounding quite spontaneous and authentic… even if it does end somewhat suddenly. They follow it up with another cover, this time of Elmore James' “Shake Your Moneymaker”. With a rolling blues stomp and plenty of gritty, thick slide guitar work, this one is plenty good at getting toes tapping, but I don't think I'd say it outplays the original.

“Looking for Somebody” is another personal favorite. It's another slow burner but has a beat that is just a touch more hypnotic and primal, sort of swaying with so much soul. There's also some great lyrical moments with lines like “I've got a feeling, blues gonna be my only way…” coming from Green sounding extremely authentic and honest. It's a statement that looking back, you could argue turned out to be more accurate than Green could have ever imagined.

About D.A.N.

  • Louis

    Congrats – you have discovered a gem (smile). I was 18 when this album came out and it still gets occasional play on my turntable – you know, one of those antique things that play vinyl. Actually I like their second album called “English Rose” even better than the first – have you heard it? Peter Green is not flashy, but man, what a beautiful tone he gets.

  • Jeff

    Fabulous band….I think the 2 best albums to buy are “Then Play On” for the songs or the grittier “Live at the Boston Tea Party” vol 1(I think) for Green’s best recorded guitar work imho.

    An interesting sidebar is the remarkable guitar work of Danny Kirwan that I have really come to appreciate as well, he joined after the album above & took the lead after Green left. Also he wrote some very interesting songs to boot, check out “Bare Trees”. Green & Kirwan are MUSTS for any guitarist.