ElvisCostello.com, July 26, 2020

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Peter Green


Elvis Costello

It's hard to pinpoint why one song rather than any other should make you want to pick up an instrument.

For me that song was Peter Green's "Man Of The World." It so appealed to my teenage romantic melancholy that I painstakingly struggled with a sheet of hand-written chord symbols given to me by a schoolmate until I could haltingly get through the relatively complex changes. A three-chord trick would have been so much easier but that three-chord trick didn't have the feeling of Peter Green's song. I wouldn't be playing guitar today if it wasn't for that record.

Needless to say, I quickly cast aside four weeks of classical guitar lessons, which had got me no further than learning how to balance my foot on a little stool. Once I struggled through "Man Of The World," I realized that so many of my favourite songs were well within my grasp and the rest is misery.

I tell this story now out of gratitude to a great guitar player, songwriter and singer, who left us yesterday. Inevitably, any news report about the loss of Peter Green was bound to be cast as a tragedy, defined by periods of mental illness, exacerbated by psychedelic drugs and incorrect diagnoses. I want to believe he is at peace now.

I prefer to focus on that brief catalogue of utterly original recordings with the early (and for me, only) Fleetwood Mac, the most famous being "Black Magic Woman." It is hard not to wish for more records with the compressed invention of "Oh Well" and "Green Manalishi." There are whole triple albums of the progressive rock excess that contain less imagination, fire, wit and beauty than the two sides of the "Oh Well" single.

"Green Manalishi" is a haunted song, a prediction of more tortured days. Is it a song about jealousy, demonic possession or a fear of money and acclaim? However you read it, that record is more intense and genuinely frightening than countless pantomimed evocations of darkness.

Hit parades or hierarchies of guitar players are an absurd premise but I will say that none of Peter Green's contemporary graduates of John Mayall's Bluesbreakers ever moved me as much as the opening bars of Fleetwood Mac's hit recording of "Need Your Love So Bad."

Watching that song being mimed on Top Of The Pops opened the door to the riches of Little Willie John's original recordings. Later still, I realized that no English guitar player ever got as close to the intensity of Otis Rush's Cobra sides as Peter Green did on "Stop Messin' Round." There was such love and respect in the way Peter Green, the songwriter, absorbed the lessons of great blues records and wrote them out in a new kind of song.

He was also a beautifully expressive singer, my favourite vocal performance being that set against the mournful horn refrain of "Love That Burns."

A slow humming rhythm actually put this "blues band" at the top of the pop charts in late 1968. Twenty years later, it was acknowledged by George Harrison that The Beatles' "Sun King" was modeled on Fleetwood Mac's chart-topping instrumental, "Albatross."

Moviemakers have frequently used Santo & Johnny's "Sleepwalk" as the soundtrack for that last romantic dance, the very title seeming like an invitation to dream. "Albatross" may be an unlikely title for a romantic hit but when I happen to hear it playing, I see a row of colour twinkling lights hung above the deck of a converted troop ship which served as floating classrooms on a school cruise around the Mediterranean in the Spring of '69.

I was 14 and there was a slow dance and a girl who I never saw again. Or as Peter Green would put it in "Man Of The World":

"How I wish I was in love"

Thank you, Peter.


Tags: Peter GreenFleetwood MacTop Of The PopsLittle Willie JohnOtis RushLove That BurnsGeorge HarrisonThe Beatles

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ElvisCostello.com, July 26, 2020


Elvis writes about Peter Green.


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