The vibe is strong on love and affection for the legendary blues guitar player, singer and songwriter on a come-back tour after over twenty years out of the public eye. During that sojurn he has gone through schizophrenia, prison, mental hospitals, heavy sedation and the growing of ten inch nails, according to Mitch Reynolds, the lady who looks after him, manages him and is a true friend to him.
Peter is here tonight with his “therapists” The Splinter Group, which features Cozy Powell on drums, Neil Murray on bass, Spike Edney on keyboards and Peter’s old mate (and brother to Mitch Reynolds) Nigel Watson on guitar and vocals.
Peter Green appears to have an almost child-like honesty, self-depreciation and disarming amiability. It is one of the most emotional interviews your trusty Terrascope scribes have been through; Peter himself appears to have been to hell and back, but the good news is that he is having fun again. The text of the following interview may appear disjointed and rambling, sometimes contradictory, often hard to follow - but stick with it and his gem of a character will, hopefully, come shining through.
PT: You’ve toured around Europe a lot?
PG: We’ve been to a lot of places, yeah.
PT: Playing so many gigs must have made you a lot tighter as a band?
PG: Tighter? Don’t use that term. I hate the term because it’s a very worrying term. You want to be able to feel completely free. I heard that term with the first group I played with. “Get tight!”. We never used to actually do it. They used to say it, “Get tight, come on then, let’s do it, let’s see how tight we can get”, but I’ve never done that. Otherwise I’d have nothing to look forward to, to swing and things. To see how much you can swing it, like the old time jazz, like modern jazz or whatever you’re into. I like old time blues. Elmore James, Sonny Boy Williamson. I like all that stuff. And the drummers are sweet as daisies, they’re marvellous. If I was a drummer I’d imitate them till my heart’s content, until I should sound something like them, nearer than anything I’ve seen in this country so far. Savoy Brown’s first drummer was quite good though. Their drummer was good to watch.
PT: What’s it like to be playing again?
PG: What’s it like? Too early to say, really. Compared to the other stuff though you mean? Too early to say. We’re still very into the music, well, I’m very into the music anyway. I was encouraged once to think I was, but maybe I wasn’t. I don’t know. There was too much music around then to listen to for me to consider myself having it down as good as others. I was always a beginner. I was a young horse to a full grown stallion. If you were to collect the musicians, the drummers, the bass guitarists, people like Albert King - they put it down. This [what PG does himself] is nothing. The way they play... they’re so full of showmanship. They’re so cool. They’re so cool.
PT: And there’s Eric Clapton?
PG: I get so excited about playing like Eric Clapton’s. When he first started there used to be a hell of a lot of excitement. Total excitement. And it was so thrilling - there was simply no word to use for Eric. It really was fantastic. No words could explain him. I followed him from the Yardbirds to John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. I saw his first performance and I saw him on his last night on Eel Pie Island. Seeing him play was so strange. Such superior musicianship. It was really marvellous.... I forget what I was going to say now.
PT: You were saying how far you felt you were behind the blues masters.
PG: It’s takes years and years and years and years and years... there’s a song called ‘Give It Up’ by Donny Hathaway. He plays the piano, sings. He’s a gospel singer. Very good. He’s got a song called ‘Give It Up’.
PT: Do you enjoy yourself once you’re up on stage?
PG: I wish we could practise a bit more to go on stage. If we could practise a bit more we’d be all right. We haven’t enough time, we’ve been working solidly. I wish we could have longer soundchecks. But there are other groups and they’ve got to get on stage. I like to play to no audience at soundchecks, to groove around and take it easy, which is what it’s about.
PT: So do you enjoy yourself more this time round?
PG: Don’t know. Can’t tell how much I used to enjoy it, really. I’d better say the same. I see the possibility of becoming a fine guitar player if I get lucky. It could be a matter of luck. A lot of it.
PT: Who would you like to be as good as?
PG: Wes Montgomery, someone like that. As good as Kenny Burrell. I don’t know when I hope to die but I’d like to make a few records which I think would be nice and disciplined. That’d be pretty good.
PT: Your music appeals to all age groups, it seems.
PG: All ages. Not that they’re all going to be listening to it. I don’t think they are. But if they did it wouldn’t offend me or anything. I try to do music for all ages, I don’t want it to be a load of mush. When an old person hears it he or she might say “What’s that load of noise?”. If it is a bit above the noise level it is sort of devilistic, something you know you’re going at. That’s kind of expected though. That’s modern expression.
PT: Do you think you’re getting better as you’re getting older?
PG: It’s a very slow process, ever so slow. But it’s ever so exciting when you’ve made a breakthrough. You think, “Great! If I do that, I do that, do that, cor!” There’s nowhere to go from there. It’s all right. There’s no-one who can tell on me. That’s what I believe, innit?
PT: Is this a long-term band?
PG: Yeah, unless something kind of tragic happens. I don’t know Spike [keyboard player] very well at all. I know Nigel. I don’t know Cozy (Powell, drums) or Neil (bass) but they seem like they’re encouraging. Can’t understand why.
PT: Cozy Powell has been particularly supportive and has helped get things together for you?
PG: I saw Cozy at the Brian May concert at Wembley. He did a big drum solo. All his drums. Different music to us, he only uses a few bits with us. The bare necessities, which is all you need for a blues band. If you had a lot of drums you’d be wasting your time really. That’s quite interesting. He can be very impressive with something when you’re not expecting it. And Neil, too, can come out with something. Some things he does on the bass are lovely.
PT: And Nigel?
PG: I’m always in touch with Nigel because I live with his sister, Michelle (Mitch). Nigel comes over to have a little play. Only a little one though. Once you get me started I would go on for a long, long time. But he always says “no, I gotta go now”.
PT: Are you feeling good within yourself?
PG: Not really, no. Sometimes something happens, I get a funny little feeling and everything goes right. I don’t know what it is though. It seems to be someone else’s hands. Other times I might be kind of miserable.
PT: Do you feel immersed in the music when you play?
PG: I like to do that. I think we could do that. We touched upon it tonight, there was a time tonight when it was immersed. That’s good, because the band is capable of it I think. They’re all musicians. A great feeling.
PT: What were Fleetwood Mac like as people?
PG: They were sort of secretive. Mick Fleetwood for instance, I had a vision that he was a stilts man in a circus, a carnival, a mardi gras. I had a vision that he was one of the blokes who walked around on stilts and that that was his main thing. And little Jeremy Spencer... I don’t want to say anything about Jeremy. Danny Kirwan was a lovely geezer. I’ve seen him since on television. They do other things. If they’d have told me about them I could have broadened my mind a bit and enjoyed something a bit more. They seemed worried about me, so I thought. It was just all just whatever it was. Just... weird.
PT: What got you into the blues?
PG: A guitar player, a bloke called Mick Maynard. I think he died recently. Unique player, didn’t sound like nobody. He was a good bloke. A nice bloke. A lead guitar player who used to play just chords, ordinary chords. He used to say “Come with me, I want to take you somewhere and I’ll play you a record. It’s a blues record and it’s by Muddy Waters, called ‘Honey Bee’.” I don’t know if it was Muddy Waters’ ‘Honey Bee’. I’m very familiar with ‘Honey Bee’ by Muddy Waters now. It didn’t sound like anything at all to me at the time. I don’t know why. Maybe it wasn’t ‘Honey Bee’. Anyway, he said “That’s blues. You’ve heard some now”. The bloke laid some albums on me. A John Lee Hooker album, ‘Blues Volume II’ with Otis Rush on it, Sonny Rhodes, a couple of other albums like a folk festival of the blues with Buddy Guy, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Willy Dixon and Sonny Boy Williamson on. One of the best albums you’re ever going to get hold of, if not the best. And I had them from this bloke. I listened to them but I didn’t think much of them. It was too serious for me to go crazy about it anything like I do now. I sit there, as you say, immersed in it. It’s blues to me. I feel like I know the people, it means a lot to me now. They’re familiar.
PT: What does the blues mean to you?
PG: Well, it’s sadness. It’s sad. It’s supposed to be that, innit? It’s the blues. How the hell can you define it? It shouldn’t be a dangerous question.
PT: What do you remember of the period you missed out on, over twenty years until recently?
PG: I didn’t really miss out on anything. I just didn’t play guitar. But I got goaded into playing by a group called Colours. Colours made some albums, I think? But I never used to bend the strings. I thought I was getting a message to not bend the strings. Don’t do it, you know, for some reason. So I didn’t do it.
PT: You were getting messages in the head?
PG: No, they just sort of fell in front of me.
PT: You grew your nails very long. So you wouldn’t be able to play?
PG: No, I just couldn’t be bothered to cut them. You can’t play with long nails. Uncomfortable.
PT: You didn’t play for ages, did you have to re-learn?
PG: No, you know what the basic things are. You know as much as you know. You still remember it.
PT: You played ‘Can You See Me’ tonight. That’s an unusual Jimi Hendrix number?
PG: You’ve got to be very selective with Jimi Hendrix.
PT: You and Jimi are my favourite guitarists.
PG: I like too many musicians. I like all the harmonica players alone.
Mitch: Come on then Peter, get your coat otherwise we’ll be yapping all night.
(while Peter was away finding his coat, we took the opportunity to ask Mitch Reynolds about her part in Peter’s come-back)
MR: It was about fourteen of fifteen months ago now. I went down for a visit, because I’ve always kept in touch with him. My first husband, Clifford Davies, was the manager of Fleetwood Mac, so I’ve known Peter since then. I visited him and was appalled by what I saw. He was on heavy medication. I went to see him in Richmond, I actually got him into the first mental hospital, I went to see him in prison. You name it, I’ve been there. As I say, we’ve been friends for a long, long time. So I said to come and live with me, which he did. I’ve kept him with me because he just needs someone to look after him. He’s been so badly treated, it’s been a horror story for him. And he was very, very good to me when I was young.
PT: What brought it all on, do you think?
MR: It was the LSD that brought out the schizophrenia. I’m not saying he didn’t always have it, he probably did, but the acid brought it out. I just dread to think - if I hadn’t gone down there he would have just faded into oblivion. I know what Peter can be like, but I remember him years ago. Probably one of the nicest men I’ve met in my life.
Peter Green was interviewed by Mick Donovan on 21st December, 1996 at the Pavilion Theatre, Brighton. © Ptolemaic Terrascope, 1997.