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Peter Green's Swan Song in Fleetwood Mac Plays On

Fleetwood Mac's "Then Play On" lineup: Danny Kirwin, Jeremy Spencer, Mick Fleetwood, Peter Green and John McVie.EXPAND
Fleetwood Mac's "Then Play On" lineup: Danny Kirwin, Jeremy Spencer, Mick Fleetwood, Peter Green and John McVie.
Photo by Barry Plummer/Courtesy of MADInk PR

When English singer/guitarist Peter Green passed away last month at the age of 73, the obits, of course, led with his role as the founder of Fleetwood Mac. This no doubt came as a surprise to general fans who either assumed that title belong to Mick Fleetwood, or the group began with the wildly popular Lindsey Buckingham/Stevie Nicks era. In fact, Fleetwood Mac’s first two albums were mostly hardcore blues-based affairs.

The record's artwork is the painting "Domesticated Mural Painting" by Maxwell Armfield and featured in a 1917 magazine.
The record's artwork is the painting "Domesticated Mural Painting" by Maxwell Armfield and featured in a 1917 magazine.
Record cover

They were an extension of Green, drummer Fleetwood, and bassist John McVie’s stints in the English Blues Finishing School known as John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers (though Bob Brunning was briefly the original bassist). The initial Mac lineup also included guitarist Jeremy Spencer. But the addition of third guitarist Danny Kirwan and a marked departure (or expansion) in sound marked their next release, 1969's Then Play On.

Next month, BMG Music will re-release Then Play On: Celebration Edition in 2LP vinyl and CD formats. It’s brings together the 14 songs from the original English release, as well as four bonus tracks, including “Oh Well Pt. 1” and “The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown)” and liner notes from music journalist Anthony Bozza. The album’s title comes from the opening line of Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night – “If music be the food of love…play on.”

“I hope this brings some attention to Peter Green, just because this [lineup] was such a different band. I don’t think a lot of people realize how far back they started, and were such a part of that original British blues boom and all of the hippie stuff,” Bozza says. “That gets forgotten, especially in America. I like playing this for people who likes blues and rock, but they don’t believe me that it’s Fleetwood Mac!”

Peter Green was – along with Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page – blues rock royalty when he started the band in 1967. But he always seemed to have a more quixotic outlook and musical journey. Seemingly ego-free, he named Fleetwood Mac after his rhythm section – ostensibly so they could carry on after his eventual departure. Only at the insistence of concert promoters did were they often billed with the unwieldy “Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac.”

For Then Play On, Green kept Jeremy Spencer in the group even when he refused to play on any of the material. And for Danny Kirwin – still a teenager – Green gave him plenty of space for his own songs that Kirwin also sang lead on. “This album is so interesting, it’s a transitional one where Peter went out on a limb and followed his muse a bit more. He’s branching out from the ‘Blues God,’” with more improvisation and instruments. He even plays cello,” Bozza says.

And indeed, the music covers blues-based scorchers that fans of the band at the time would have expected, but also a number of ballads, instrumentals, and more experimental material. “He was a very generous band leader in every single way. And Peter gave Danny all of that freedom. You just don’t hear about things like that.”

Bozza’s own favorite tracks on Then Play On: Celebration Edition are the ones not on the original album but of the era: “Oh Well Pt. 1 & 2” (“that may be obvious, but it’s just so great, beautiful and progressive”) and “The Green Manalishi” (“That’s like…woah! It’s like proto-metal, and been [cited] by Metallica, Aerosmith, and Judas Priest as an influence”).

Unfortunately, like Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett and Jefferson Airplane/Moby Grape’s Skip Spence, Green became an LSD casualty. He also suffered mental illness for decades, diagnosed with schizophrenia. His increasingly erratic behavior included an obsession with religion and anti-materialism which led him to later give away most of his money and guitars.

And in one famous anecdote—which took place either in an office building or at Green’s home—he threatened his accountant with a shotgun when the numbers cruncher tried to deliver a royalty check to the increasingly unhinged band leader. Then Play On was Peter Green's last record with the band, and he would leave the next year.

Peter Green in concert.
Peter Green in concert.
Photo by Barry Plummer/Courtesy of MADInk PR

Peter Green would reemerge every so often as a performer in the ensuing decades as his mental health improved, and in the 1990s formed Peter Green’s Splinter Group. In 1998, he was inducted with Fleetwood Mac into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

And while he didn’t perform with the lineup who did a mini-set of numbers from the ‘70s and ‘80s, he did get to play “Black Magic Woman” with Carlos Santana, whose group was inducted the same night. Green wrote the song and released with Fleetwood Mac, but Santana later had the worldwide hit.

Then in February of this year, Mick Fleetwood spearheaded a tribute concert to Green and that era of the band that featured performances by David Gilmour, John Mayall, Pete Townshend, Steven Tyler, Kirk Hammett, Bill Wyman, Christine McVie, Jonny Lang, Neil, Finn, Noel Gallagher, and others. It was recorded and set for a DVD/CD release, but COVID-19 has delayed those plans. Bozza also wrote the liner notes for that.

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Then Play On: Celebration Edition will also reappear as the opening salvo in the upcoming massive 8 CD Fleetwood Mac: 1969-1974 box set with studio albums, outtakes, and live shows, though its release date is in limbo due to coronavirus. COVID-19 has also scuttled plans for Fleetwood’s road version of the Green tribute show.

As a writer, Bozza has collaborated with musicians (Mick Fleetwood, Slash, Tommy Lee, Wyclef John), comedians (Tracy Morgan, Artie Lange), and sports stars (Derek Jeter) on their autobiographies, as well as penned books on AC/DC, INXS. He’s currently working with Raekwon of the Wu-Tang Clan on his memoir, as well as comedian Sebastian Maniscalco on a project. And he’s had a particularly productive spring and summer.

“Interviewing people now has been great. Because with quarantine, they can’t go anywhere and they want to talk!” Bozza laughs. “With Raekwon, what would have normally taken months, we got done a lot more quickly.”

For more information on Anthony Bozza, visit AnthonyBozza.net

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