Remembering Peter Green
His musical career, and personal battles are widely documented. In this article, however, we take a look at Peter Green’s guitar playing legacy and the lasting impact he had on the instrument during his relatively short time in the musical spotlight. Plus we’ll discuss some playing tips, allowing you to pay the ultimate tribute by learning how to use Peter Green’s influence in your own playing.
Why was he such an important guitarist?
It is easy use the term ‘one of the greats’ casually when referring to our earlier electric guitar forefathers, but with Green this statement has never been more accurate.
Respectfully placing his skills as a song writer aside; his direct influence on Les Paul toting blues rock players, who pushed the genre to its limits of popularity in the 70’s & 80’s, is indisputable; you can hear a foundation of Peter Green licks, phrasing and style in every Joe Perry lick, The Black Crowes song, and Billy Gibbons solo, not to mention his impact on David Gilmour. Would the world have experienced Gary Moore the same (or at all) if it wasn’t for Peter Green? Some would strongly support that notion.
The beauty of Green’s playing was in his expression; with the wider guitar community citing him as the ultimate ‘feel’ guitarist. BB King is quoted as saying, of all the guitarists he ever heard, Peter Green was the only one to ever give him ‘cold sweats’, also praising him for having ‘the sweetest tone I ever heard’. Green’s approach to crafting solos has always served as a continuous and potent reminder to place energy and emotion at the core of your playing.
How to sound like Peter Green?
Learning those Fleetwood Mac classics is going to take you a long way towards understanding the Green sound a little more intimately, but how can you benefit from that same influence which obviously shaped so many of today’s big name players?
Ok, so there is no magical pill to swallow, or any amount of gear which can replicate that Peter Green magic 100%, but this doesn’t mean we can’t draw some inspiration, lifting some of his easy to emulate techniques and style.
1. Do more with less
As with many of his contemporaries, Peter Green could say things with the pentatonic scale which many of us could only take a clumsy attempt at recreating. The trick to this is limitation; take that famous second position BB King box shape (or any small cluster from your old friend the pentatonic/blues scale). Listening to many of his extended live improvisations, you’ll hear a lot of ideas, phrases and work taking place within only a select range of notes.
The purpose here is to engage your ears, and to a greater extent, your imagination. Peter Green was one of those players who had complete control over his melodic choices when soloing; with brain, ears and fingers all operating as one.
2. The part bend pre bend
Not its official terminology, sure. Leaning on that pre bend as a way to inject some PG feel into your licks and lines will give things a bit more sizzle and soul; start a bend from a pre bent point between the starting and finishing pitches and we are cooking!
Here’s how it works - say we want to bend that 8th fret B string 2 frets up to meet it’s happy conclusion of an A note, the standard approach is to bend from the first to the second note without lingering over the unsavoury sounding bits in between. Try fretting the bend somewhere in that awkward place between the two notes, then pick and bring the note up to its target pitch. Be careful to be accurate and not to spend any length of time on this ‘out of phase’ starting point between the two notes.
Give this a try with any two fret bends within your blues guitar lick repertoire. Sounds supremely vocal-like, right?
3. Think rhythmically
Peter Green could have clapped you an unforgettable solo without even picking up a guitar! If you look at his greatest licks and phrases, they are steeped in rhythms which push and pull the beat. Whilst it is true to say that Green never broke any guitar speed barriers, his melodies and solos also included quick flurries and rhythmic embellishments. Take a lick or phrase from his repertoire and try to copy his rhythm and contour using just 2 or 3 notes. You will hear the effect for yourself instantly!
4. The magic of dynamics
Another great way to gain a better understanding of what made Peter Green’s tone so irresistibly musical is to replicate his wide expressive range. An instant method of achieving this is to focus on one note within your lick, give that the quiet treatment; striking it softer than the others. Also - experiment with making your phrase or lick diminish in volume or climb as it reaches its end.
5. Take your foot off the gas!
It is a confident guitarist who can fill 10 seconds of space with a single note; Peter Green was such a player. Take a listen to ‘Supernatural’ and you’ll hear this in action. Green wasn’t afraid to make a statement, if one note was enough to say what he intended, then that is what he played. There was often such tasteful use of space in Green’s playing too and he wasn’t reluctant to leave silence, creating statements of his licks and phrases.
You can create this yourself with a tried and tested method; play a lick for one bar and then pause, allowing silence during the following bar. This will encourage you to play meaningful ‘statements’ much like Peter Green. If thinking in terms of bars when soloing isn’t your thing - play four even notes then count for beats and repeat; you’ll soon begin to ‘feel’ the phrases.
As with every legend, there is always an Excalibur; a guitar with which this great player created his best works and tones. Having been affiliated with a broad variety of amps, including vintage Orange, 100w Marshalls and smaller Fenders; it is true to say the much of the Peter Green tone (aside from his playing itself) came from the legendary Greeny; an original 1959 Les Paul with which he recorded and performed as his main guitar during both his John Mayall and Fleetwood Mac years.
Following his departure from Fleetwood Mac in 1970 Greeny was sold to Gary Moore and was used to record the powerful and sustain filled guitar parts on ‘Parisienne Walkways’. The guitar was then acquired (and is still owned) by Metallica’s Kirk Hammett for the handsome sum of $2 Million!
So why was this guitar so magical? For many listeners Greeny had the warmth and sustain of a Les Paul but with the clarity and cut usually favoured by Strat players. The cause of this received much debate; the ‘out of phase’ wiring of the pickups was often attributed to this unique sound. Many speculated that this tonal quirk was the result of simply exchanging the bridge and neck pickups, reversing their positions. It is said, however that, after Gary Moore agreed to allow for testing, it was discovered that the polarity of the pickup’s magnetics were the cause (north to south, in place of south to north and vice versa).
Not much help to those who are not in possession of the original Greeny you might think? Many companies have launched a range of Peter Green pickups in a bid to recreate this illusive tone. If you are a little more cash rich, then you are also in luck; according to Joe Bonamassa, a ’59 Les Paul which he recently acquired had the same polarity irregularity. It stands to reason that, in a year when Gibson produced so many Les Pauls, there may be one or two more Greenys waiting to be discovered!
Having shaped the playing of generations since his heyday, who in turn gave their own influence to the guitar world, it is fair to say that Peter Green’s contribution and legacy will continue for many years to come.