When we think of Fleetwood Mac, many of us bring Stevie Nicks, Christine McVie and Lindsey Buckingham to the forefront of our minds, particularly the band’s late 1970s soft rock sound, which spawned hits such as ‘Dreams’, ‘Everywhere’ and ‘Rhiannon’.
Yet, many of us also know, love, and perhaps even prefer the original iteration of Fleetwood Mac that formed in London in 1967. Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer joined longtime Mac members Mick Fleetwood and John McVie, and together, the band created a heavy blues rock sound that revolved around the guitar work of Green.
Early Fleetwood Mac recorded and released three albums in total. A self-titled effort in 1968 was followed by Mr. Wonderful later that year. Shortly after the latter release, they recruited a young guitarist by the name of Danny Kirwan with an unrivalled proficiency at playing with a vibrato style. This was most exemplified on ‘Albatross’. With Kirwan, Mac released their third album, Then Play On, in 1969.
Things were going well for the band. However, in late 1969, things began to change. Peter Green had been regularly using LSD, and during the band’s European tour that year, he experienced a bad trip in Munich that would severely affect him for the rest of his life.
The band’s manager of the time, Clifford Davis, once said: “The truth about Peter Green and how he ended up how he did is very simple. We were touring Europe in late 1969. When we were in Germany, Peter told me he had been invited to a party. I knew there were going to be a lot of drugs around and I suggested that he didn’t go. But he went anyway and I understand from him that he took what turned out to be very bad, impure LSD. He was never the same again.”
The last track that Green contributed to Fleetwood Mac, ‘The Green Manalishi’ – released in 1970 – exposed his post-bad-trip vulnerability and subsequent poor mental health. Green said that the song concerned money and its corrupting nature, written after he had had a dream in which he saw a dog appear from the afterlife and was confident that it represented money.
Green’s condition worsened, and his mental health deteriorated to the point that he had no choice but to quit the band. He had become very concerned over money’s role in his own life and those of his band members. He had wanted to give all of the band’s revenue away.
Unfortunately, Green’s condition did not vastly improve, and things came to the fore in 1977. Green had been out of the band for some time and had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, undergoing the beginning of extensive electroconvulsive therapy. In ’77, he was arrested for threatening David Simmons, his accountant, with a shotgun.
As the new iteration of Fleetwood Mac had started to dominate the music charts in the late ’70s, fans had begun to delve into their early work, including that of Green. This meant that Green was owed some handsome royalty checks. However, he had already started giving his money away and selling his guitars.
When the news came of some more cash knocking around with Green’s name on it, he stormed into David Simmon’s office with a shotgun he had smuggled from Canada. He furiously demanded that he never send him any money again and was to give it all away. Simmons called the police, and Green was arrested. He later said: “I was quite happy in prison, so I thought I’d be alright. But they said, ‘You failed the psychiatrist test.'” Green was committed to a mental institution after further diagnoses of schizophrenia, and, as a result, he spent much of the 1970s and 1980s in similar institutions but was later released into his family’s care.
Green died in 2020 but will be remembered for his excellent guitar work in the early days of one of the biggest ever rock bands and the altruism that ultimately came from taking it too far on the psychedelics. Green once said, “It was drugs that influenced me a lot. I took more than I intended to. I took LSD eight or nine times. The effect of that stuff lasts so long. I wanted to give away all my money. I went kind of holy – no, not holy, religious. I thought I could do it. I thought I was all right on drugs. My failing!”