Jazz and blues

Guitarist Peter Green's legacy there for all to hear at last

Live recordings of John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, featuring guitarist who replaced Eric Clapton in the band, have been released in album form

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 May, 2015, 10:37pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 May, 2015, 10:37pm

Jazz, blues and rock fans have collected bootlegs - also called "recordings of indeterminate origin" (ROIO) - for decades. They are often notable for poor to dreadful sound, but they sometimes capture performances of exceptional quality, even if in lo-fi audio.

These unauthorised recordings used to be fairly difficult to find, but countless numbers can now be easily downloaded and in many cases are posted on YouTube. It has also become common for record companies and the artists to issue these recordings officially, recognising that they are in circulation anyway and that a chance to turn a profit is being lost.

Probably the most successful archival issue programme of this kind has been Columbia's "The Bootleg Series" of Bob Dylan recordings - now on its 11th volume, The Basement Tapes, culled from arguably the most famous bootleg trove in rock. That series began in 1991 with the Volumes 1-3 boxed set.

A pioneer in the "official bootleg" area was John Mayall, who for his 1968 Diary of a Band albums (Volumes 1 and 2 were released separately) gave Decca Records concert tapes he had made of the version of the Bluesbreakers featuring guitarist Mick Taylor. That incarnation of the band is fairly well documented, but the shorter period between Eric Clapton's tenure and Taylor's, during which Peter Green was a member, is less so.

Just one album, 1967's A Hard Road, features Green all the way through, although he turns up on assorted singles and in cameo guest roles on other Mayall releases. Green left the band that same year, followed shortly by long-serving Mayall bassist John McVie, to form what was originally called Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac.

To hear how the Green-era Bluesbreakers sounded live, listeners had to trawl the internet for bootleg recordings with all but unlistenably poor sound. Now, however, Forty Below Records has released John Mayall's Bluesbreakers - Live in 1967 (Never Before Heard Live Performances), featuring Mayall on vocals, keyboards and harmonica, Green playing lead guitar, McVie on bass and Mick Fleetwood on drums.

Strictly speaking, the songs are not "unheard"; they've been in internet circulation for some time, but are presented here in significantly cleaned-up form, and represent Green as a bluesman at the peak of his considerable powers.

The music was recorded surreptitiously at five London clubs by Dutch blues fan Tom Huissen on a mono reel-to-reel recorder, and it was Huissen who brought his tapes to Mayall's attention.

"I'd known for a decade or two of the existence of these tapes, and in fact, Tom had sent me a CD with 50-second teasers for some of the tracks that he'd secretly recorded at our London shows," says Mayall. "Last year, Tom decided he wanted the world to hear these performances, and work soon began on restoring the already fine quality of the old reel-to-reel tapes."

"Fine quality" may be overstating the sound, but not the playing. Green had replaced Clapton in the band the previous year, and some of their repertoire still came from the Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton album, including its opener, Otis Rush's All Your Love, to which Green brings the same fire and fluency.

It is also interesting to hear the core line-up of Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac beginning to hit their stride. "Through most of 1966, Peter and John were both regular members of the Bluesbreakers and Aynsley Dunbar was the drummer," recalls Mayall.

"However, even though Aynsley was a great drummer, it was starting to become apparent that his jazz-influenced style of playing was veering away from the blues. As I recall, Peter had been close friends with Mick Fleetwood for some time, and he suggested I give him a shot. And so for a short period of only about three months, Mick became a Bluesbreaker."

For fans of 1960s British blues, this is the most important archival release for some time, and a great improvement on the internet snippets that have represented this band live until now.

Eric Corne of Forty Below Records, who worked with Mayall to clean up the tapes, says: "While the source recording was very rough and the final result is certainly not hi-fidelity, it does allow us to hear how spectacular these performances are." They are indeed.

Take Three

Three classic blues albums featuring the guitar playing of Peter Green.

  • Eddie Boyd and His Blues Band Featuring Peter Green (1967, Decca): Green, Mayall, Dunbar and McVie back singer-keyboardist Eddie Boyd to good effect. Green contributes several telling solos.
  • Fleetwood Mac (1968, Blue Horizon): a little less of Jeremy Spencer's impersonation of Elmore James would have improved this album immensely, but it includes some of Green's best slow blues.
  • The Biggest Thing Since Colossus (1969, Blue Horizon): Green, McVie and Danny Kirwan of Fleetwood Mac perform top-notch Chicago blues, although they were British.