Addendum: Reassessing Peter Green’s (Brief) Return to Fleetwood Mac in 1971

Second only to the conflicting tales of that infamous night at a Munich commune, are the stories told concerning Green’s brief return to the band in early 1971. 

The second week of February 1971 found Peter Green’s old band beginning another eight-week tour of North America, their second since his departure from the band.

They wrapped up the first week of the tour headlining four nights at the Fillmore West in San Francisco.

They were booked to begin another four-night stand, this time at the Whisky A Go-Go in Los Angeles, the following evening.

During the afternoon of their first scheduled show in L.A., Jeremy Spencer went out to “buy a magazine” and did not return. 

The shows at the Whisky were cancelled, (the soul/funk outfit Pollution took their place) and the police were called in to assist in the search for Spencer.

A call was then made to Green asking if he would “fill in” for Spencer during the six weeks it would take for the band to fulfill their remaining contractual agreements and not have to cancel the tour.

Four days after Spencer’s disappearance, (Spencer had been located, but would not rejoin the group) Green played his first set with the band on a Friday night at The Swing Auditorium in San Bernardino, California.

Mick Fleetwood first wrote about events surrounding Green’s return in his 1990 autobiography. 

Band manager Clifford Davis provided additional background information in Martin Celmins’ 1995 Peter Green biography, but his account of what transpired after Green rejoined them and the tour resumed, dovetailed neatly with Fleetwood’s account. 

Fleetwood, Davis and Christine McVie each insist that Green placed strict conditions on his agreement to help them; Fleetwood wrote, “Peter Green arrived two days after we appealed to him. Right away he let us know what he was willing to do. Our set now consisted of ‘Black Magic Woman’ and about ninety minutes of free-form jamming. We had no choice.”

In Donald Brackett’s “Fleetwood Mac: 40 Years of Creative Chaos” (Praeger 2007) Christine McVie recalls, “The remainder of the tour was done without singing, a totally instrumental tour. We did a version of ‘Black Magic Woman’ that lasted forty-five minutes. Peter refused to sing and that’s when I learned to jam.”

The problem is, the two bootlegs that are in circulation from that tour, (one said to be from the first show with Green) are not “totally instrumental…”.

More importantly, we now have a recently rediscovered contemporary review of one the last shows on the tour (the only one that I am aware of, although there must have been others) which provides the fullest account that we have of what was played.

On 02 / 20 / 21 Robert Byrne shared a link on the Danny Kirwan (Original Fleetwood Mac) Facebook Page which contained a link to a reproduction of the March 26, 1971 edition “The Spectrum” the student newspaper of the State University of New York at Buffalo –

The paper contained a review for a show that Fleetwood Mac played at a club called Gilligan’s.  The show was most likely on March 18, 1971; from available information, they played only two more dates after this show, both at The Rockpile, on Long Island, New York.  (there is a bootleg in circulation from one of the shows, two incomplete jams, or possibly two interrupted pieces of the same jam, lasting twenty-seven minutes – unfortunately, it is unlistenable)

The reviewer, Billy Altman, says they opened with ‘Station Man’ (also the opener for the first show, at the Swing Auditorium); the song also appears on the bootleg from the Fillmore East. 

He also mentions Kirwan’s ‘Tell All the Things You Do’, writing that Green held back, supplying simple support to Kirwan’s lead work during these numbers, much to his disappoint.  He does not reference any other numbers, but that does not mean that Christine McVie’s two numbers, ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’ and ‘Get Like You Used to Be’ were not played.

Altman wrote, “A sudden, high pitched chord fed back, Green stepped up to the mike and ‘Black Magic Woman’ began.”  

This was obviously one of the absolute highlights of the show for Altman; for him, Santana’s version (which had peaked at number four on the U.S. charts just three months earlier) was a “travesty” in comparison.  

For him, “The guitar lines should follow the mystery of the lyrics…”

This line of thought, and his saying that Green “stepped up to the mike” as he began the song, begs the question: did Green sing the number? 

If so, the number would not be that different, structurally, from the later Green-era Fleetwood Mac performances of ‘Rattlesnake Shake’, with the original song morphing into ‘Fighting For Madge’ and then ‘Under Way’.

Altman goes on to say that, “When the song broke into a shuffle at the end Green yelled to the band to keep it going.  What ensued was perhaps the finest group jam I’ve ever heard.”

He continues, “For almost an hour the band played without any stopping.”

This description of their set, lines up fairly close with what is heard on the two bootlegs; when the band were the headliners, their sets were just under two hours; Kirwan’s two numbers, plus McVie’s, together average about thirty minutes; on the two bootlegs, Green’s numbers are simply jams but they are broken up by the Kirwan’s and McVie’s songs.

What is new here, and makes one think it is more than possible that Green sang on ‘Black Magic Woman’ is Altman’s reporting that, “After (the jam) ended, Green and the group changed pace, going into a Little Richard medley, including ‘Long Tall Sally’ and ‘Miss Ann’.” 

Little Richard was a personal favorite of Green’s and while there are many recordings of him leading the band through hard-charging versions of his songs (as well as Jeremy Spencer taking the lead on a few) there are no recordings of Kirwan ever taking the lead vocal on these numbers.

Was the inclusion of the rock ‘n roll oldies something that was added as the tour wound down?  Was this a one off that Altman was fortunate enough to catch?  Were they part of the show from the beginning?  With the information that we have, we have no way of knowing.

Green was apparently in high spirits on this particular night, as Altman reports that at the end of the two-hour set Green “…went backstage, brought out some members of the local warm up act The High Keys, and they jammed for another half hour.”

Memory is a complicated thing, a relative to truth, not its twin.

  • Barbara Kingsolver

Twenty years had passed (and countless shows played) when Fleetwood sat down to write his autobiography.  It is more than likely that McVie made also her statement decades after those shows were played.

It is completely understandable that when thinking back on those stressful six weeks decades earlier, what people would remember were the jams.

The point here was not to prove anyone “wrong”, but to amend the record, correcting what is verifiably incorrect.  The truth, as those who lived the events experienced it, remains their own.

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