Peter Green and the Sonny Boys I & II – Part I
Peter Green is rightfully considered one of the greatest guitarists to come out of the British Blues scene of the mid-to-late sixties but as we celebrate his seventy-second birthday (born October 29, 1946) I’d like to take a look at two songs featuring his harmonica playing.
There is currently only one recording of the each of these two songs in circulation; each a live performance, with neither ever attempted in the studio (to the best of my knowledge)
The first was by the “second” Sonny Boy Williamson (Alec “Rice” Miller). Green would have been exposed, in depth, to Williamson’s catalog by John Mayall; but where Mayall drew from Williamson’s Checker recordings, Green chose one of his earliest releases on the Trumpet label.
Sonny Boy Williamson
Sonny Boy Williamson: vocal & harmonica /
Cliff Givens: bass vocal
Recorded December 04, 1951
Released, A-side Trumpet 78 (1952)
Mighty Long Time (3:00)
Accompanied solely by Cliff Givens’ vocalized bass line, Williamson puts a quaver in his harp sounding as if it is sniffling after a crying fit.
When he begins to sing, his voice is quiet, displaying a bruised resignation with his situation, yet holding on to the slimiest of hopes that things may as he cannot bear to admit the truth.
His harmonica mirrors the elasticity of time, as the minutes drag like hours and the hours drag like days as he waits for his woman to return to him, and Given’s imitates the ceaseless ticking of each second of the day.
Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac
Peter Green: vocal & harmonica /
Bob Brunning: bass / Mick Fleetwood: drums
Recorded August 15, 1967 – The Marquee Club, London, England
Released, “Live at the Marquee” (Receiver Records Limited 1992)
(Intro) / Mighty Long Time (Sonny Boy Williamson II) (0:16 / 4:29)
It sounds as if Green says that this is a number that they will be recording but that is most likely simply wishful thinking on my part, as there is no evidence that the number was ever attempted in the studio.
Brunning thumbs a loping bass line and Fleetwood provides a steady shuffle with his brushes to back Green. Like Williamson, Green sings softly, without self-pity but lower volume coming from the stage allows the ambient noise of the restless crowd to dominate the recording.
Green’s vocal does not yet have the depth that it would rapidly acquire over the coming months and years, but in this performance, Green is using the words as the bridge between his harmonica breaks.
Among his contemporaries, the harmonica was mainly used for punctuation; when featured, it was in a fast tempo show piece like Jack Bruce’s ‘Train Time’ (originally performed with the Graham Bond Organization or Mayall’s version of Williamson’s ‘Bye Bye Bird’.
Green too used the instrument for accent and coloration in his early work, (see: ‘Looking for Somebody’) but here it becomes the lead instrument and his approach is similar to his how he plays the guitar: favoring emotion and feel over technique or flash.
That he allows the break to last as long as he does, shows his commitment not only to the song but to his belief that he too must be fulfilled if he is to give his most to his audience.
Immediately after the last verse, there is an audible glitch making one believe that there was a second solo has been shortened. The outro begins to fade too quickly for my tastes and the music’s slowly softening amplifies the crowd noise even more.
It is a shame that they didn’t perform this one for the BBC as that would have been a perfect setting for it.
We’ll take a look at the second number, originally performed by John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson in Part II.