The Holy Grail: 1959 Les Paul Sunburst

This is the story of a guitar, and the two young men who played it throughout their careers. It started when John Mayall, somewhat relucatantly replaced Eric Clapton with Peter Green. Green was about twenty, and had achieved nothing to speak of in his brief career. This was the age of Les Paul "overdriven" electric blues, and Green thought that he better get one. He found a 1959 Gibson Les Paul Sunburst in a second hand store, and paid $300 for it. Green played briefly with Mayall before going on to form Fleetwood Mac, some would say the only Fleetwood Mac. Mayall later said of Green that in his prime he was a force to reconned with. Here is a piece called "The Supernatural" from the Mayall album "A Hard Road."

A couple of things of note: The song anticipates "Black Magic Woman," which Green wrote, and also the "sensitivity" particularly of his psyche, which will later become a chapter in this story.

As a birthday present to Green, Mayall presented him with studio time to record a single. Green went into the studio with Mick Fleetwood on drums, and John McVie on bass. He called the band Fleetwood Mac telling the others that he wouldn't be with them for long, but they would carry on. By 1969, Fleetwood Mac was such a success that they sold more records than the Beatles and Rolling Stones combined.

Also of interest is the sound of the guitar which has a kind of "out of phase" sound. It almost sounds like it is recorded in a cathedral. This is unusual for Les Pauls. There were many theories as to why. Green says that he turned a magnet around in the pickup, though there is at least one other Sundburst that has the same "issue," suggesting a factory problem.

Here's the aforementioned "Black Magic Woman" with Green singing.

Also on Les Paul is Danny Kirwan who will play a part in the Supernatural chapter later on. Of note here is the incredible guitar interplay, ultra creative despite a lack of well developed musical knowledge, and technique. Secondly is Green's voice. Mayall said that in spite of Green's skills as a guitarist, his voice was even better.

Sadly Peter Green, who was considered on of the most creative, charasmatic musicians in rock, grew disatisfied with the success of Fleetwood Mac. He also had developed a fascination with LSD. The story goes that he and Kirwan were invited to party at some aristocrats mansion in Munich where they were invited to jam. It is told by other members of Fleetwood Mac who were at the party, but not the jam; that there was LSD everywhere. Only Peter Green, and Kirwan know the truth of what went on. Green says that the music was the most spiritual he ever played. John McVie is less enthusiastic. He says that whoever these people were, they robbed Green of his creativity. For certain, he was never the same. He did record one more solo album at this time called "The End of the Game," which apparently features some of the music played in Munich. It is admittedly wildly creative. Here is the title track:

Peter Green gave up music for a period of close to ten years. He tried to give away what he owned, including royalties to his music which were substansial. People who met him during this time were surprised by his unkempt appearance, and other-worldly behavior. It is reported that he worked for a time as a grave digger. He was also treated for schizophrenia with medication and electro-shock. He made a brief comeback in 1979 with an album called "In the Skies." The music is somewhat uneven, likely due to Green's rust. There are some highlights such as this song "Fool No More:"

Somewhere during this period Green also sold the "Grail" guitar to Gary Moore, a young Irish musician for the original $300. Green's career would be off and on. However, he is still playing. You can find recent videos on You Tube, and though he is hardly the creative genius that he had been in 1969, he occasionally produces a masterpiece such as "If I Don't Come Home."

What Gary Moore added to this instruments sound was a massive technique. He was a student of rock, and particularly the blues style that Peter Green had represented. While his voice was not as good as Green's, Moore developed into a very good singer. Most of all he was a master of blues licks, and could develop a passionate, mysterious solo like no other. In his prime, he was a powerful guitarist. Given the opportunity, he is who I would most like to see.

I have documented Moore throughout this blog, with videos and stories, including the best "The Messiah Will Come Again" video, which ironically has been removed for copyright issues. Here though is probably his best known song "Still Got the Blues for You:

Late in his career, due to health issues, Moore reportedly sold the guitar to a collector for approximately One million dollars. It has since been sold for two million to Kirk Hammitt of all people.

Some footnotes:

1. Overdrive on an amp is a means of boosting the power. It is a function of boosting gain, and/or volume which produces that distorted sound (obviously not a bad thing) that is the difference between the clean sound of say B. B. King, versus the distortion, think live wire, sound of Green or Moore. This is, at best, a simplistic definition. It is best in a tube amp such as a Marshall. In the early days it was not always effective. I saw the Yardbirds at the Col Ballroom in Davenport in 1966, just before I left for the Army. Jeff Beck was the guitarist at the time (Jimmy Page was playing bass) and spent most of the concert kicking or hitting his amy trying to make it distort and feed back. It likely was, however, the Yardbirds with Clapton that first pushed this overdrive Les Paul sound with Mayall's Bluesbreakers.

2. Fleetwood Mac was first a blues band. One of their first albums was a live recording in Chicago with Otis Spann, an older, black pianist who had played with Muddy Waters. Fleetwood Mac, and Green played this music with reverance for those who came before. After Green left, Fleetwood Mac became a very different band. Both Fleetwood, and McVie would both probably say that it was the loss of the charismatic Green that resulted in this. You have to remember the day. You would see a band like the Yardbirds, or Fever Tree which I saw in some warehouse in Houston, and you knew you just had to be that. It was so mystical almost. I also saw Zappa and the Mothers of Invention in Houston in some dive of a buidling, with an inch of water on the floor-me barefoot. It was such a different time.

3. The guitar itself is said to be hard to play due to a wider than normal neck. It is no longer in mint condition. It survived a car crash, which resulted in a broken neck. It has an extra hole drilled for a strap, has the bottom two volume/tone knobs replace so that they were more excessible, and has scratches from Moore's nails.

4. There are some documentaries on You Tube about the early days of Fleetwood Mac, a couple of good interviews by Moore, and also a video by a guy named Phil Harris who anylyzes the sound of the guitar.

5. Les Paul, by the way, was a guitarist, writer and producer, who recorded in the forties and fifties with Mary Ford. His style was very clean, their music basic pop. He designed a guitar with the heip of Gibson. It had a very clean sound, but when driven through powerful amplifiers was one hot guitar.

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