Nearly forty years have passed since that night on December 25, 1980, and still those who took part in the improvised session at the Eshel Recording Studios in Tel Aviv remember it with an indelible excitement.
“I felt my knees wobble when I walked into that studio,” recalled Yossi Buzin, the drummer. The organist, Fima Shuster, still remembers the way his heart was thumping on the train ride south as he sat beside the gifted Haifa guitarist Shimon Holly. The soundman, Yoram Lev, who recorded the session, said: “I was so excited that I remember it all through a haze. I never did drugs in the studio. I didn’t like that. But that evening I was high with excitement. I was really, really worked up.”
Yoav Kutner, the dean of Israeli DJs and music editors, was present as well. “I pretty much jumped out of my skin when I heard this was going to happen,” he said. Ofer Eckerling, who set the whole thing up and was only 18-and-a-half at the time, said, “It was incredible. It was magic. And everyone who was there felt it. We felt we were sharing the studio with a God.” And Haim Dor, who was Yoram Lev’s sound assistant and today lives in Denmark, said he remembers “Ofer Eckerling poured out on the floor – he was so excited. It was a singular session.”
“It was incredible. It was magic. And everyone who was there felt it. We felt we were sharing the studio with a God”
Those present have a hard time agreeing on the peripheral details of that night. After all, it’s been forty years. Who’s going to remember what they wore, what they smoked, what they drank, what was said. But on the heart of the matter they are all in full agreement: On that night, something holy descended on the Eshel Studios on Frug Street in Tel Aviv. They mention “a Divine inspiration that could be felt” in the studio; a magic that they never knew before or since. All the musicians who participated in that session agreed: they’d never played that way before.
The man responsible for the inspiration that descended on the Tel Aviv studio that night, two weeks after John Lennon’s murder, was a pudgy, quiet, introverted Jewish Englishman by the name of Peter Green.
In 1980 he was 34. Thirteen years earlier, he took a spot at the forefront of the sixties’ rock ‘n roll revolution. He founded and led Fleetwood Mac, which would become one of the most successful bands of the twentieth century. Many considered him to be the greatest guitarist in the world. He wrote smash hits and then decided to call it quits. He turned his back on fame and on all of the royalties checks he had coming and instead fried his brains on a searing hot pan of LSD, was diagnosed as a schizophrenic, and was hospitalized in a mental hospital. He disappeared for long periods of time.
And then, out of the blue, he popped up in Tel Aviv, looked at the old Gibson Les Paul that Shimon Holly had left out for him on the stand, and started to pick at the strings and produce a mesmerizing, startling sound that still, forty years hence, brings tears of excitement to the eyes of those who were there.
The silence between the chords
On July 25, the family’s laconic announcement — “It is with great sadness that the family of Peter Green announce his death this weekend, peacefully in his sleep”— left many at a loss. When I called Channel 12’s Ilan Lukatch to try and verify a detail of this story, he said, “Whoa, you just managed to surprise me twice. Once that Peter Green had lived up until now, and once more because he’s dead.”
The eulogies published in the leading papers around the world skipped over the dozens of years during which Green was utterly anonymous and nearly forgotten. The eulogizers focused on his glory years of the late sixties, when he managed to transform himself from a timid Jewish boy named Peter Greenbaum, a boy who suffered from anti-Semitism growing up in London’s East End, to a guitar hero and beloved blues singer named Peter Green, a god among the guitar gods.
He was the inspiration of those who inspired. The guitar hero of the guitar heroes. A Jewish white guy who played the blues so singularly that B.B. King, his idol, once said: “He has the sweetest tone I have ever heard; the only one who gave me the cold sweats.”
It wasn’t just music sites that bid Green farewell in late July. The even-keeled weekly The Economist headlined its obit like this: “Peter Green Was Arguably the Best Blues Guitarist in Britain.”
It continued: “When Peter Green grew his fingernails to the length of talons it seemed to his fans an act of cultural vandalism. To them, those nails fulfilled one simple purpose: to ensure he would never again be tempted to apply his fingertips to a fretboard. And thus he robbed audiences of the sound of perhaps the greatest British blues guitarist of his generation.
Those talons will yet play a pivotal role in the December 1980 session in Tel Aviv, but before getting back to it, let’s linger a bit longer with The Economist and the great compliment it paid to Green, a sentiment that was echoed many times over the last month.
Green was the contemporary of British guitar players like Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Keith Richards and Jeff Beck. The fact that he is remembered among the giants of his generation, fifty years after his near total disappearance from the scene, shows the extent of his influence during the few years at which he was at his best.
After his death, many radio stations dedicated songs to him, and often the DJs chose the best-known hits of Fleetwood Mac. Those songs have nothing to do with Green and his legacy. Because, as all of his fans and all fans of Fleetwood Mac know, there were two Fleetwood Macs.
After his death, many radio stations chose the most well-known hits of Fleetwood Mac. Those songs have nothing to do with Peter Green
There’s the Fleetwood Mac of “Rumours,” the 1977 album that is near the top of the list of the most commercially successful albums of all time — alongside Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon.” Some forty million copies of that album have been sold, an album that includes the smash hits “Go Your Own Way,” “The Chain,” and “Don’t Stop,” which was used by Bill Clinton’s campaign.
That’s the melodic pop version of Fleetwood Mac. That’s the band of Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham. The band that took the US by storm in the late seventies at a time when its tortured founder was getting electric shots straight to the brain in a psychiatric hospital in England. That is the Fleetwood Mac that, during its last tour, grossed 100 million dollars in North America alone.
And then, say the diehard fans, there’s ”the real Fleetwood Mac.” The authentic version. The non-commercial one. The artful one. The one seemingly born to fill the cliché, “I liked their earlier work a lot more.” Only in this case the earlier work really was entirely different. It was hewn from the fingers and soul of Peter Green and it worked magic on generations of musicians, long after Green himself turned his back on the chords and flitted into the shadows.
“During the seventies, we’d sit around in Tel Aviv and listen to albums. Sometimes for eight hours a day,” recalled Ofer Eckerling. “We’d have chill sessions and listen to music. I’m not even talking about playing music; listening was also a serious business back then. Not like today, where people listen to the first 16 beats and if they aren’t grabbed, they move on. We’d listen to music with utmost sincerity, for hours and hours a day. And that’s how I had tons of hours of Peter Green under my belt. And you hear in his guitar-playing so many things that you can’t even wrap your head around.”
“You hear in his guitar-playing so many things that you can’t even wrap your head around”
From March 1968 to May 1970 Green’s Fleetwood Mac had six songs in Britain’s Top Forty. Songs that redefined pop music. Songs that created an utterly new territory of sound that would later be poured over by many others.
The dreamy “Albatross” was ambient before the word became part of the music lexicon, post-rock decades before that term was invented. Green’s guitar travels along a deceptive beat, sad but vigorous, and you move along with it, perhaps on a stretch of Hawaiian beach, the clouds covering the sun for a moment, the regal albatross spreading its wings. Though it’s hard to believe, the track soared to the top of the charts in Britain — a number one, at a time when the list was dominated by the likes of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.
There was “Oh Well,” on which Green laid himself over a rusty coil of barbed wire and paved the way for the hard rock of Led Zeppelin. And there was “Black Magic Woman,” a song that Green wrote and sang, infusing the blues with a Latin American touch. Two years later, that song would jumpstart the international career of Carlos Santana, with whom it would be forever associated.
“Where did Peter Green even get those things from?” Eckerling wondered. “A Jewish kid from London, how’d he even find that sound? World music. Latin rock. And it flowed from his fingers in the most natural way. The coolest way. Without him having to yell it out. He was never like some of those other stars—c’mere, listen to me, check out what a genius I am. Or: listen to what a psycho I am. There was none of that with Green. With him it was always all clean. Pure, clean waters. That’s what you got with him.”
Whoever wants to hear what pure, clean waters sound like is welcome to go back to “Need Your Love So Bad,” from Fleetwood Mac’s first incarnation. A great cover of Little Willie John’s 1955 blues song, Green sings it sweet but not saccharine. Each touch of the strings produces a sound as lovely as a guitarist’s fingers can make. And it isn’t just the precision of the playing: it’s the silence between the notes that makes the music, too.
The deal with the devil
There’s no way to understand Peter Green’s story without touching on one of the formative myths of American Blues: the tale of Delta Blues musician Robert Johnson, who went down to the crossroads and cut a deal with the devil — his soul in exchange for otherworldly skills with the guitar. Johnson traveled the back roads of Mississippi at the height of the Jim Crow era and rose to fame. He recorded just 29 songs, and died under mysterious circumstances at age 27, the first member of rock n roll’s 27 Club.
According to the legend, Johnson made his deal with the devil at the intersection of Route 61 and Route 49 in Clarksdale, Mississippi, which has since become a lodestone to blues fans the world over. Decades after Johnson’s untimely death, Green, in tribute, would record an album of all of his songs.
It’s impossible to know when and how Green cut his deal with the devil. These are the sorts of agreements that are made at the dead of night, without witnesses, without trace. But from Green’s first moment on a public stage it was clear that he had been blessed with a Celestial gift, a gift that came with a hefty price tag. There was an internal tension within him that is hard to sustain over time; a modest, egoless personality that seemed to step into the searing lights of the sixties completely by mistake, just when the leading guitar soloists of the major bands were treated like gods that had stepped down from Olympus.
Green, and this was clear from the start, sought only the right sound. The feel. All the other fringe benefits — fame, money, sex, life in the fast lane and all the rest of that garbage — didn’t interest him. That’s why he himself called the band that he founded and led Fleetwood Mac—a combination of the names of the drummer, Mick Fleetwood, and the bassist, John McVie.
It was a wonderful gift, Mick Fleetwood told Rolling Stone in 2013. As if Green was “making sure that it was not his name on there: ‘No, I want this to be your band.’ I’m not so sure that Peter didn’t have a vision that one day, when he left, he didn’t want this thing to collapse.”
When things got bad and Green was called to keep his side of the devil’s bargain, Mick Fleetwood took over and led the band onwards. Asked to explain what his bandmate had gone through, Fleetwood, in the Rolling Stone article, described Green as “an East End lad with a chip on his shoulder — a Jewish boy who got beaten up [in school]. He got away from it,” the drummer suggested, “but it caught him up in the end when it all went wrong.”
In other words, if the African-American guitar heroes of the blues managed to infuse their music with the pain of slavery and segregation and discrimination, then Green brought to his blues the Jewish pain of exile and persecution and anti-Semitism.
Before it all went irredeemably wrong, Green managed to fulfill a childhood dream and play, on January 4, 1969, at the legendary Chess Record’s recording studios in Chicago, the beating heart of the American blues scene, with a dream team of musicians that included Buddy Guy, Shakey Horton and Willie Dixon. A pasty Jewish kid from London getting on the court with the likes of Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson and nailing threes all night long.
“Peter didn’t want to be a superstar guitar player,” Mick Fleetwood said many years later. “He was a team player.” That titanic struggle, waged within his soul, was further fueled by commercial doses of LSD, and each time he emerged intact from a trip it was clear that the guilt feelings continued to gnaw at him from within. Greenbaum, the haunted Jew, did not feel comfortable in Green’s guitar hero suit.
“Peter didn’t want to be a superstar guitar player,” Mick Fleetwood said many years later. “He was a team player”
Three days of wild partying at a posh villa in a German forest, during which he consumed surreal quantities of LSD and played for hours on end for tripped-out bourgeois Germans who urged him on, finished him. It was the journey from which he did not return. He turned his back on the ego trip and gave himself to the acid trip.
In April 1970, Green recorded his final song with Fleetwood Mac, a psychedelic masterpiece called “The Green Manalishi.” It’s hard to imagine that the person who played the delicate and airy “Albatross” a few years earlier was also responsible for this tortured, wounded, broken song. By the time “The Green Manalishi” cracked Britain’s top ten, Green had already left Fleetwood Mac for good.
“I want to lead a freer and more selfless life,” he told Rolling Stone after stepping away. “I’m not worried if it means I’ll fade from public view.”
This prophecy — or was it a wish? — was granted in full. Green was swallowed up in a world of hazy musical experimentation, psychiatric stress, and poverty. He refused to accept the money he had coming to him from the songs he wrote and albums he made and demanded instead that it be donated to the poor.
Green refused to accept royalties from the songs he wrote and albums he made and demanded instead that it be donated to the poor
The British press tried to catch up with him every once in a while. There was no internet and no social media. People could still disappear for long periods of time. There were reports that he was working as a gravedigger. He was spotted working as a janitor at a home for the aged. The New Musical Express weekly reported that he had joined an Israeli commune.
After the session in Tel Aviv Green would tell Kutner that he had come to Israel in the early seventies and worked as a volunteer on Kibbutz Mishmarot. But no one there, apparently, noticed that he was Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac. Shalom Hanoch, the Israeli musician born and raised on that kibbutz and a keen admirer of early Fleetwood Mac, said he’d never before heard that Green had been on Mishmarot. “If it happened in the early seventies, that was when I was in London, far from Israel and from the kibbutz,” he said. “But it’s good to know that the kibbutz attracted artists like that.”
The miracle of the Gibson Les Paul
No one knows why Green made his way to Israel in 1980. He was doing relatively well, having married and become a father (though he’d divorce within a year), and had even cut two modest solo albums, which included some nice songs that didn’t reach the pinnacles of the past.
Ofer Eckerling, who was then a young sound technician at Israel’s Army Radio, Galatz, remembered only that Green had visited the station.
“Kutner and I grabbed him for a conversation in the hall. I remember he had wildly long fingernails. I remember that Kutner and I, with typical Israeli chutzpah, asked him, ‘How can you play the guitar with fingernails like that?’ and he said, ‘I play like that.’ We said, ‘Can we see you play with those fingernails?’ And he agreed to come into the studio to play with some Israeli musicians. He actually didn’t come to the studio to record, but to show us that he could play with those long fingernails.”
“We said, ‘Can we see you play with those fingernails?’ And he agreed to come into the studio to play with some Israeli musicians”
Eckerling and Kutner quickly booked a spot at the Eshel studios on Frug Street, where some of the classics of Israeli rock were recorded. The studio had a giant recording room with a ceiling that was six-meters-high. “Things like that don’t exist anymore. It was like a giant hall, like Abbey Road, but in Tel Aviv,” Ekerling said.
Along with Yoram Lev, a young sound technician at Eshel, they scrambled to bring in Israeli players who might be able to play blues at a level that Green would be willing to join.
Yossi Buzin, a percussionist who played in some of the bands Eckerling was a part of, was called in to sit behind the drums. It took a while for all of them to remember who was on the bass, but, in the end, they decided that it was Kobi Hass, who’s been living in Canada in recent years and didn’t reply to the email I sent him.
The lion’s share of the work, it was clear, would fall to Shimon Holly, a gifted guitarist from Haifa who was in those days considered to be the best in Israel.
“In the late seventies scene in Haifa there were three great guitar players,” Ilan Lukatch, who played in one of Shimon Holly’s Haifa bands, said. “There was of course Mordi Farber, who was in his own class and later went on to play with Shalom Hanoch and Arik Einstein. There was Alon Adler, who was considered the quickest guitarist in the west. And there was Shimon Holly, who wasn’t so quick but he had the phrasing of a great bluesman.”
Shimon Holly brought Pima Shuster with him from Haifa. Shuster, an organist, had moved to Israel from the Soviet Union three years earlier and was a huge fan of Green’s. “Shimon was a blues musician at a crazy high level. I don’t think there was a blues guitarist to match him in Israel at the time,” Shuster said.
“Shimon was a phenom,” Eckerling said. “Had he been born in the US or the UK and played his cards right he could have made it to the very top. He had the personality and the talent and the bond with his guitar that was really rare to see. Everything he did was unique and original. And he was a true sweetheart.”
What his friends had no way of knowing at the time was that Holly, too, had apparently signed a deal with the devil. That would only be revealed a few years later.
In the meantime, there was one more thing, a matter of critical importance: getting Green a guitar. Green, they all knew, only played a Gibson Les Paul.
There was one more thing, a matter of critical importance: getting Green a guitar. Green, they all knew, only played a Gibson Les Paul
The electric guitar that he’d played through all of his years with Fleetwood Mac was a 1959 Les Paul that was called Greeny. He’d flipped the guitar’s pickup and produced his own unique sound. After leaving the band, Green sold the guitar to the Irish guitarist Gary Moore. In 1995 Moore made an entire album of Green’s songs and entitled it “Blues for Greeny.” That guitar is owned today by Kirk Hammett, Metallica’s lead guitarist.
Luckily, it turned out that Shimon Holly, who ordinarily played a Fender Stratocaster, had a Les Paul. Indeed, there was a lot of luck involved.
“Shimon’s Fender Stratocaster was a clinically awesome guitar,” Ilan Lukatch said. When we were still kids, 15-16 years old, he was a few years older. You know what it was like back then for us to see a real Fender? Who could afford that king of thing back then? But every time we told him, ‘Your Strat, what an awesome guitar,’ he’d say, ‘forget that, I used to have a Les Paul, you don’t even know what kind of an incredible guitar that is. But someone stole it.’ He played at weddings at the time and at the end of a wedding he went to take a leak or something and when he got back — no guitar.
“One day I walk into the store of this ancient guy who used to fix guitars in the passage of the Ron Theater in Haifa. I’d go by his place every once in a while, because you could sometimes stumble onto real finds over there. The guy didn’t have a clue. So I’m there in his store and this guy with a beard comes in holding a Gibson Les Paul and he asks the guy to put on a pickguard. In those days, you know, you couldn’t just buy a new pickguard on eBay. I see a real Gibson and get excited. I ask if I can play the guitar and it’s got a dream setup. A guitar that practically plays itself.
“A few days later I bump into Shimon and tell him that a few days earlier I played a Les Paul that plays even better than his Fender and I notice that Shimon is starting to show some signs of agitation. He asks me, ‘You see anything else unusual about the guitar?’ I tell him, ‘yeah, it’s missing the pickguard.’
“Shimon got even paler. He asked if there were any other marks on the guitar. I said yes, on the back there were marks that looked like some idiot had tried to imprint the Mercedes symbol or something. Shimon practically had an epileptic fit. He turned away, pulled out a shoebox with a Les Paul pickguard and a Mercedes hood ornament. And pictures of him with the guitar.
“But good luck trying to find the guy. I remembered that the guy had said that during the war — the Yom Kippur War, that is — he’d played with Dani Litani. Turned out that right around then Shimon was playing with Dani Litani, so he asked him who his guitarist had been during the war. Then Shimon went over to that guy and said, ‘Listen, that guitar was stolen off of me and I’ve got proof of it. Give it back to me and I’ll give you some sort of compensation.’ The guy sent him packing. So Shimon went to the cops and they came to the guy and took the guitar. It sat in the police cellars for around a year.
“Shimon wasn’t sleeping at nights. He kept saying, ‘It probably floods down there each time it rains. My guitar is floating around there.’ He wouldn’t calm down. For months. Until finally the police gave him back the guitar.”
And that’s how Shimon Holly showed up on that southbound train from Haifa with a Gibson Les Paul that plays itself. Just the sort that Peter Green loved.
An enchanted night at the Eshel
“We showed up at the studios at around ten,” Yossi Buzin recalled, “and Peter Green came not long afterwards. He was very introverted. He was wearing a sort of jellabiya, off-white, with turquoise stripes. He hardly spoke. Sat there very quietly. “
Back then, the Eshel had a recording console that Tommy Friedman, one of the founding fathers of Israeli audio, had built with his own hands. It was an eight-track Ampex recording console. “That was one of the first recordings I ever did,” Yoram Lev recalled. “I was a young sound technician. I’d come to the Eshel studios shortly before, in the winter of ’79, and started working as an assistant sound technician. Every now and then they let me record audio. Sometimes I’d book the studio on Friday-Saturday and bring a young crowd down to jam. Really not much. And then all of a sudden Peter Green is in my studio!”
Yoav Kutner: “I remember looking at Green and seeing a man without any joy of life. The depression on him was visible. He was extinguished.”
Fima Shuster: “Green stayed in the control room and we went in to play in the live room. We said to ourselves, yallah, we’ll play some blues and tempt him, till he gets hooked. We also brought him a carton of beer. Shimon (Holly) played his Fender and I sat down at the Fender Rhodes [electronic organ] that they had at the studio. And we put Shimon’s Les Paul on a stand right in front of Green in the control room.
“We’re playing in the live room and he’s sort of sitting there by the control console, on the other side of the glass, and Shimon’s Les Paul is right in front of him. And he’s looking at it. And we’re just waiting for him to not be able to resist anymore and to pick it up and come join us. We’re playing and trying to entice him. Signaling, ‘C’mon, join us,’ and he’s like, ‘no, no.’ He doesn’t even want to jam. In the end we managed to convince him and he came in.”
Ofer Eckerling: “What floored me is that the second he picked up that guitar you immediately heard that this was fucking Peter Green! He didn’t have to acclimatize. He didn’t need the lights dimmed. He didn’t need the reverb turned up, or any of that stuff that happens in studio. The second he picked up that guitar, from the very first chord, it was him. Like a spectacular fan, it just opened right up in your face. His accent. His touch. The color.
“I’ve worked with tons and tons of gifted artists. I’ve worked with basically every single respected [rock] musician in Israel. And I’ve never heard anything like this. His sound pierced the air. A sort of waterfall that flooded everything. The softness. The touch of his fingers on the strings. Everything was just so. It was a purifying feeling. The certainty. The ability to serve up your personality on the spot. As far as I was concerned it was a formative experience. I felt that I was touching the purest thing at the pinnacle of music. So precise. So clear. So lucid. It was a shock. He played like an angel in white. Like a white swan floating across some pond.”
Yoram Lev: “He brought inspiration to the studio. All of a sudden all of the guys who were playing with him, whose style I knew, you could feel them drawn towards him. The way his control, his energy, caused them to play at a different level. They didn’t even know they were capable of playing like that. When people at that level play alongside you, you sometimes get there, too. That’s what happened to the musicians in the studio that night. I never heard them play so calmly, so rightly. They never played like that before.”
Ofer Eckerling: “It was like a religious ceremony. Something that was entirely pure. Entirely clean. And that from a man who turned out to be a schizophrenic. Apparently, for him the guitar was a therapeutic tool. The guitar and the music. Maybe it was a soothing pill for him. He had a gentle soul. Not a rock star.”
Yossi Buzin: “Usually when young musicians play with someone greater than they are, they try and impress him and show him, ‘Here, we can do that too. We know this and we know that.’ But when he started playing — it was as though he was telling us, now look here, and see how it can be played differently. If you listen to his guitar, the notes are so soft. So round. They don’t cut, don’t bang. All of a sudden, that set everything in order.
“I remember playing and Fima making this sort of movement with his head, like, ‘Wow.’ And I indicated back, ‘Oh yeah.’ I felt myself change while playing. It took me to a different place. I suddenly started using the cymbals while playing, to create a sort of sea-like atmosphere. And that’s what he was looking for. He opened his eyes and looked over and you could see the confirmation in his eyes, a ‘Yeah, that’s what I was looking for.’ And then we just played.”
Yoram Lev: “At some stage or other, when they took a little break, I went over to Green and said, sort of carefully, ‘Hey, would you mind if I recorded?’ And he said, Record. No problem.’ I put a tape in—and we recorded.”
Peter Green at Eshel Studios, December 25, 1980
Epilogue I: The devil demands his share
It’s unclear how much Yoram Lev managed to capture on tape that night. Yossi Buzin is sure to this day that he got enough material to make a great double album. “I’m telling you, I had close to two hours of music. I gave Yigal Israeli, who had a studio on Pinsker, a quarter-inch [reel of] tape [with the tracks as recorded in studio. ABD]. To my great dismay he forgot it there and it was thrown out. It’s simply a crime. There was enough for a whole album there. Even a double album. It is so distressing to me. To this day. Every time I think about it, it kills me.”
Yoram Lev — who was in charge of the recording that night — remembers it a bit differently. “I kept the quarter-inch tape. Then Dov Zaira, from the Taklit Haifa label, turned to me. He’d heard about the recording and said he wanted to make it into an album, but he wasn’t willing to pay. He wanted it for free. So I didn’t give it to him. The tape stayed with me and then after some time I really did give it to Yigal Israeli, who I used to play with. He asked for the tape, I don’t remember why, and after some time it turned out that the tape was gone.
“Luckily, I’d recorded it onto a cassette tape. The recording that remains, the one that Kutner sometimes plays at nights, that’s the recording of the audio that I made. Yossi Buzin is wrong if he thinks there are more tracks. They really did jam a lot more in the studio. That’s true. But from the moment I asked Green for permission to record, they only did two more tracks. One in a major blues scale and one in a minor blues scale, and those are the only two tracks that remain.”
And lucky that they do, because they prove that what was described earlier — the inspired playing, the purity, the singularity, the gentle touch on the strings, the manner in which the young Israeli musicians rose to the occasion in the presence of the master, playing like they had never played before — all happened. The track in a major blues scale is called, as is written on the cassette box, “Wandering the Streets.” It clocks in at 6:30. The minor blues scale track is called “Sometimes I’m Sad” and it runs 8:23. All told, a quarter-hour of bewitching sadness.
A single, and of course blurry, picture remains from that night. No one can remember who took it. It features Green and Shimon Holly facing one another, a Fender Stratocaster opposite a Gibson Les Paul, and Fima Shuster in the back on the Fender Rhodes.
Peter Green returned to Israel two more times. In 1983 he played at the Dan Movie Theater in Tel Aviv. “It was terribly sad,” Kutner said. “His mental illness made him look like a leaf in the wind. He was pudgy, but he was also hunched over. He had no strength. And if I’m not mistaken, it was his brother who played all of the solos that night. After all, Green had schizophrenia and at some stage he moved in with his brother, who took care of all of his affairs. During that performance he was barely functioning. Although when he sang, he was wonderful. But he was no longer able to play.”
Two years later he came to Israel again to take part in the Festival of Stars at Ramat Gan Stadium — a three-day event that was supposed to showcase international stars like the British band Marillion, Alvin Lee, Joe Cocker, Sally Oldfield and many others. Corinne Alal, at the behest of the festival organizers, recorded the song “Shir B’kef” for the event and sang it at the dismal opening performance.
The crowd didn’t come. The organizers had hoped for 50,000 fans and barely managed to sell 5,000 tickets. The festival turned into one of the greatest failures in the history of Israeli event management. Most of the performances were cancelled. The organizer went bankrupt and fled the country. The festival was cut to a single day. And thus Green found himself on stage in the flaming hot afternoon hours of August 1985 playing the blues before a stadium of empty seats.
Ten years later, in the mid-nineties, Moshe Zonder, Eran Riklis and I meant to pay our respects to Green; we inserted a scene in the movie “Vulcan Junction” in which a fictional Peter Green shows up at the pub Vulcan Junction (“the best live-music pub east of the Mississippi”) and joins the main characters on stage for a jam session. We got an actor to play Green, filmed the scene, and legendary Israeli guitarist Haim Romano recorded a blues jam in a Green style. In the end, the scene wasn’t a good fit; it was cut on the editing floor.
Six months ago, on February 25, 2020, Mick Fleetwood organized a Peter Green tribute concert at the Palladium in London. Artists who said Green had changed their lives got on stage one after another: David Gilmour of Pink Floyd, Noel Gallagher of Oasis, Pete Townsend of The Who, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, Bill Wyman of The Rolling Stones, and Kirk Hammett of Metallica, who played on the original Greeny. Green himself didn’t show. The giant concert was one of the last big productions before the curtain of corona fell on live performances across the world.
That’s the way it rolls when you make deals with the devil: the quarter-inch tape from the Eshel studios disappears. The festival you’re taking part in bombs and goes bankrupt. The movie scene made in your honor gets left on the editing floor. The tribute concert is held a moment before a mysterious virus arrives and paralyzes the world. And then you die.
Epilogue II: The story of Shimon Holly
Ofer Eckerling stayed on in the music scene. The night after the Eshel studio session he recorded “I Don’t Want To Go To Zambia” – a smash hit that was part of his first solo album. He wrote “The Game is Fixed” for Israeli superstar singer Rita, and founded a successful recording studio of his own, where he made albums for many leading Israeli artists, including Arkadi Duchin, Berry Sakharov, Meir Banai and Avraham Tal.
Yossi Buzin continued drumming, recording and performing live, and founded Professional Drum Store, “a boutique company that makes high-quality, personally designed drums.”
Yoram Lev remained in the recording studios until the nineties, at which point he started an acoustics consulting firm.
Fima Shuster became famous as part of the band Stella Maris. After it broke up, he went back to Haifa and started to work at the musical instrument store Klei Zemer.
Yoav Kutner was and remains the most important music editor in Israel.
But the trail of Shimon Holly appeared to have run cold. None of the other guys knew what he was up to these days.
Yoav Kutner: “I don’t know what his situation is. I heard that he’s really in a bad way. Every few years he sends me the same recordings, as though they were new. It’s really sad.”
Fima Shuster: “He sometimes swings by the Klei Zemer store here in Haifa. I see him once in a while. He buys guitar strings at my store. He’s drifting. Hard to know what he’s up to. He burnt CDs with that Peter Green recording and he walks around and sells them here on the streets of Haifa.”
Ilan Lukatch: “Two or three years ago, I happened to play with Holly again at one of those pubs that have blues jams on Fridays. I hadn’t seen him for around forty years. It’s incredible he’s still alive. He and Keith Richards both. I just read today that someone wrote that it’s scary to think what sort of world we’re going to be leaving to Keith Richards. On the same principle: It’s scary to think what sort of world we’re going to be leaving to Shimon Holly.
“I’ve seen him in a bad way. In the eighties he went to Europe in search of success or something and he came back a wiped-out junkie. As though his brain had been somehow rebooted. For years he’d walk around the beaches of Haifa looking for cigarette butts to smoke. He’d be on the streets harassing people about his cassette tape with Peter Green.”
Shimon Holly doesn’t have so much as a cellphone. But when I caught up with him in his small apartment in Haifa, he was excited to talk about that evening.
“It was real good,” he said. “We played just like that, tak-tak, no rehearsals or nothing. After we were done, I asked Green what he though of my playing. He said he liked it. He had a hoarse sort of voice. I’m selling that recording to this day. You want me to send you one? Now that I heard that Green has died, I’m thinking about bringing it out to the world. You know someone who could get it out there, on eBay, or something, or wherever possible? People in Japan haven’t heard of it. What, they won’t want a disc like that?”
Course they will. Who in the world wouldn’t want a disc like that — capturing a night in which a brilliant guitarist who sold his soul to the devil on the delta of the Thames played alongside a brilliant guitarist who sold his soul to the devil on the delta of the Kishon, and the two looked each other in the eyes and played the blues.