Peter Green has managed to restart a career that took serious detours years ago. As the leader of Fleetwood Mac, the UK's fiercest blues outfit, Green became fed up with the fame, the money, and the insistent demands of labels suits that ordered many bands to record material that was sometimes sub-par, at best. After leaving the band he started, Fleetwood Mac moved operations to the United States, and became one of the biggest selling groups of the late 1970's and early 80's. A far cry from where Peter was trying to go with blues, Mac managed gold and platinum status by pumping out hook-laden syrup with catchy lyrics. After years of recluse, forced hospitalization, drugs to keep him on an even keel, and severe depression, Peter Green returned to front the Splinter Group, a savvy bunch of blues players from far shores, and is now enjoying the fruits of his labor of love.
"Me & The Devil" is a 3-CD set from Snapper Music that combines the Splinter Group's two individual discs of Robert Johnson's songs, and a third disc that collects all 29 original recordings of the blues legend, Robert Johnson himself (minus the outtakes on Columbia's 1990 two-disc set). Disc Two in this set is actually the first CD released by Green and the Splinters, "The Robert Johnson Songbook," specifically cut in an attempt to give listeners some insight where Johnson's music may have been just prior to his death in August of 1938. Thought to have been playing with small combos including drummers and piano players, the "Songbook" takes that approach, and while other tries of this sort have been mostly lame and lacking taste, Green and his cohorts succeed by holding respect for the artistry of Johnson. Containing 16 tracks, including "32-20 Blues," "Terraplane Blues," Ramblin' On My Mind," "Sweet Home Chicago," and others, the band fires through the proceedings holding a steady base for Peter's whiskey-soaked sounding voice, solid guitar, and plaintive harp work.
Disc One is the fine "Songbook" follow-up titled "Hot Foot Powder" which collected the 13 remaining titles of Johnson's into another standout recording. Joined by Buddy Guy, Joe Louis Walker, Otis Rush, and Honeyboy Edwards, a running buddy and playing partner of Robert's who was with him the night he became severely ill, "Hot Foot Powder" is another glowing release. Again approached with respect and reverance, as well as a stellar lineup of guests, they tackle "Cross Road Blues," "Preachin' Blues," "I'm A Steady Rollin' Man," "Traveling Riverside Blues," and nine others. The guests play understated and offer excellent support while Green and the Splinter Group lay the rhythms down and get to the heart of Robert Johnson's music.
Disc Three is Johnson's work from two separate recording sessions in Texas in 1936 and '37, and offers the listener a chance to compare Green's recent work to Johnson's in easy fashion. Sound quality is exceptional due to the fact that original masters for Robert's recordings were found in good shape years ago. Delta artists like Son House, Charley Patton, and others, who influenced Johnson, left little in the way of clear sound recordings to work with. Many of their surviving 78's are in poor shape and little can be done to subtract any more of the surface noise without disturbing the original sound.
Limited to the original 10,000 copies pressed, "Me & The Devil Blues" is a wonderful piece of work that will add more to Peter Green's long list of contributions to blues. Lenghty and detailed liner notes, fine photography, and smart packaging, are a bonus... I'd have tracked this down in a plain white wrapper if I'd had to. Peter Green's career is is fine shape, and from his earliest recordings with the Looners, to now, he remains a force to be reckoned with. www.snappermusic.com has more information.
This review is copyright © 2001 by Craig Ruskey, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.