Hello there! Our song this week is Black Magic Woman. This is a very fine R&B song written by guitarist Peter Green. We will review the original performed by Fleetwood Mac. We will then discuss a cover version by Carlos Santana, and a reggae-style cover by Dennis Brown.
Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, Black Magic Woman:
In 1965, when I moved to Oxford to begin graduate school, I was eager to see some of the exciting “British Invasion” groups. People soon told me that if I wanted to hear some rhythm & blues, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers were one of the “must-see” bands.
Many of the finest blues players in the world participated in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. His ensemble was like an incubator for promising young musicians.
Think about it: at one time or another, Mayall’s band included Eric Clapton, Mick Taylor (the Rolling Stones) and Peter Green (Fleetwood Mac) on guitar; Jack Bruce (Cream) and John McVie (Fleetwood Mac) on bass; Paul Butterfield (Butterfield Blues Band) on harmonica; and scores of other great artists.
One of the characteristics of Mayall’s band was the high turnover in its members. So I am embarrassed that I can’t remember exactly who was in the lineup when I caught them in 1966, although I am quite certain that Eric Clapton was not the lead guitarist at that time.
I can’t remember whether Peter Green was the lead guitarist for Mayall when I saw them, or whether the Bluesbreakers were in the transition period between Clapton and Green. My guess is that the band may well have included Mick Fleetwood on drums and John McVie on bass.
In any case, Peter Green was born Peter Greenbaum in October 1946. In the early 60s, he was a member of various British blues bands. He met Mick Fleetwood in 1966 when Green was playing with a group called Peter B’s Looners.
Green then joined the Bluesbreakers as their lead guitarist in mid-1966. About a year later, Green and Fleetwood left Mayall’s band to form their own blues combo. Shortly thereafter, John McVie joined the group. At this time, the band chose the name “Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac featuring Jeremy Spencer.” “Fleetwood Mac” was a mashup of the names of Fleetwood and McVie.
The group consisted of Mick Fleetwood, John McVie and two guitarists – Peter Green on lead guitar and Jeremy Spencer on slide guitar. In 1969 the group added a third guitarist, Danny Kirwan. The band initially played covers of classic blues songs; however, Green soon began writing original songs for the group.
Below is the 1969 version of Fleetwood Mac. From L: Danny Kirwan; John McVie; Peter Green; Jeremy Spencer; Mick Fleetwood. Note the robe that Green is wearing; this will be mentioned later in our blog post.
Peter Green was an extraordinary guitarist and a darn good songwriter. In particular, a number of Green’s songs transformed Fleetwood Mac from a classic blues cover band to one that featured more creative power-pop tunes.
One of the songs Peter Green wrote for Fleetwood Mac was Black Magic Woman. The song describes a man infatuated with a woman who is reputed to be proficient in the dark arts.
I got a black magic woman
Got me so blind I can’t see
That she’s a black magic woman
She’s tryin’ to make a devil out of me.
Don’t turn your back on me baby
Don’t turn your back on me baby
Yes, don’t turn your back on me baby
Stop messin’ round with your tricks
Don’t turn your back on me baby
You just might pick up my magic sticks.
Fleetwood Mac released Black Magic Woman as a single in 1968. The song was a modest hit in Britain, reaching #37 on the UK Singles charts. For quite a while it was a favorite with Fleetwood Mac, being performed in concert for some time even after Green had left the group.
Here is a clip of Fleetwood Mac, with Peter Green on lead guitar, in a live performance of Black Magic Woman.
This took place in 1970 at the South Boston venue the Boston Tea Party. The Boston Tea Party was a favorite location for rock performances from 1967 until 1971. At that point it closed, because it could no longer compete with the arenas and outdoor stadiums that were hosting large rock concerts during that period.
This is a very interesting version of Black Magic Woman. Initially, it starts out as a twelve-bar blues tune, rather similar to Carlos Santana’s cover of the song. However, after a couple of verses it segues into an interesting blues jam, featuring some very creative guitar licks by Peter Green.
However, I find the video to be curious and unsatisfying. Although we get closeups of Fleetwood, McVie and Kirwan playing, the cameraman focuses exclusively on Peter Green’s face. As a result, we see nothing of Green’s guitar technique. In addition, is it just my imagination or are exactly the same clips repeated several times during this video?
Peter Green is a very under-appreciated musician. His guitar technique was often stunning. In 1996, Mojo magazine rated him the third-best guitarist of all time. Guitar legends such as Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and B.B. King mentioned Green as one of the greatest guitarists they had encountered.
So why do so few people know about Peter Green and his music?
First, the ‘Peter Green’ incarnation of Fleetwood Mac lasted for only a few years. Green left that band in May 1970, and for a short time he pursued a solo career.
However, Green’s most serious issues were his psychological problems, which were exacerbated by his continuing struggle with drug addiction. Green had been a heavy user of cocaine in the late 60s. But his subsequent introduction to LSD was associated with dramatic mental health problems.
In retrospect, it was an ominous sign when Green grew a beard and began wearing robes with a crucifix, as seen in the photo above. Green was later diagnosed with schizophrenia, spent a fair amount of time in mental hospitals, and was treated with electro-shock therapy. This continued through the remainder of the 70s.
Peter Green returned to performing in the 1980s, with limited commercial success. He did contribute some unattributed guitar licks to the 1979 Fleetwood Mac double album Tusk.
After Peter Green left Fleetwood Mac in 1970, the band experienced a chaotic few years. They brought in a number of new members, many of whom left after a short period of time. However, one new recruit who stuck around was vocalist and keyboard player Christine Perfect, who subsequently married John McVie and became Christine McVie.
The nadir for the band occurred in 1974, when the group’s manager Clifford Davis assembled a fake Fleetwood Mac. He brought in an entirely new group of musicians, and sent them on tour as ‘Fleetwood Mac.’
Davis told the musicians that the other members of the band had quit, but that Mick Fleetwood and Christine McVie would be joining them shortly. This was a lie, and the ‘fake’ band soon dissolved. However, it took Fleetwood and McVie a year to re-gain the rights to the band’s name.
However, at the very end of 1974, Fleetwood Mac re-formed. Mick Fleetwood persuaded American guitarist Lindsey Buckingham to join the group. Buckingham agreed, provided that his girlfriend and musical partner Stephanie (Stevie) Nicks was also brought aboard.
This produced the “classic lineup” of Fleetwood Mac. That group has been together off and on for the past forty years. The band has weathered an enormous amount of personal chaos to become one of the best-selling pop groups in the world.
Fleetwood Mac contined to perform until a couple of years ago. Our suggestion to them: “Don’t Stop.”
Santana, Black Magic Woman:
Carlos Santana is one of the greatest guitar players of our time. He was born in Mexico in July 1947, and he was taught violin and guitar at a young age by his father, a mariachi musician.
Santana’s family moved to Tijuana and then to San Francisco, where Carlos graduated from high school. Although he was accepted into college, he chose instead to pursue a career in music.
Carlos began to sit in with a number of groups in the San Francisco area in the 60s. His music was extremely eclectic. Santana developed a unique blues guitar style that incorporated Latin rhythms, jazz, and African music.
Below is a photo of the band Santana performing at the Altamont Speedway in Dec. 1969. From L: David Brown, bass; Michael Shrieve, drums; Carlos Santana, guitar.
Santana’s first big break involved a great deal of good fortune. Carlos knew a number of musicians who were associated with Bill Graham’s Fillmore West auditorium. One Sunday in 1966, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band was scheduled to perform at Fillmore West, but Butterfield turned up too drunk to perform.
Graham and his associates scrambled to assemble an impromptu group to jam in Butterfield’s place, and Carlos Santana was invited to join this band. Santana’s guitar work was sufficiently impressive that he subsequently formed a group, the Santana Blues Band; this was soon shortened to “Santana.” Original members of this band were bassist David Brown, Marcus Malone on percussion, and Gregg Rolie on lead vocals and keyboards.
When the list of performers for the Woodstock Festival was assembled in 1969, Bill Graham pushed hard for Santana to be included, despite the fact that the group had not yet released an album.
Well, Graham was vindicated when Santana’s performance at Woodstock was a revelation. In particular, the band’s 11-minute instrumental performance of Soul Sacrifice was a highlight of both the Festival and the Woodstock concert movie.
His performance at Woodstock made Santana an overnight sensation. Santana became famous for his ability to sustain beautiful, clear notes, and to combine those with electrifying runs and trills.
Here is a video clip of a very youthful Carlos Santana in a live performance of Black Magic Woman.
This took place in 1971, just a few months following the release of Santana’s single record. Black Magic Woman was a smash hit for Santana, eventually reaching #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. The song was included on the album Abraxas, which spent 6 weeks at #1 on the Billboard album list, and which remained on the charts for an astonishing 88 weeks.
Santana’s cover of Peter Green’s Black Magic Woman transforms that song into a Latin-infused pop tune that incorporates African rhythms. His work reminds me of a mash-up where “Tito Puente meets Jimi Hendrix.”
A distinctive feature of Santana’s music was the exceptional percussion work from multiple drummers and congas. This is a real highlight of this piece.
Santana combined the Peter Green song by finishing up with the instrumental tune Gypsy Queen by Gabor Szabo. Szabo was a major influence on the young Carlos Santana, who found inspiration in Szabo’s combination of jazz and gypsy influences.
And here is a later video of Santana performing Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen.
I believe that this video marks an historic occasion, the 1998 induction of the original Santana band into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Accompanying Santana on guitar is Peter Green. He is the person playing second guitar lead along with Carlos. This is a gracious touch, as after all Peter Green wrote the song.
Green himself was also inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1998. He was brought in together with original Fleetwood Mac bandmates Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Jeremy Spencer and Danny Kirwan. The newer Fleetwood Mac members Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie were also inducted. Although Green sat in with Santana, he did not play with his old FM mates at this ceremony.
Santana’s cover of Black Magic Woman so overshadowed the original Peter Green/Fleetwood Mac version that whenever Fleetwood Mac played the tune in concert, they felt obliged to inform the audience that, by the way, Fleetwood Mac had actually written and first performed that song.
It’s kind of sad for Peter Green when his best-known song becomes so associated with a different group that the original version is more or less forgotten.
After Santana’s first few blockbuster albums, Carlos embarked on a long and illustrious career. He was incessantly pushing the envelope of rock ‘n roll, first bringing Latin and African influences into his music, and later focusing on jazz fusion.
In the mid-70s, Santana became interested in the work of John McLaughlin of The Mahavishnu Orchestra. At this time, McLaughlin introduced Santana and his wife Deborah to spiritual guru Sri Chimnoy, and they became followers of Chimnoy.
Santana then turned his focus to jazz fusion with overtones of spirituality inspired by Chimnoy. Although that work received critical acclaim, album sales plummeted. Furthermore, there was extensive turnover in band members; Santana’s Latin power-pop bandmates left as the move towards jazz fusion intensified.
Tension between the Santanas and Sri Chimnoy increased, as the couple became concerned that the guru was micro-managing their life. The spiritual lifestyle was largely incompatible with life as a rock musician, and in addition Carlos and Deborah were upset that Chimnoy refused to allow them to start a family. Eventually the Santanas split with Chimnoy.
In the past few decades, Carlos Santana has cemented his reputation as one of the great living guitarists. He has collaborated on records with a large and eclectic group of musicians, including Booker T. Jones, Willie Nelson, Herbie Hancock, ‘roots’ blues guitarist John Lee Hooker and Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart.
I caught Carlos Santana live in concert in about 2010. It was a thrilling performance – he played most of his old classic hits from the 60s and 70s, together with a number of his newer songs.
The band was in great form. In addition to the usual bass, drums and rhythm guitar, Santana included conga drummers, backup singers, and a full-throated horn section.
Carlos, keep on trucking!
Dennis Brown, Black Magic Woman:
I knew nothing of Dennis Brown before deciding to include him in this post. So I was greatly surprised to learn that he had released 75 albums during his brief lifetime, and that he was Bob Marley’s favorite reggae performer.
Dennis Brown was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1957. He was something of a child prodigy. A fan of crooners such as Nat King Cole and Dean Martin, Brown began performing professionally at age eleven.
Following that, Brown would regularly appear as an opening act for American pop tours of Jamaica, where he was billed as “The Boy Wonder.” At age twelve, Brown issued a single No Man Is An Island, which became a bit hit in Jamaica.
Below is a photo of Dennis Brown, taken in London in 1980.
By the time he was 15, Dennis Brown was a seasoned veteran performer. He gained substantial exposure on international tours, and collaborated with a number of Jamaican reggae groups.
There seemed to be a recurring theme in Dennis Brown’s career. He recorded for a number of different record companies. A large number of these companies subsequently went bankrupt. This had a significant negative impact on Brown’s recognition as a performer, but it had an even larger effect on his finances.
When record companies went bust, their albums tended to be absorbed into the inventory of other companies. It appears that Brown (along with many other artists) was not fairly compensated by his new companies.
Here is a video clip of Dennis Brown performing Black Magic Woman.
The video was advertised as “Dennis Brown Black Magic Woman live.” I must quibble with that. We hear the audio of Brown’s reggae-styled version of Black Magic Woman. The clip alternates between just the audio of the song (accompanied by several shots of a mysterious bikini-clad model, and what appears to be a Greek temple floating in the clouds?), and bits of live performances by Brown.
The video clips of Dennis Brown are extremely interesting, as it was not easy to obtain shots of Brown performing live. However, it is not at all clear that Brown is singing “Black Magic Woman” in those clips.
Dennis Brown has a lovely voice, but I was not all that impressed with his cover of Black Magic Woman. He turns it into a slow reggae jam, accompanied by some rather pedestrian and repetitive guitar licks.
In the late 1990s, Dennis Brown’s health deteriorated dramatically. He developed serious respiratory issues, which were exacerbated by his struggles with addiction to cocaine. In May 1999, he became ill during a tour of Brazil, and was diagnosed with pneumonia.
In June 1999 he returned to Jamaica, where he was admitted to hospital in Kingston suffering from cardiac arrest. On July 1, 1999, Dennis Brown died from a collapsed lung. He was just 42 years old.
Both the current and former Prime Ministers of Jamaica spoke at Brown’s funeral, and he was interred in Jamaica’s National Heroes Park.
In April 2010, Dennis Brown was one of the artists saluted in an NPR program called 50 Great Voices. Others honored on that program included Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald and Mahalia Jackson. In August 2011, the Governor-General of Jamaica conferred on Dennis Brown the Order of Distinction.