Peter Green and Michael Bloomfield are two of my absolute favorite guitarists, and I have studied them both extensively. They were both incredible players and at the core, I believe they took a fairly similar approach. Bloomers always seemed to have a little more intensity and a harder attack whereas Peter used a very light touch and had perhaps slightly more dynamic range overall.
Both are famous Les Paul players who plugged into very clean / loud amplifiers (Peter obviously had a bit more dirt early on with the JTM-45 in the Bluesbreakers and Orange/Matamp GT120). But I feel like the quintessential Green / Bloomfield tone is just a Les Paul plugged into a Fender Twin Reverb / Dual Showman Reverb / Super Reverb, basically anything with that old tried and true AB763 circuit. No pedals, no real dirt. Loud, clean, and dynamic, with a lot of volume / tone / pickup selection work on the guitar and variations in touch / attack.
Peter is obviously famous for the out-of-phase tone in Fleetwood Mac, but I really think it’s his phrasing that sets him apart from all the rest. He didn’t have the out-of-phase pickups when he was in the Bluesbreakers, yet his work from that era is as stunning, if not more so at times, than his later work.
The key to their approach is just the simplicity of it all. I think it’s very important to understand what key you are working in, the intervals relative to the root note that you’ll have to choose from, and what chords you are going to be working with. If you know the chords you’re working with, you can choose to solo “inside the chord” where you use notes that are in the chord itself, or “outside of the chord”, which use notes from the parent key but not necessarily from the chord you are playing over.
For example, if you are playing a dominant blues in the key of A. You’ll be soloing over the I (A7), the IV (D7), and the V (E7). The main scale you will work from is the A Minor Pentatonic or A Blues scale. The minor pentatonic will be the basic 5 tone scale of the root (R), the minor 3rd (b3), the perfect 4th (4), the perfect 5th (5), and the flat 7th (b7). When we add in the blue note / diminished 5th (b5), you get the 6 tone blues scale. So there’s the basics, but to make your blues sound more like Green / Bloomfield (who were basically emulating guys like B.B. King, Freddie King, and Otis Rush ) you need to actually mix in some tones from the A Major Pentatonic Scale. Those additional notes are the major 3rd (M3), the major 6th (M6), and the major 2nd (M2).
Now the interesting thing is, it doesn’t matter how you get to any of these tones. You can play them directly or you can bend to them or you can slide into them, but you’ll want to be conscious of what the underlying chord and let that be your guide at times. Sometimes I really focus on that, and sometimes I just play. Truthfully, it all sounds good, but I think both Peter and Michael were very aware of what chords they were playing over.
So let’s think about each note in turn and what you can bend them to:
root (R) – Can be bent up to the M2 or b3, but I just don’t feel like it’s something they did that a lot. Clapton did it a bunch, however.
minor 3rd (b3) – Bends nicely into the M3 (half step), the quintessential blues move, and also to the 4 (full setup) and also to the b5 (step and a half) and also to the 5 (2 full steps). You can’t go wrong when you bend the heck out of the b3 over a dominant blues. The old blues guys did it a lot.
perfect 4th (p4) – you can bend this guy into the b5 (half step), and also into the 5(full step)
perfect fifth (p5) – bends into the M6 (full step) — the standard BB king move, works great over the IV chord since that note will be the M3 of the IV chord — and also bends to the b7 (step and a half) which is great for some dissonance
flat 7th (b7) – bends up to the root (full step) and on occasion up to the M2 (two full steps).
flat 5th (b5) – more of a passing tone. I don’t feel like this note actually gets bent a lot. Although it does work as a half step bend up to the 5
major 3rd (M3) – this note doesn’t get bent in my playing, but guys like Albert King and SRV will bend it up to the 4 (half step).
major 2nd (M2) – this is a great note to bent up to the b3 or to the M3.
major 6th (M6) – this note doesn’t get bent much in my playing. Could be bent up a half step to the b7. As mentioned earlier, this note will be the M3 of the IV chord, so playing it (or bending the 5 up one step to create it) will sound great over the IV.
It’s always good to be aware of what chord you are playing over. Some guys will stay away from the M3 (of the parent key) when playing over the IV because it sort of contrasts the chord, other guys just play right over it. It’s always good to know where the R, 5, M3, and b7 of each chord is when you are playing over it.
I – you’ve got the R, the 5, the M3, and the b7 as we’ve discussed before
IV – the 4 is the root of this chord, the R is the perfect 5th of the chord, the M6 is the major 3rd of this chord, and the b3 is the flat 7th of this chord
V – the 5 is the root of this chord, the M2 is the perfect 5th of the chord, the M7 (we haven’t discussed this one) is the major 3rd of this chord, and the 4 is the flat 7th of this chord. It’s really cool to throw in the M7 or a half step bend from the b7 to the M7 over this chord.
That should give you an idea of what you can play over each chord and the basics of chord tone soloing. It’s always nice to kind of switch between major and minor and mix them. Switching between them usually works best if you use a note that’s in both scales (R, 4, 5) to pivot from.
Some great examples from Peter would be – Merry Go Round, If You Let Me Love You, Jumping at Shadows, Someday After A While, Tears In My Eyes, Have You Ever Loved A Woman, etc.
The next thing to mention is that Peter was the king of Minor Blues. In Minor blues, the note selection changes a bit since the chords change from dominant 7 chords to minor chords. So you’re playing over the I (Amin), IV (Dmin), V (Emin or E7). For this type of playing, Peter would play the Aeolian Mode (natural minor scale) but would rarely use the m6 except as a passing tone over the IV (since the b6 would be the b3 of the IV chord). Same things apply, but you are only using these scale tones: the root (3), the major 2nd (m2), the minor 3rd(3), the perfect 4th (4), the perfect 5th (5), the minor 6th (m6 – again, really only over the IV chord), and the flat 7th (b7). You can also use the flat 5 (b5).
Some great examples from Peter would be – Love that Burns, Worried Dream, So Many Roads, A Fool No More, Green Manalishi (solo), First Train Home, Double Trouble, I Had to Laugh, All Over Again (The Letter), etc.
I have this great DVD set by a company called Note-for-Note where they teach B.B. King’s “Live at the Regal” from start to finish. Nothing about why they are playing what they are, but they do show you exactly what notes to play, start to finish. That one helped me a lot in terms of learning to play more like Peter. I feel like Peter studied B.B. really hard in those early days.
This is a YouTube clip from that DVD: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xFzXPmi9-K0
In terms of online instruction, John Tuggle’s website, www.learningguitarnow.com , is my favorite. He’s the best online blues instructor there is in my opinion. I think it’s $20.00 a month, but I’ve learned to play slide guitar over the past 3 months using that as my main resource.
Here’s a cool lesson he did on Peter: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGkj37ycIas
Anthony Stauffer’s www.texasbluesalley.com is also really great for blues. He has a cool way of teaching “the five boxes”, and I learned a lot from him in my early going as a blues guitarist.
Things really came alive for me when I quit thinking so much in terms of boxes / patterns / shapes and more in terms of intervals and chord tones. I wonder how they approached things in the 60’s and earlier? Had to be more of the latter. I think the thing that intrigues me most about guitar is that you essentially never stop learning new things. I’ve seen videos of PG in his 70’s where he says “I’m still learning”. If Peter is still learning, we all have much to learn, so keep at it.