Another good one gone…Bert Jansch RIP

A person would be a moron not to appreciate McLaughlin’s technique. The guy has certainly found out how to operate a guitar as if it were a machine gun. But I’m not always enthusiastic about the lines I hear or the ways in which they’re used. I don’t think you can fault him, though, for the amount of time and effort it must have taken to play an instrument that fast. I think anybody who can play that fast is just wonderful. And I’m sure 90% of teenage America would agree, since the whole trend in the business has been "faster is better."

So said the late, great Frank Zappa about fellow guitarist John McLaughlin in 1977.

Frank had a point as it seems, since then, that one only has to plug in an electric guitar, strike a few dramatic poses, gurn a lot and play very loud and very fast and you too can immediately become a guitar god.

Remember the worst excesses of shred?

For every talented shredder like Steve Vai…

 

…there were several of these…

 

…and, if you were really very fucking unlucky, one of these sorry-ass motherfuckers…

 

But what if you never went electric in the first place?

Well, that question can be answered by going back some dozen years before Uncle Frank said it like it was.

Never mind guitar gods, I’m talking the Holy Fucking Trinity here…

Davey Graham, Bert Jansch and John Renbourn.

I’ve blogged about Davey here already on the sad occasion of his death, and now he’s been joined by Bert.

Together with Renbourn they represented the flowering of solo steel string acoustic guitar playing that came to prominence in the early to mid 1960s and established the instrument as a worthy antidote to some of the excesses of the electric guitar.

Jansch and Renbourn teamed up as a duo, in fact, and then went on to form an acoustic band called ‘Pentangle’, which gigged alongside the usual suspects, including a certain Jimi Hendrix, and in the same haunts both in the UK and the US.

 

 

But back to Bert – solo.

Less jazz, blues and classically orientated than Graham, and less mannered than Renbourn, Jansch adopted a more melodic and lyrical approach towards the instrument and used it a lot to support his vocals, as he was a prolific songwriter.

My favourite Jansch recordings are mainly his take on traditional tunes. You may have thought that Jimmy Page’s solo showcase with Led Zeppelin was original, but he actually ripped off Bert’s arrangement as on the second clip here…

 

Are you listening, Jimmy?

In my own personal context, I was listening to Bert alongside Clapton with Mayall, Bloomfield with Butterfield, Dylan – newly gone electric – and Simon and Garfunkel.

The electric guitar dominated my formative playing years, so Bert’s influence was minimal – for one thing, I lacked the ability to copy him and the skill to try. That’s still the case, but it’s not stopped me enjoying the man’s music for over 45 years and for those with more proficiency on the acoustic guitar than I have, his influence is destined to last a lot longer.

One last one from Bert…

 

My favourite albums – 61–70

Well, here goes with another batch of my 100 favourite albums…

#70 Al diMeola – Scenario: Forget his recent albums – you might as well listen to Kenny fucking G – but when Al had some fire in his belly he was pretty bloody good! This album is a particular favourite of mine with a good variety of material ranging from Beckish jazz rock to flamenco-style acoustic pieces and not a duff track to be found. I used to listen to a lot of jazz fusion when I was younger and this album from 1983 has stuck with me.

#69 Bob Marley and the Wailers – Natty Dread: Again, I’m going for early material and this appeared just as the buzz about Bob was really building. It contains the original version of ‘No Woman No Cry’, which beats the better-known live version into a cocked Rastafarian hat. Hardly a bad track to be heard and ‘Lively Up Yourself’ and ‘Rebel Music’ sparkle as brightly now as they did 36 years ago.

#68 ELO – Out of the Blue: ELO used to be a very good pop band, which a lot of people seem to have forgotten. Jeff Lynne was clearly a Beatles fan and my favourite track on this rather bloated double album is the very Beatlish ‘Mr Blue Sky’ which has one of the best bass lines ever. It’s the last track of ‘Concerto for a Rainy Day’ which took up a whole side on the original vinyl release. It still holds up today – have a listen!

#67 Amadou and Mariam – Dimanche a Bamako: World music from Mali that has a relentless groove with simple but effective guitar work. Joyous stuff which always has an uplifting effect on me. ‘La Realite’ is a great track with lovely guitar, whilst other tracks have a sort of John Lee Hookerish boogie feel to them. Their other albums are worth checking out, but this one is the most consistent and a little more rock than the others.

#66 Davey Graham – Folk, Blues & Beyond: The late DG was possibly the most influential folk guitarist that there’s ever been. He cut across jazz, classical, traditional and world music at a time when you just didn’t do that kind of thing. Bless him, he couldn’t sing but his stellar guitar work makes up for it. He popularised DADGAD tuning and established a school of British acoustic guitar playing that had a wide ranging influence on, amongst many others, one James Page of Led Zep. Get the expanded version for the extra tracks which include the original version of ‘Anji’ – now a folk guitar standard.

#65 David Lindley and El Rayo-X – Win This Record: Another relatively unknown artist although if you’ve ever heard Jackson Brown’s version of ‘Stay’ you’ll have heard Lindley – singing in a very high voice. It’s as a guitarist that he excels though and his talent sprawls right across this album. Combine this with a great band and an inspired choice of material and you have a great ‘fun’ album. New Orleans meets reggae meets rock…’Make it on Time’ is a good track to start with – a high octane rush boogie with great distorted lap steel guitar.

#64 ZZ Top – Eliminator: Yes, they made some great records before this mainstream breakthrough album but nothing quite so relentlessly shiny and downright nasty. Gibbons has a monster tone and is on top form and the tracks are all good, with the usual quirky subject matter such as ‘TV Dinners’. It contains all the singles you liked at the time, but check out the lesser-known tracks such as ‘Under Pressure’.

#63 The Faces – Long Player: I’ve only just recently got back into the Faces and it’s a pleasure to become reacquainted with their sloppy tightness. Rod and the band was a marriage made in heaven and they were second only to the Stones with that certain style of rock ‘strut’. Ronnie Wood impresses on lead, but everyone else isn’t too shabby, with the late Ronnie Lane a forgotten bass hero. ‘Had Me a Real Good Time’ just about sums the band up.

#62 Sir Millard Mulch – How To Sell The Whole F#@!ing Universe To Everybody, Once And For All!: Totally uncategorisable…it’s chamber rock, heavy metal, Zappa-style satire…It’s available here FREE! How can you not admire a guy who records a song called ‘The Boy With The Perfectly Square Butthole Strikes Back’? His YouTube videos are pretty funny, too. Seriously, check this guy out – a neglected genius!

#61 Focus – Moving Waves: I just keep coming back to this album and it still seems as fresh as when I first heard it. Jan Akkerman’s guitar and Thijs van Leer’s keyboards, flute and yodelling predominate and at times it veers towards the artsy-fartsy but it has some balls-out rock, ethereal textures and great ensemble playing that mostly lifts it out of the self-indulgent. They seemed to like the title ‘Focus’ for their compositions and ‘II’ here doesn’t disappoint. Focus are still around, but without Akkerman who’s still a phenomenal player.

RIP Davey Graham

I was deeply saddened today to hear of the death of Davey Graham.

I’m not ashamed to say that I cried and that’s something Davey only shares with Alex Harvey and Jimi.

I first heard him when I was about 16. I was heavily into Cream and Hendrix by then and already gigging and playing guitar too loudly.

A friend of mine turned me on to Davey by lending me a copy of his seminal album Folk Blues & Beyond.

It totally blew me away – I mean I was into acoustic stuff, mainly Dylan’s earlier recordings, but I didn’t realise anyone could play acoustic guitar with such balls and excitement.

That set me off looking for the people who followed on from Davey – Jansch, Renbourn, etc – but somehow I always went back to him.

No-one ever played such a vast range of material, blurred the genres or ‘dug in’ quite like Davey – and no-one’s ever come close since.

I wrote the piece below for a newsgroup tribute post – any typos, etc can just bloody stay in it – and describes how I once met him and supported him – LITERALLY! – some 36 or so years ago…

I used to run a folk club at college and several of us were well into people like Jansch, Renbourn and the guy who really started that whole
school of British solo acoustic guitar- DG.

Anyway, we booked Davey for a college folk night.

We went and met him off the London train and he was, quite frankly, out of it. He was narcotically compromised by something and I don’t
think it was booze.

Anyway, we walked him up to the college – about 10 minutes from the station usually although I recall the walk as much longer… – got him
to one of the bedrooms, plied him with strong black coffee, and thought we’d straightened him out enough for his gig that night.

Anyway, after the usual supporting artists – including the duo I was in – so, YES, I actually supported Davey Graham once! – he went on.

I’d like to say he rose above whatever chemical he’d ingested but he didn’t – he was absolutely fucking terrible…

He played about three numbers very, very badly – I can’t be more precise and recall what they were because I was stoned myself – and
then he just basically lost all power of movement and sat there like a frightened rabbit in the headlights.

Anyway, we hauled him off, took him back to the bedroom, plied him with more coffee and then took another extended walk – this time
*back* to the station.

We put him on the next Euston train and didn’t give him his fee.

At the time we were all more than a tad pissed off but looking back it’s very amusing.

At his peak and in his prime he was a peerless player – basically the mid to late 1960s.

If you never hear anything else by him there are two albums anyone with the smallest bit of interest in modern acoustic guitar should
hear – After Hours, an amateur recording made in a student bedroom after a gig with Davey just playing because he *loved* to play, and
Folk Blues & Beyond, a virtuouso album that trancends several genres and takes my breath away even today.

RIP Davey.

Looking back, it all seems like some sort of hallucination. There we were, all fans of the man, all in our early 20s, excited, slightly stoned on some shitty dope that the resident ‘source’ had got hold of for the night, going down to the station to meet Davey Graham and then finding him totally out of his skull…I can vividly remember my best mate Paul – soon to become the usher at my wedding and now sadly, like Davey, no longer with us, saying in a low voice, ‘Oh shit, Steve’ as we tried to stop the guy tottering into the road as we walked him up to college. Then the sheer, blind, sphincter-tightening panic as we tried to ready him to play. Paul even had to tune his guitar for him as he was totally incapable.

And then, in that crappy UV-lit little student bedroom, just before he staggered through the doorway out into the corridor he just played a few licks and, just very briefly, we heard the magic and thought everything was going to be OK.

It wasn’t, but that’s history and for what we have received, am I ever fucking grateful…

Thank you, Davey.

Davey’s site is here.