RIP, Bert Jansch, Folk Legend
Guitarist Bert Jansch, who passed away today at age 67 after an extended bout with cancer, wasn't a household name... not in this country anyway. But in his native U.K., he was considered one of the great founding fathers of the British folk music renaissance of the early '60s and one of those most responsible for transitioning traditional music into the modern era.
Born in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1943, he immersed himself in London's seminal folk scene in the early '60s and, with his early solo recordings, his unique, expressive, and articulate playing style became a profound influence on the likes of Paul Simon, Johnny Marr, Bernard Butler, Jimmy Page, Nick Drake, Donovan, Neil Young, and Devendra Banhart. A recipient of two Lifetime Achievement Awards at the BBC Folk Awards, he still ranks among the innovative players of his generation.
While Jansch's work has been scoured by academics and those with a more fervent appreciation for folk's seminal sounds, Jansch also found his way into more mainstream attempts as well. Early songs "Do You Hear Me Now" and "Blackwaterside" were later adapted and transformed by Donovan and Led Zeppelin, respectively.
His work with the band Pentangle, which also featured famed fellow guitarist John Renbourn, championed traditional music's merger with modern rock in the late '60s, making them as much a mainstay in the electric folk scene as Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, the Strawbs, and the other fledgling outfits hailed for their outreach and innovation. Several of the band's albums -- Basket of Light and Solomon's Seal in particular -- not only received the benefit of major-label release both here and abroad but also found a comfortable niche in the collection of numerous college music geeks who embraced the more adventurous sounds of the late '60s and early '70s.
After the band's breakup, Jansch withdrew from the concert circuit, moved to Wales, and turned his attention to farming. Following struggles with alcohol, he resumed his solo trajectory, which had been earlier interrupted once he joined Pentangle. He subsequently turned out a well-received series of individual albums, eventually to number nearly 25. Although most of his recordings stayed true to his folk roots, many featured all-star lineups of fellow folkies. Two of his more accessible releases -- LA Turnaround and Santa Barbara Honeymoon -- also found him making early excursions into Americana and were overseen by ex-Monkees member Mike Nesmith and featured members of Nesmith's fine First National Band. Pentangle briefly reconvened in the '80s, but Jansch's solo work would be the vehicle that sustained him into his waning years.
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In the past few years, Jansch's shadow loomed large among members of the so-called nu-folk movement. His 2006 album, The Black Swan, featured guest turns from Beth Orton and Devendra Banhart, and a year later, he featured on the Babyshambles album Shotter's Nation. In recent years, he enjoyed his greatest exposure to the masses after taking part in Eric Clapton's Crossroads Festival and opening for Neil Young on the latter's extensive solo tour in support of Le Noise. Unfortunately, illness forced him from the road and denied South Florida audiences the opportunity to catch him in concert when Young last played the Hard Rock in 2009.
In retrospect, that now seems a shame. Because in terms of talent and technique, they didn't come much better than Bert.
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