RIP Bert Jansch: Legendary Folk Guitarist Dies At 67
Dave Alvin alerted us via Facebook shortly ago that British guitar master Bert Jansch has died. Jansch, who along with his band Pentangle was at the forefront of the '60s British folk movement, was 67. According to the Associated Press, the cause of death was lung cancer.
The Scottish-born Jansch opened for Neil Young during Young's most recent Houston gig in June 2009, but had recently been forced to cancel dates due to declining health. He had not performed since a Pentangle reunion gig in London on August 1.
Listed by Rolling Stone as one of the top 100 guitarists of all time, Jansch's influence on modern guitar is unfathomable. He was hailed by people like Alvin, who said of Jansch via his Facebook page today, "One of the guitar masters, he influenced a lot of us guitar players whether we knew it or not." Jansch's instrument of choice was the acoustic guitar, and his style was best described as folk meets jazz or, as some critics called it, "folk baroque."
Jones Hall in June 2009
Photo by Jay Lee
Pentangle was known for reworking traditional folk tunes, and is credited with reviving interest in English folk music during the same period when people like Bob Dylan were reviving it in the U.S. Pentangle was contemporaneous with Fairport Convention, another leader in the '60s English folk revival.
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Jansch came onto the music scene with Bert Jansch, his 1965 debut solo album. His most recent effort was Black Swan (2006). He was memorialized in 2000 in the documentary Dreamweaver.
Jansch didn't take up guitar seriously until 1960, and literally burst onto the UK music scene when his engineer/producer Bill Leader sold a home recording to Transatlantic Records for 100 British pounds sterling. Transatlantic issued an album from the tapes (Bert Jansch) and his career was launched.
A stellar songwriter as well as guitarist, his tune "Do You Hear Me Now" was included on Donovan's 1965 EP Universal Soldier, which went to No. 1 on the UK charts. Jansch then issued two more solo albums before joining Pentangle in 1968, where he performed until the band split in 1972. Pentangle reformed in the '80s, and Jansch played numerous gigs with them during the next 30 years.
Jansch's tune "Blackwaterside" was believed to have been used by Led Zeppelin as "Black Mountain Side," but in spite of Jansch's insistence that his material had been stolen, he and the record label eventually decided that it was too financially risky to sue the band.
After a brush with death due to his heavy alcoholism, Jansch gave up drinking in 1987 and his creativity and career revived. He played a decade-long residency at the 12 Bar Club in London, and it became a frequent stop for notable musicians eager to see the masterful Jansch in a small setting. Live at the 12 Bar (1996) captures that era.
Jansch, who recorded 25 albums during his lifetime, is survived by his wife and son.
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