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Oct 11

Bert Jansch: “Blackwaterside”/”Angie”

Bert Jansch

Bert Jansch, 1943-2011

While Pixies Week was going on last week here, there was another notable passing on Oct. 5 besides Steve Jobs, this time from the music world. Bert Jansch died at age 67 after a battle with cancer.

Who is Bert Jansch, you ask, and why should you care?

Let’s see what Neil Young would have to say about that: “As much of a great guitar player as Jimi [Hendrix] was, Bert Jansch is the same thing for acoustic guitar…and my favorite.”

You should care because Jansch had a far greater influence on rock music than you’d probably guess. He was an incredible guitarist (from Scotland) and a pioneer of the ’60s British folk scene that spawned bands like Fairport Convention and Pentangle (a band he co-founded after already finding success as a solo artist), among others. He was sometimes referred to as the “British Bob Dylan,” which, as is typical with statements like that, is inaccurate and oversimplified, but underscores how influential he was in British music.

Jansch’s influence is perhaps best appreciated by the now-legendary rock musicians who his guitar playing was an influence on. Jimmy Page, for example, was a disciple of Jansch, and is quoted as having said: “At one point, I was absolutely obsessed with Bert Jansch. When I first heard [Jansch’s debut LP], I couldn’t believe it. It was so far ahead of what everyone else was doing. No one in America could touch that.” So enamored was Page that he took Jansch’s arrangement of the traditional song “Blackwaterside” (from Jansch’s 1966 album, Jack Orion) almost note for note as the instrumental “Black Mountain Side” on Led Zeppelin’s debut album. (Jansch actually was a bit peeved by the direct “borrowing,” but couldn’t afford to take legal action against the band.)

Here’s Jansch’s “Blackwaterside”:

Paul Simon was another whose early guitar playing was greatly influenced by Jansch. His version of “Angie” on Simon and Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence was a direct copy of Jansch’s arrangement (on Jansch’s 1965 debut album, Bert Jansch; the melody was originally composed by Davy Graham, himself a big influence on Jansch).

Here’s Jansch’s “Angie”:

Still not convinced? Johnny Marr, guitarist for the Smiths, said: “He completely re-invented guitar playing and set a standard that is still unequalled today…without Bert Jansch, rock music as it developed in the ‘60s and ‘70s would have been very different. You hear him in Nick Drake, Pete Townshend, Donovan, The Beatles, Jimmy Page, and Neil Young. There are people playing guitar who don’t even realise they’ve been influenced by him one step removed.

If all that isn’t enough to demonstrate Jansch’s importance for rock music, you’ll just have to explore further on your own — there are many great Jansch albums to listen to, including a lot of great music with Pentangle. He’s well worth the time, if any of the above has caught your interest…

[All quotes above were found at BertJansch.com.]

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