Bert Jansch 1943-2011
Early this morning, legendary folk musician Bert Jansch passed away after a long and hard-fought battle with lung cancer. One of the first to emerge from the folk baroque scene in the early 1960s, Jansch helped to pioneer a distinctive fingerpicking guitar style that merged the influences of folk revivalists such as Davy Graham and blues players like Big Bill Broonzy. Cited as an influence by the likes of Neil Young, Paul Simon, Jimmy Page, Jerry Garcia and many others, Jansch’s legacy reaches far beyond the genre of folk music to which he devoted much of his life.
Jansch’s influence as a guitar player largely dates back to 1965, when he famously recorded “Angi,” a Davey Graham acoustic instrumental that, in many ways, became the yardstick for acoustic guitar players. The song was later recorded by Paul Simon, who was forced to use multi-tracking in an attempt to emulate Jansch’s complex style. However, it wasn’t until Jimmy Page used his arrangement of the traditional folk tune “Blackwaterside,” altering it slightly to become the well-known Zeppelin song “Black Mountain Side,” that the guitarist’s influence reached a mainstream audience.
The widespread appeal for folk music reached a highpoint when in 1968, Jansch helped to found the influential British folk group Pentangle alongside fellow musicians John Renbourne, Jackie McShee, Terry Cox and Danny Thompson. It was during this time that Jansch met Jerry Garcia, who was inspired by the acoustic, improvisational format of Pentangle. The meeting took place on May 29, 1970 at the Fillmore, where Pentangle was opening for the Dead- you can listen to the performance over at Wolfgang’s Vault.
“In the ‘60s, there was a great-sounding band called Pentangle with those two good English fingerpickers, Bert Jansch and John Renbourn,” says Garcia in an 1985 interview. “They had a tasty jazz drummer who played brushes, an excellent acoustic bass player, and a lady who sang in a sort of madrigal, English voice. It was a lovely band that sounded great onstage. We played a lot of shows with them, and I thought that combination of two acoustic guitars and a standard rhythm section had a lot of possibilities.”
Following Pentangle’s dissolution in 1973, Jansch continued to record as a solo artist right up until 2006’s critically acclaimed Black Swan, which features collaborations with Beth Orton and Devandra Banhart. Pentangle reunited again several times over the years, including an appearance this summer at the Glastonbury Festival in the UK.
Health problems began for the guitarist in 1987, when he became severely ill and was forced to give up drinking. In 2005, Jansch underwent heart surgery and several subsequent operations stemming from lung cancer but returned to the road in 2009 to open for Neil Young on his Twisted Road Tour. Earlier this year, Jansch once again joined Young on the road, but was hospitalized shortly after the tour’s completion at his doctor’s orders.
During the recent tour with Neil Young, Jansch graced the Relix offices with his presence and performed two of his classic folk arrangements. We are honored to have shared this time with him. Our hearts go out to his wife Loren and the rest of his family. He will be greatly missed.