On August 16th, 2002, I took a bus from New York to Boston to see Brian Wilson do a live performance of Pet Sounds. In addition to this monumental event, two other important things happened that day: I met my brother’s friend Casey Rae for the first time and I bought a 2-disc CD called Dazzling Stranger by Bert Jansch.
I was a 21-year-old fingerpick guitarist at the time, obsessed with blues pickers like Skip James, Willie McTell and Robert Johnson, as well as the varied British folk sounds of Nick Drake and the Incredible String Band. I had heard of Jansch, but had not located any recordings. My bus got into Boston early, so I found my way to the Avalon, the now-defunct music hall, where I would later meet my brother & Casey, then went for a stroll. I located a Tower or Virgin Records (note: kids, there used to be these places called music stores, where you would go to buy things called CDs, which were like a collection of downloads) and stopped in to kill time. I picked up Dazzling Stranger and walked back to the Avalon, sat on the street outside and put the CD into my Discman (note: kids, it was like an iPod, but it played the CDs I mentioned above). I heard this:
When that was over, I heard this:
The next few years were devoted to British folk, from Jansch and John Renbourn, as well as their band Pentangle, to John Martyn, but none of them could touch Bert Jansch (except maybe Davy Graham). Jansch’s playing was superb and his melodies haunting. He could pick with a delicate beauty, but his style was characterized by sporadic, rhythmic plucks. He was undeniably one of the greatest players of his time, and is idolized by many greats, including Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin stole covered his “Blackwaterslide” as “Black Mountain Side” on their first album).
Jansch died this morning at a hospice in Hampstead. If you haven’t listened to his work, take a few minutes to do so. You’ll be glad you did.