Considering the level of reverence Bert Jansch elicits from Boomer Rock icons like Neil Young (currently touring with Jansch as his opening act) and Jimmy Page, it’s surprising to learn that the 67-year-old Scottish guitarist/singer/songwriter is their contemporary rather than their elder. But by 1965, when Young, Page (and Donovan, another Jansch acolyte) were still searching for their musical direction, Jansch had already made one of his greatest albums, as important as any to ever come out of the British Folk revival. Self-titled, it showed off an amazingly accomplished and versatile acoustic guitar technique that borrowed from traditional Folk, Blues, Jazz and other early music, everything Jansch had heard living in London as a teen and young adult.
The debut also revealed Jansch’s strengths as a songwriter and singer with a melancholy yet calming sensibility. “Needle of Death,” a song about heroin that influenced Young, and the classic protest song “Do You Hear Me Now” both were on it, along with a cover of a Charles Mingus composition. Because of his strong interest in so many kinds of music, Jansch was a restless spirit among the British Folk set, too contemporary to solely be a traditionalist.
Jansch also developed a collaborative friendship with another important acoustic guitarist — John Renbourne, who had a pronounced Classical bent — which eventually led to them founding (with singer Jacqui McShee, bassist Danny Thompson and drummer Terry Cox) the short-lived but enormously influential Folk/Rock/Jazz band Pentangle, whose 1969 Sweet Child is eternally highly regarded.
Through all of this, and despite periods of serious illness, Jansch has kept his solo career going. His most recent release, 2006’s Black Swan, shows that a younger generation of progressive Folk fans still holds him in awe, as Beth Orton and Devendra Banhart both help him out on the release from Drag City Records, home to other probable fans like Joanna Newsom, Will Oldham and Bill Callahan.
BERT JANSCH performs at the Aronoff Center on Tuesday with NEIL YOUNG. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.