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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

R.I.P. Bert Jansch, 1943-2011

Posted By on Wed, Oct 5, 2011 at 2:19 PM

click to enlarge Bert Jansch
  • Bert Jansch

After battling lung cancer for the last couple of years, Scottish folksinger and guitarist Bert Jansch passed away this morning at age 67.

Jansch was one of the pioneers of a picking-oriented, depressive folk style that influenced such fellow cult musicians and luminaries as Donovan and Nick Drake, and can still be felt in newer indie acts like Fleet Foxes and Devendra Banhart (the latter of whom guested on Jansch's final record, along with Beth Orton).

Yo La Tengo paid even tribute to Jansch in 2003, covering his classic 1965 single "Needle of Death"; more prominently, Jimmy Page reworked Jansch's "Blackwaterside" into Led Zeppelin's famous "Black Mountain Side." (At the time this was unattributed, and Jansch sought litigation, but his label, Transatlantic, could not afford the legal fees.)

Besides coming into an early prominence of his own with such spare, harrowing works as "Poison," Jansch went on to become a founder and guitarist of the beloved folk group Pentangle, which had a major 1970 hit in Britain with the solemn, trance-inducing "Night Flight" (the interlocking jazz of which somewhat resembles an acoustic Stereolab in retrospect).

Pentangle went on to win a lifetime achievement award from BBC Radio 2 and subsequently reformed in 2008. At the height of Jansch's visibility, Neil Young was once quoted as calling his playing equivalent to that of Hendrix. As a solo artist he went on to make more than 23 albums in his career.

Jansch's final album was 2007's The Black Swan, which stayed true to the mournful, unaccompanied style he cultivated during his lifetime, even despite strange-seeming lyrics like "Rock 'n' roll's such a crazy drug/ It wraps you up in a great big hug." Many of Jansch's songs have the ominous air of a cautionary tale, which befits a modest voice whose best-known song was called "Needle of Death."

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