My my, I’ve been slacking, haven’t I? Well no, actually my girlfriend Jane and I have been sick with strep throat for almost a week, rarely leaving the bed and trying to cheer ourselves up by watching Monty Python and Star Wars. Not that you need to healthy to blog of course, in body or mind, but let’s just say the muse split on me for a while there.
The last SfS featured punk stuff of slightly disturbing origin, so for this week how about a little hippie stuff? Aw, come on, you’ll like it.
The late ’60s and early ’70s saw a flowering of solo steel-string acoustic guitar in a genre that was never really named. It was mostly instrumental, based in traditional American folk and blues music, though more virtuosic and featuring expansive and innovative song-structures (“compositions”), to which it added a diverse array of world influences, particularly Indian. The most well known of these guitarists are John Fahey and Leo Kottke, and many important figures recorded on Fahey’s Takoma label, such as Kottke, Robbie Basho, Peter Lang, and Max Ochs. It was mostly an American phenomenon, but a few Brits such as Davey Graham and Bert Jansch should be included. In a way this is just an outgrowth or development of the 1960’s folk revival, a mutant instrumental counterpart to the singer-songwriter genre of the Joni Mitchell/James Taylor variety which the ’60s folk scene also produced. Fahey called it “American Primitive,” which may be accurate in terms of the driving emotions behind his work, but is deceptive as a musical descriptor. Fahey was actually creating a kind of modernism out of American musical traditions, in the way Bartok (a favorite of Fahey’s) had done with Romanian and Hungarian folk music. Well, as you might expect, this stuff didn’t really crack the charts.
Robbie Basho changed his name from Daniel Robinson, Jr. in honor of the haiku master Matsuo Basho. (Basho composed perhaps the exemplary haiku, “In the Old Stone Pool.” It goes, “In the old stone pool/a frogjump:/ splishhhhh.”) As the name suggests, Basho had a certain fondness for the East, and his music is characterized by Eastern influences. For example, check out The Hajj.
Sandy Bull may have been the most eclectic musician of the lot, playing guitar, banjo, and oud (a sort of Arabic lute). He liked to overdub multiple tracks in order to, uh, play with himself. He was fond reinterpreting disparate songs into his unique idiom, such as Orff’s “Carmina Burana” and Chuck Berry’s “Memphis, Tennessee.” Here’s Gospel Tune, an original composition, which sounds like a mildly psychedelicized Lightnin’ Hopkins.