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R.I.P. Bert Jansch

Posted by James Reed  October 5, 2011 10:18 AM

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Bert Jansch, the supremely influential Scottish guitarist and songwriter whose reach was vast among folk and rock musicians, has died after a battle with lung cancer. He was 67.

Jansch, a founding member of the British folk-rock band Pentangle in the late 1960s, went on to an even more revered career as a solo artist. He was the quintessential cult hero: beloved by the likes of Neil Young, Jimmy Page, and Paul Simon and yet hardly known to a general audience.

His music continued to speak to contemporary musicians, too. Devendra Banhart and Beth Orton were disciples, even appearing on Jansch's final studio record, 2006's "The Black Swan." Indie rocker Kurt Vile has said his new album was inspired by Jansch's "Birthday Blues" from 1969. This song, in particular, had a profound impact on Vile.

While Jansch may not have been an expansive talker, as I learned from a heartfelt interview with him this past April, his acoustic playing spoke volumes, at once fluid and labyrinthine. He gave the impression that, after all those years, he was still finding intricate ways to interpret shopworn classics like "Blackwater Side" and Jackson C. Frank's "Blues Run the Game."

Young, who once famously called Jansch "the best acoustic guitarist; he’s my favorite, anyway," took Jansch on the road with him a few times, including a stop at the Citi Wang Theatre back in April. In recent years, Jansch had also given rousing and assured performances to small but rapt audiences at the Museum of Fine Arts (2007) and Johnny D's (2010).

When we spoke in April, Jansch said he had been feeling fine and had hoped to start recording a new album this year. He admitted he was never especially fond of looking back on his career or dissecting his influence on others: "I can only live with the present," he said.

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