It’s pretty tough to quantify the lasting influence or stylistic innovation of Glaswegian native Bert Jansch, the pioneering folk guitarist/songwriter who passed away at the age of 67 earlier today following a long battle with cancer. From his self-titled 1965 solo debut to his more contemporary works for Drag City, Jansch cast an immense creative shadow over so much of we today readily accept as fantastic guitar playing. Though I consider myself very fortunate to have seen Jansch perform on two occasions (London in 2001, Austin, TX in July of 2010) the lengthy list of blown opportunities to do so is only slightly mitigated (for me, anyway) by a tremendous body of work that will surely resonate far after everyone reading this has turned to dust.
While there’s no shortage of biographical material to shift thru, this 1996 interview with Terrascope’s Paul Simmons is one of my favorites.
How did the ‘Needle Of Death’ song from your first album come about? Was it written for anyone in particular?
It was written for a guy called Buck Polly who was on the folk scene down here in London. He was a friend of Alex Campbell and I got to know him quite well. If Alex and I were going along to a gig, Buck would be the one who would drive you to the gig. He used to buy old vintage cars, do them up and then sell them, so the cars you’d be driven around in were great – it was quite a noisy affair, what with the type of car and a load of drunken folk singers in the back! Yeah that song was written for Buck, he had some problems; I don’t really like singing it, I find it very depressing. I re-recorded in the seventies when I was signed to Charisma. I think there may be another version knocking about somewhere as well.
Is it true that you used to use a teaspoon bent round your thumb as a guitar pick?
Hmm, yeah well if I couldn’t buy a pick or find one, I’d go into the kitchen and pick up the nearest spoon that was pliable, as it were, to bend round my thumb. The thing was, I saw an old film of Big Bill Broonzy playing in a Paris nightclub and he was using a thumb pick. From then on, I always used a thumb pick when I played. Whether it was a good thing or not I don’t know!
How would you like to be remembered?
When I finally give up the ghost, as long as I’ve left behind enough songs for people to listen to, I think that’ll be enough. I’d like to document them all one day as well – maybe a job for when I retire! Apart from that, who knows!