Young, Plant and friends pay tribute to "Jimi Hendrix of acoustic guitar"

Wed Dec 4, 2013 11:54am EST
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By Angus MacSwan

(Reuters) - A host of musicians headed by Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant on Tuesday night celebrated the life and work of Bert Jansch, the late Scottish guitarist who influenced generations of players from Neil Young to Johnny Marr with his stew of blues, folk and jazz.

On a London stage decorated to look like Les Cousins, the Soho folk club where Jansch held court in the 1960s, they played his songs and others that had inspired him, and reminisced about "a magical man, an occasionally shambolic man," in the words of Martin Simpson.

Jansch died in October 2011 of lung cancer at the age of 67 and Tuesday would have been his 70th birthday.

If he never achieved huge popular fame to match his talent, his standing amongst his peers was evident in a Royal Festival Hall line-up that was a virtual Who's Who of British folk, among them Ralph McTell, Donovan and members of Pentangle, the folk-jazz group with whom he found his greatest commercial success.

Neil Young, who once described Jansch as the Jimi Hendrix of acoustic guitar, was not present in body but appeared on a large screen in a specially-recorded video in which he played "Needle of Death", Jansch's tale of heroin addiction that Young has acknowledged as the inspiration for his own classic "Needle and the Damage Done".

The Canadian told how in his early days as a folksinger in Toronto, he played Jansch's albums endlessly.

The Glasgow-born Jansch cut his teeth in Edinburgh before hitchhiking down to London in the early 1960s and quickly made a name for himself in clubs such as the Troubadour and Les Cousins.

His playing brought together folk, blues and jazz with a muscular, finger-picking style, and also drew in some Middle Eastern and Asian flavours picked up on his travels. He brought out a string of albums such as "Jack Orion" and "Rosemary Lane", that were to be a huge influence on the likes of guitarist Jimmy Page, later to form Led Zeppelin.   Continued...

Members of Led Zeppelin are pictured on the balcony of the Kennedy Center as 2012 honorees in Washington, December 2, 2012. (L-R) John Paul Jones, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page were among seven who were honored this year. REUTERS/Jason Reed