Bert Jansch Remembered Through Neil Young, Jimmy Page Tales
Scottish-born singer-songwriter Bert Jansch, a guitarist in the ’60s folk-jazz outfit Pentangle and a highly influential solo artist, died Wednesday in a London hospice after a long battle with cancer. While not as visible a musician as many of his contemporaries, his work was widely admired and deemed extremely influential on several generations of musicians — from classic rockers like Neil Young and Jimmy Page to modern-rock acts like Oasis and Blur.
Dubbed the “British Bob Dylan” early in his career, Jansch was a prolific acoustic guitar virtuoso who landed at No. 94 on Rolling Stone magazine’s 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time tally. His solo career spanned five decades and more than 25 albums, touching on everything from folk, baroque, blues, jazz and rock. Dylan, Paul Simon, the Beatles, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Elton John were among Jansch’s many high-profile admirers.
Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page was a reportedly huge fan, and has even been accused of stealing Jansch’s reworking of the traditional folk tune ‘Blackwaterside’ by performing it with Zeppelin as an instrumental, adding a tabla and retitling it ‘Black Mountain Side’ (Jansch credited his version as “Traditional, arranged Jansch,” while Page credited ‘Black Mountain’ to himself).
“The thing I’ve noticed about Jimmy [Page] whenever we meet is that he can’t look me in the eye,” Jansch told Classic Rock in 2007. When pushed to elaborate, Jansch continued, “Well, he ripped me off , didn’t he? Or let’s just say he learned from me. I wouldn’t want to sound impolite.”
Neil Young was also a dedicated Jansch-ian, although he was more willing to give credit where credit’s due — he even admitted that his song ‘Ambulance Blues’ unintentionally quoted liberally from Jansch’s ‘Needle of Death.’ “As much of a great guitar player as Jimi [Hendrix] was, Bert Jansch is the same thing for acoustic guitar … and my favorite,” Young once commented. The two later performed ‘Ambulance Blues’ together at the 2006 Bridge School Concert.
Jansch hit the road with Young recently, opening his Twisted Road solo tour of North America in 2010. Jansch also performed at Clapton’s Crossroads festival that June. And in 2008, the original Pentangle lineup reunited for a brief U.K. tour which included a show at London’s Royal Festival Hall and a headlining slot at the Green Man festival in Wales.
Watch shaky video of Neil Young and Bert Jansch performing ‘Ambulance Blues’ at Bridge School 2006
And for comparison — and your enjoyment — check out Jansch’s ‘Needle of Death’