Farewell to an acous­tic leg­end

Guitar Techniques - - NEWS -

Stu­art Ryan looks at the styles that made John Ren­bourn such an in­flu­en­tial player on the world’s acous­tic fin­ger­pick­ing scene.

THE ACOUS­TIC GUITAR world lost one of its true pioneers when the great John ren­bourn passed away ear­lier this year. although of­ten re­ferred to as a folk gui­tarist, ren­bourn’s range on the in­stru­ment was stag­ger­ing and he was equally at home with DADGAD style folk, Mis­sis­sippi blues, tra­di­tional clas­si­cal styles and a whole lot more.

un­like many play­ers from the acous­tic world at the time (John was a stal­wart of the 60s and 70s scene) ren­bourn was a schooled mu­si­cian who had taken clas­si­cal guitar grades. While he trav­elled through many styles mu­si­cally, the pre­cise tech­nique of the clas­si­cal fin­ger­stylist would al­ways be at the core of his play­ing.

ren­bourn’s for­mal stud­ies also gave him a life­long in­ter­est in me­dieval and ‘early’ mu­sic, which would be prom­i­nent at var­i­ous points in his ca­reer. how­ever, while he was study­ing as a child in the 50s he also dis­cov­ered the mu­sic of leg­endary folk-blues artists Josh White, Lead­belly and Big Bill Broonzy, and so the blues also be­came an in­te­gral part of his mu­si­cal make up.

Like his mu­si­cal coun­ter­part, friend and Pen­tan­gle band­mate Bert Jan­sch, ren­bourn ini­tially made his name in the Lon­don club cir­cuit of the 1960s. In­flu­enced by leg­endary English fin­ger­stylist Davey Graham, Ren­bourn’s first pro­fes­sional mu­si­cal for­ays were with blues singer Dor­ris hen­der­son with whom he recorded two al­bums. how­ever, it was through his as­so­ci­a­tion with Bert Jan­sch that he truly be­gan to de­velop his own voice on the in­stru­ment. These early duets with Jan­sch are a cu­ri­ous blend of folk and clas­si­cal styles that has come to be known as ‘folk baroque’.

ren­bourn’s style de­vel­oped through­out the 1960s and to­wards the end of the decade he was work­ing with folk singer Jac­qui Mcshee fus­ing his tra­di­tional, bluesy style with jazz el­e­ments. how­ever, he re­ally started to en­ter the public arena when he formed Pen­tan­gle with Jan­sch, Mcshee, per­cus­sion­ist Terry cox and the leg­endary bassist Danny Thompson. This was truly a pi­o­neer­ing mu­si­cal unit that fused all of its mem­bers’ mu­si­cal in­flu­ences into a melt­ing pot of folk, jazz, blues, me­dieval and even the bur­geon­ing rock sounds of the day.

ren­bourn’s vir­tu­os­ity found its home within Pen­tan­gle and the band toured steadily, per­form­ing through­out the UK and us with ap­pear­ances at the isle of Wight Fes­ti­val, New York’s carnegie hall and the New­port Folk and Jazz Fes­ti­val. af­ter Pen­tan­gle dis­banded in 1973, ren­bourn re­turned to his solo ca­reer play­ing with his old spar­ring part­ners Jan­sch and Mcshee and le­gends ste­fan grossman and Doc Wat­son.

For this month’s trib­ute to John ren­bourn we will look at the va­ri­ety of el­e­ments and styles that made him such a broadly-versed and well-in­formed mu­si­cian. as well as licks us­ing 6ths in­ter­vals, we’ll ex­am­ine the im­por­tance of the Davey Graham in­flu­ence, look at some of ren­bourn’s tra­di­tional folk style play­ing; an­a­lyse his early blues mus­ings and check out some of the tech­niques and ap­proaches he brought to his folk-rock band, Pen­tan­gle. of course, since ren­bourn’s clas­si­cal play­ing in­formed so much of what he did through­out his ca­reer, we’ll also be look­ing at this, as well as hom­ing in on his ap­proach to the celtic guitar style he so loved.

John ren­bourn was a truly orig­i­nal player in the world of fin­ger­style guitar; in fact we could say he was one of its found­ing fathers, such was his in­flu­ence on oth­ers. While John will be sadly missed, thank­fully, he leaves be­hind an ex­ten­sive back cat­a­logue of record­ings, tran­scrip­tion books and DVDs. if you haven’t ex­plored his play­ing and you wish to delve into his in­cred­i­ble style then there are plenty of re­sources to get you started.

John Ren­bourn was a true orig­i­nal in the world of fin­ger­style guitar; in fact we could say he was one of its found­ing fathers.

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