throw it back
what i watched last week

music friday: john renbourn, 1944-2015

John Renbourn died yesterday. He had a long and valued career in music, worth digging into, but as is usually the case here, I'll personalize it and stick with what I know, which is the 1960s and "underground" radio.

My memories ... well, insert the obligatory "don't trust my old memories" ... Pentangle was a band that was listened to by many people I knew, whether on the FM radio or on their turntables. They were a band that came together gradually, even (dare I say) organically. Guitarists John Renbourn and Bert Jansch were well-known in British folk circles, and had even recorded an album together. Singer Jacqui McShee began working with them, followed by standup bassist Danny Thompson and drummer Terry Cox, who brought a jazz feel. In June of 1968, they released their first album, The Pentangle, which is when they caught my attention. British Folk wasn't always my favorite genre, but here, the musicianship and the fine interplay between the band members won me, and many other listeners, over. In the modern YouTube world, you can listen to the entire album here. If you want to get right to it, though, check out "Pentangling", the one song I most associate with the band and with the summer of 1968:


The bass player in me loved what Thompson does here, although I never did figure out the double bass myself.

They recorded several more albums over the next years, but it was the debut that I remember best. One album, 1970's Cruel Sister, did inspire one of Robert Christgau's more memorable comments. On the way to giving the album a C+, he wrote, "I prefer "In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida" to the eighteen-minute 'Jack Orion,' about a noble fiddler betrayed by his serving lad. Don't they realize that every verse of 'Cruel Sister' used to end "Fa la la la la la la la la la" because in the olde days people had nothing else to do at night?"

Here is Renbourn and Jansch in 2011, playing a song from their 1966 album, Bert and John:


Jansch died a little more than two months after this performance.

This is John and Bert in 1967:


Finally, for you Led Zeppelin fans who enjoy seeing how the band was "influenced" by others, here's Jansch with the traditional "Blackwaterside". (Jimmy Page was a big fan of Jansch ... how big? Check out "Black Mountain Side", "written" by Page.)