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American Primitive Guitar

Of late, acoustic guitar music has attainted a larger cult following than it had been accustomed to since perhaps the ‘70s. And while some of the folks from that era are still around – Leo Kottke for one – some are not, but they have left behind a body of work explicating what American Primitive Guitar actually is. And thanks to a post at Wrath of the Grapevine, it’s a bit easier to understand where that phrase and some of the players associated with the genre came from. And while the folks below are all mentioned in the piece at WotG, what follows is my perception of each of them.

John Fahey

Apparently, Fahey contrived the phrase American Primitive Guitar – who knew? He meant it to mean a form of guitar playing based upon American types of music. But the individual plying the strings was to be untrained in a classical sense. That’s a pretty broad definition even for a genre whose name is misleading at best. But Fahey has recently attained a higher level of attention than he saw during the last decade of his life. And while that won’t be of any consolation to him, his work will continue to be appreciated for long after even this genaration of acoustic enthusiasts are gone.

Robbie Basho

My perception of Basho is that of an overly intellectualized ‘60s dude. His playing is at times on par with or even beyond that of Fahey’s. But Basho’s work is so colored by his cultural and religious fascinations, that at times, even beyond it sounding a bit cheesy, it sounds simply disingenuous. Obviously, this shouldn’t detract from the skill that he so effortlessly displays on his Lotus classics.

Brad Barr

Coming out of the Slip, Barr’s first solo disc was something of a surprise. And even if it came out on Tompkins Square – which is mentioned in the WotG piece – Barr’s work is still tied to more modern concoctions of Americana. All of his work on The Fall Apartment is based around the acoustic guitar, but a great deal of production gets tossed in – that’s where listeners realize the very real and consistent tie to the Slip. It’ll be interesting to see if Barr follows up this initial disc with another in the same vein.

Harry Taussig

Moving back to folks that recorded in the ‘60s, Taussig’s lone disc wasn’t released until just last year. The playing, while still very similar to Fahey or Kottke, has a bit of the ole novice flair to it. Not to say that the work suffers from amateurish playing, but there are a few moments when listeners will easily be able to pick out a flubbed note or two.

Peter Walker

Outta these folks Peter Walker is the only musician currently touring who hailed from the initial period of American Primitive Guitar. And even if Rainy Day Raga is touted as a classic, Walker’s subsequent studying of flamenco seems to refute his inclusion in this category. Oddly, though, his playing – purposefully sloppy as it was – has maintained that quality even after studying for a number of years.