John Renbourn & Stefan Grossman

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John Renbourn & Stefan Grossman

Post  pinhedz on Fri Apr 22, 2011 9:44 am

John McLaughlin

Just salvaged from a studio whose occupant finally gave up moving out of - he was really overwhelmed by all the stuff he'd accumulated over the years: John Renbourn and Stefan Grossman, The Three Kingdoms (Shanachie 95006), a 1987 recording. All I can say is damn. Well, no. I was just hyperventilating, at some of the sweetest guitar duets I've ever heard. Anyone else know their duet work from other recordings? I think this came out of an American tour they did back then, and there was one other recording released while they were together, also on Shanachie. I'll find it in this junk-heap of an office yet....

Got it - Wheel of Fortune, but with Robin Williamson, not Stefan Grossman - hah. Forgot I now have this iTunes bank in my computer - the litter in the office is trivia next to this alphabetized encyclopedia. Also lovely duets, plus Robin's h'm special voice. Shades of the Incredible String Band, and live concert recordings at that.


Stan54

They have 2 duet LPs, both about the same. I am a way bigger fan of Renbourne than I am of Grossman whose restorationist and archivist leanings tend to inhibit any soul in his playing. In other words, there isn't a trace of Stefan Grossman on an original Blind Blake recording so Grossman makes certain there also isn't when he plays that piece in the Blind Blake style.

Much better I think is the duet LP "Stepping Stones" by Renbourne and Pentangle partner, Bert Jansch.

Don't get me wrong, I'd sacrifice children i don't even have for Grossman's formidable chops. But he is oddly unengaging.


John McLaughlin

Couldn't put my finger on the difference - probably comes of not being a musician myself, but that could also be an excuse. Thanks.


pinhedz

Stan54 wrote:Don't get me wrong, I'd sacrifice children I don't even have for Grossman's formidable chops. But he is oddly unengaging.
I have much the same reaction, but it’s darned hard to explain.

If a musician learns to play Blind Blake so well that you can’t tell the two apart, shouldn’t we choose to listen to the rendition with the best recording quality? Sometimes critics will accuse a performer of “sterile perfection.” What does that say about what he’s doing wrong? Is there such a thing as “too perfect?”

Grossman said that he had a “long and stormy friendship” with John Fahey. I wonder if “friendship” is really the right word. Fahey recorded a number called “The Assassination of Stefan Grossman” and Grossman in turn recorded “The Assassination of John Fahey.” I gather that, at a minimum, there must have been some points of contention between them.

What was Fahey’s problem? I can only guess, but Grossman was the kind of person that wrote books with titles like “How to Play Delta Blues Guitar” and “How to Play Bottleneck Guitar” and “How to Play Piedmont Style Finger-Picking guitar.” I have a CD entitled “How to Play Blues Guitar,” on which Grossman duets with Renbourn on a number called “Mississippi Blues #3.” If you work diligently with these books, you can learn to sound just like Stephan Grossman. With hard work, everybody could learn to sound just like everyone else. I think that maybe that might be what bothered Fahey.

Which reminds me of the liner notes from Fahey’s “The Transfiguration of Blind joe Death,” which describes how a “disgusting, insipid young folklorist” discovers a sort of folk guitarist production factory:

“For, as he looked on in amazement, fifty-odd white-haired guitarists of varying abilities were struggling with THE DOWNFALL of the ADELPHI ROLLING GRISTMILL, and all at once. After a seemingly interminable period, the cacophony lurched to a halt as a lone instructor bellowed out directions concerning right-hand technique. Once again the group went into action, lumbering clumsily through the selection.”

"I am very concerned with this group's progress, or rather the lack of it," said Denson. "Even hypno-training is not producing any noticeable results----I fear the worst. We'll have to brainwash them, start from scratch----but the inconvenience, not to mention the delay, seriously impairs the entire project."

"What project?"

"Come in here and I'll show you," said Denson, leading the baffled youth into the next room. "See these (at this point throwing a pile of Billboards, Cashboxes, and Varieties into the youth's cap)--they're all saying the same thing. Folk Music, and Folk related Music is coming in again, and it's going to be big - I mean really big, much bigger than the 60's." He was suddenly engulfed in a wave of excitement as he said, "It'll be just like old times-I'll have a FAHEY in every city, town or hamlet which has a coffee house. But that is only the beginning." He was now speaking rapidly, with a feverish glint in his eyes. "Supermarkets! That's where the real money is to be made! I'll have FAHEYS playing for the little woman in shopping emporiums throughout the inhabited universe. It's always been my grandest scheme, save for one." He was now indulging in a smile of pride and of surpasing wisdom. "I will call it the INTERGALACTIC FAHEY SUPPLY," he said, "What do you think of it?"

That said, right now I’m listning to “How To Play Blues Guiter,” which has Grossman playing with Son house, Mickey Baker, Jo Ann Kelly, Sam Mitchell, Mike Cooper and John Renbourn, and I'm liking it.


John McLaughlin

That's hilarious. Undoubtedly Fahey was suffering from lack of contact with Dave Van Ronk, who mocked the idea that getting a CD guaranteed airplay and stardom and being on the cover of the Rolling Stone. There's just too much supply to meet demand, in this and many's the artistic field. If people don't do it for pleasure first, they'll soon find that they don't have much of a career either - the numbers just don't support that many rich folkies! (To make a million dollars in folk music, start with two million?)


pinhedz

The story continues:

"The insipid young man hesitated for a long moment, and then surprised even himself. 'Pardon me for asking you, Mr. Denson, and don't consider me impolite or ungrateful, but what makes you think that the housewives of our universe want to listen to JOHN FAHEY?' ..."

In any case, I don't think Denson was planning on making making the folkies rich--he was planning on making Ed Denson rich.


John McLaughlin

Yeah, unless he thought the one would do the other. Since the other was never gonna happen - pace Van Ronk - the ambition imputed to Denson by Fahey was a non-starter. Pretty direct of Fahey t use the personal name, no?


pinhedz

Just to tie all those names together with a neat little bow, here's an excerpt from the Wiki entry on Denson:

"Denson produced some of Fahey's albums. In the early 1960s he was road manager for Mississippi John Hurt, helped manage Bukka White, and produced recordings by Skip James after Fahey located Bukka and Skip James was found by a folklorist in Mississippi. He sold his interest in the label to Fahey in the mid-60s. ... In 1972 Denson and Stefan Grossman founded and managed Kicking Mule Records, which released acoustic guitar instrumentals with tablature at the onset, and branched out to include artists such as John Renbourn, ... "


Stan54

One of my favorite Van Ronk stories, may be a digression off point ere but you'll like it:

Sometime in the early 1960s Champion Jack Dupree was living in Hamburg, and he got a call from an agent there. The guy said "Jack, I'm going to put you on the tour of your life. We're going to start you in Stockholm, and we're goinmg to send you to Lisbon to Leningrad." It sounded all right, so Jack signed on. He was traveling with a small band, and they trundled from country to country, town to town, and eventually they got to Kiev, I think it was. That was still in the Soviet Union, and this was the height of the Cold War - how they arranged to get in there at that time is anybody's guess. In any case, there they were, and all of a sudden, the tour just evaporated. There Jack was, stranded in Russia, with no money, three or four musicians, and no way to get home.

God knows how he wiggled out of that one, but musicians get to be very good at that sort of thing - our improvisational skills are by no means limited to music. In any case, somehow or another he limped back to Germany, licking his wounds.

The years go by, and then one fine day he gets a call from the same guy, with the same offer: "Jack, I'm gonna put you on the tour of a lifetime! We'll start you in Stockholm, you're gonna be in Lisbon, in Marrakech, in Kiev...."

Dupree said, "Now wait a minute. I remember you. First of all, I am going absolutely nowhere unless I have airline tickets covering every single stop on the tour, in my pocket before I leave my house." There was an audible gulp at the other end of the line. And Jack added, "I fly first class."

There were more gulps, but eventually the guy said, "Well, OK Jack."

The next morning, Jack showed up at the agent's office, and the agent handed over a sheaf of tickets to him and his band that looked like a Gutenberg Bible. Jack went through them carefully, checked that they covered the whole tour from beginning to end, and said, "Yes, this looks all right.

Then he left, went over to the Lufthansa office, cashed them all in, and went home.

Man! To an over-the-road musician, that is sheer poetry.

=======

From Van Rok's memoir, pp 192-193.

Stan54

pinhedz wrote:
Stan54 wrote:Don't get me wrong, I'd sacrifice children I don't even have for Grossman's formidable chops. But he is oddly unengaging.

I have much the same reaction, but it’s darned hard to explain.

If a musician learns to play Blind Blake so well that you can’t tell the two apart, shouldn’t we choose to listen to the rendition with the best recording quality? Sometimes critics will accuse a performer of “sterile perfection.” What does that say about what he’s doing wrong? Is there such a thing as “too perfect?”
I don't think it's "perfect" at all. For me, artistic expression in music is made up of three elements - an intellectual understanding of music, theory, the language of music, it's syntax, etc.; a physical ability to actually DO what you can think of, an ability to play fast and slow, in time, etc.; and an emotional connectivity... an accessibility to the person's emotional life, enabling an expression of an individual mind. Ultimately, if "art" has a purpose it is to unequivocably let us know we are not alone. When we encounter a great novel or painting or composition, we can sense the presence of the "other" and that's comforting.

When I listen to Grossman, it's that last element that's lacking. When you work to remove every last trace of "you" from what you play it has to involve some sort of self-loathing.


John McLaughlin

I'm thinking, we should do a Van Ronk story-telling time thread. Doesn't hafta be stories about Van Ronk, could be stories Dave told about other people.

I like the fact, for example, he would'n't talk while playing music. Good attitude. Ya wanna hear the damn music, or you wanna bullshit? And I like the one he told about his old jazz friends, who'd get a little high, pull out the old records, and spin em and play, "Name that Sideman."

Somehow - could be wrong - I'm seeing Stan as sort of a Van Ronk doppelganger. Well, somebody's gotta gang now the big guy's gone, right?


Stan54

John McLaughlin wrote:
I'm thinking, we should do a Van Ronk story-telling time thread. Doesn't hafta be stories about Van Ronk, could be stories Dave told about other people.

I like the fact, for example, he would'n't talk while playing music. Good attitude. Ya wanna hear the damn music, or you wanna bullshit? And I like the one he told about his old jazz friends, who'd get a little high, pull out the old records, and spin em and play, "Name that Sideman."

Somehow - could be wrong - I'm seeing Stan as sort of a Van Ronk doppelganger. Well, somebody's gotta gang now the big guy's gone, right?
Or a 5th rate Van Ronk wanna be.

I'm just listing the various possibilities.....

pinhedz
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Re: John Renbourn & Stefan Grossman

Post  pinhedz on Mon Feb 06, 2012 9:12 am


pinhedz
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