Thursday, December 18, 2008

Davey Graham obituary

Davey Graham

Robin Denselow, The Guardian, Wednesday 17 December 2008

Davey Graham, who also recorded as Davy Graham, and has died aged 68 of lung cancer, was the undisputed guitar hero of the British folk-blues clubs in the early and mid-1960s: a remarkable and wildly inventive musician, he transformed the acoustic scene with performances that were startling and unique for their blend of traditional themes with blues, jazz and even Indian or Arabic influences. Years ahead of his time in the way he mixed styles, in doing so he opened the way for many of the great British guitarists who started out in the 60s.

Martin Carthy described him as "an extraordinary, dedicated player, the one everyone followed and watched - I couldn't believe anyone could play like that"; while for Bert Jansch (who would develop Graham's ideas in the band Pentangle), he was "courageous and controversial - he never followed the rules. He was a hard man to hold a conversation with, but he knew how to play the guitar." His influence extended from the folk clubs to the emerging British R&B and rock scene, where his followers included Jimmy Page, of Led Zeppelin, and Ray Davies, of the Kinks, who described him as "an awesome influence". He also influenced the American singer-songwriter Paul Simon, who covered Graham's instrumental piece Anji on the 1966 Simon and Garfunkel album Sounds of Silence - by when this slinky, complex tune had become a crucial part of the repertoire for any aspiring folk-blues guitarist.

An imposing, powerful-looking man with a moustache and almost military bearing that contrasted strangely with his wild lifestyle, Graham was a genial, enigmatic and complex figure who first appeared on the London folk scene at a time when it provided a home for an eclectic mixture of maverick musicians, as well as great traditional singers, writers or instrumentalists. For years he was well ahead of the pack. No one else in the early 60s took an interest in North African styles, but then no other musician wandered off to travel around Morocco, or even thought of experimenting with alternative guitar tunings. But despite his importance to the music scene, Graham earned little from playing, and for the past 32 years lived in a small house near the canal in Camden Town, London.

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