If “Black Waterside” sounds familiar, it may be due to the fact that Jimmy Page brazenly “re-imagined” the song as “Black Mountain Side” on Led Zeppelin’s 1969 debut LP.
This is less an indictment of Page – an infamous plagiarist of folk and blues songs – than an acknowledgement of Bert Jansch’s (1943-2011) far-reaching influence, a guitarist of such renown that Neil Young once referred to the Scottish legend as the acoustic equivalent of Jimi Hendrix.
Jansch’s reputation among his fellow musicians was first established with the guitarist’s self-titled 1965 debut, which was seen at the time as an incredibly bold new direction for British folk music. Richie Unterberger wrote on AllMusic that Jansch recorded the album on a portable tape recorder with a borrowed guitar in the kitchen of his London flat.
Despite such humble origins, the album’s use of stark, original material combined with Jansch’s virtuoso guitar and plainspoken singing voice made an immediate impression on the British folk scene. The guitarist’s reputation was further enhanced by such releases as It Don’t Bother Me and Jack Orion.
(British pop troubadour Donovan even dedicated two songs to Jansch: “Bert’s Blues” and “House of Jansch.”)
In 1967-68, Jansch formed the genre-busting Pentangle with fellow guitarist John Renbourn, vocalist Jacqui McShee, bassist Danny Thompson and drummer Terry Cox. The band often performed folk standards infused with a jazz swing able to stand toe-to-toe with the likes of Charles Mingus.
“Light Flight” from Basket Of Light even hit the British pop charts.
On the whole, Jansch’s commercial fortunes never quite equalled his critical standing. Plagued by alcoholism, he disappeared for a time but re-emerged in the 1990s and continued to work until his death at the age of 67.
My deepest condolences to his family, friends and many fans.