A Troubled Genius Moves On…………
Davey Graham has died aged 68. Not a household name, though he bloody well should have been! Without Davey there would have been no Bert, no Renbourn. Certainly a pubescent John Galloway would have been less driven to pick up a guitar. Hell there’d have been no DADGAD!. There’s a nice mini profile here Folk Brittania. Like Jimi his stuff was at times almost unlistenable but he pulled so many musical strands together. Bye Davey…be happy (and hopefully Jimmy Page will finally pay you royalties for White Summer!)
Normally I don’t quote other sources verbatim but here’s the obituary from the Guardian
“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.
Graham’s father, Hamish, was a Gaelic teacher from the Isle of Skye who was also an amateur singer, and – according to Davey – a considerable athlete. His mother Winifred (who he used to refer to as “Amanda”) was from British Guiana (now Guyana), and these two influences help to explain his love of Celtic music and his eclectic taste.
Born in Leicester, he was brought up in Westbourne Grove in London’s Notting Hill Gate, and by his early teens he had become fascinated by the guitar – though he never owned one until he was 16. He then became an obsessive, playing early Elvis Presley songs such as Mystery Train, or Lonnie Donegan skiffle hits. While at a Kensington lycée, where he learned French, he suffered an accident that left him with only 20% vision in his right eye. As soon as he left school, at 18, he began to travel, busking in Greece, North Africa, and on the streets of Paris.
He also studied hard to perfect his guitar technique, watching and learning from folk musicians such as Steve Benbow or “Rambling” Jack Elliott. Initially a shy man, he started playing in the coffee bars and restaurants of Soho, where he developed his highly individual concept of the folk guitar instrumental. He first acquired the status of a guitar hero in June 1959, at the age of 18, when he appeared on a Ken Russell BBC TV programme playing a complex version of Cry Me a River.
By now, Graham’s interests had shifted from skiffle to jazz and blues, and he was listening to (and playing) music by Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman and Snooks Eaglin. He was for a time involved in the emerging British blues scene, playing with Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, and working (on television) with the singer Long John Baldry. But he was never cut out to be a band member, and was happier as a soloist. Ray Davies, then playing with Dave Hunt’s Blues Band in his pre-Kinks days, remembers lending Graham his guitar in the early 60s and being astonished by the “incredible physical presence” of a musician he described as “the greatest blues players I ever saw, apart from Big Bill Broonzy”.
Graham’s recording career began in 1961 with the EP 3/4 AD, on which he was joined by Korner. It included Anji (named after a girlfriend), but initially went largely unnoticed because it was so far ahead of its time. In 1963 he released his first LP, The Guitar Player, and the following year he recorded two albums that are now recognised as folk-blues classics and were rather like delayed time bombs; their initial impact may not have been enormous but the long-term effect was remarkable.
The first, Folk Blues and Beyond, mixes blues with an elaborate guitar backing to the traditional song Seven Gypsies (played in a style that was to be known as “folk baroque”), as well as excursions into jazz and Moroccan themes. The second, Folk Roots, New Routes, was recorded with the folk singer Shirley Collins, and mixed folk songs such as Nottamun Town with jazz-influenced tracks, from Thelonious Monk’s Blue Monk to Bobby Timmons’s Grooveyard.
But admiration for the jazz world lifestyle had a devastating effect on Graham, who began to inject heroin and registered himself as a drug addict. According to Carthy, “he was a lovely man, but he was in thrall to jazz players like Charlie Parker, and the whole drug culture. And though there was very little heroin on the British folk scene, he deliberately became a junkie. I remember Alexis Korner’s fury when he found out.”
Graham’s lifestyle affected his career, though he continued to record impressive albums during the 60s, including Large As Life and Twice As Natural, and Hat (both 1969) that continued his experiments in matching blues against Indian ragas, Bulgarian dance tunes or a guitar treatment of a Henry Purcell harpsichord suite. But he was becoming distanced from the music scene, and when I met him in 1969, in a flat near Ladbroke Grove, he asked after Korner and Collins, and seemed unaware of the musical revolution that he started. He told me that he wanted to hear Ravi Shankar and Chico Hamilton playing Ravel’s Bolero.
He began to give fewer public performances, but spent his time learning languages (he spoke excellent French and studied Arabic, Turkish, Greek and Gaelic), and the Arabic oud and Indian sarod, which he played on his 1979 album Dance for Two People. But he was never far from his guitar and gave some extraordinary private performances. On one occasion in the early 1980s he came round to my house and started playing in the garden – he was concentrating so hard on what he was doing that he failed to notice that a neighbouring house had caught fire.
Over the past 20 years he made occasional appearances, at times playing brilliantly, though sometimes sounding like a shadow of his former self. He also made occasional recordings, including Playing in Traffic, released in 1993, and Broken Biscuits, released last year, when there was an attempt to revitalise his career with a 13-date tour. On a good night he was still capable of providing a reminder of why he was such a massive influence; one such performance was at the London Spitz, in September 2006. He came on looking like a cool veteran cowboy, in black hat and dark glasses, and played a set that included a Romanian dance tune, Irish pipe tunes and songs from South Africa, before announcing, “A bit of Bach, I think”, and being greeted with as many cheers as when he launched into a blues.
Davey’s personal life was often as complex as his music. He was married once, from the late 60s to early 70s, to the American singer Holly Gwinn, with whom he recorded Godington Boundary (1970). But he was always accompanied by a series of devoted girlfriends, some of whom remained close friends long after the relationship had ended. He was the father of two daughters, Mercy and Kim, who both survive him, as does his former wife.
• Davey (Davy) Graham, guitarist, born 26 November 1940; died 15 December 2008
The Guardian, Wednesday 17 December 2008″
Jeez, I’m bored with death…………