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Robbie Basho

Experimental, inventive and dazzling have been words to describe the dexterity of acoustic, steel-string guitarist ROBBIE BASHO (aka Daniel Robinson, born August 31, 1940, Baltimore, Maryland, USA). Somewhat in the shadow of folky innovators JOHN FAHEY, STEFAN GROSSMAN and LEO KOTTKE, Robbie nevertheless brought his own meditative, medieval style to the proverbial table. Finding an outlet through the aforementioned FAHEY’s Takoma imprint, BASHO delivered a plethora of absorbing solo, mainly instrumental sets, specializing in Middle Eastern, Appalachian and worldly themes.
His debut in 1965, THE SEAL OF THE BLUE LOTUS {*7}, kicked off Robbie’s low-key career in fine style, six lengthy tracks from the self-descriptive `Mountain Man’s Farewell’ to the Ravi Shankar-esque, raga-fuelled title track.
THE GRAIL & THE LOTUS (1966) {*8}, continued the sombre search for that elusive lost chord, somewhere lost in the transcendental travels from America to Asia & Eire, and rolled into one mystical vision by way of `Oriental Love Song’ and `The Golden Shamrock’.
Attempting to belt out the blues was not Robbie’s strong point, so one would have to dismiss BASHO SINGS (1967) {*4}, as a musical misnomer. THE FALCONER’S ARM I (1967) {*5} and THE FALCONER’S ARM II (1968) {*7}, were a different kettle of fish, Robbie stretching himself beyond the God-like limits of guitar virtuoso through caverns of crescendo-esque musak including ragas, traditional & the odd flamenco.
Depicting two naked females on the front sleeve (one pale, one brown-skinned), VENUS IN CANCER (1970) {*8}, fulfilled the early promise displayed on his previous LP encounters. Once again, six lengthy, “primitive” pieces littered proceedings, the theme this time centring on astrology and mysticism – if RAVI SHANKAR rolled down from the Appalachian mountains he’d sound like this; Blue Thumb Records had been given permission to release the LP.
SONG OF THE STALLION (1971) {*6} completed BASHO’s final set for Takoma, another intricate, finger-plucking instrumental that was interspersed with poetic recitals and deep Native American-like chanting that took the theme of mid-Western and classical Hindu patterns.
For his next two sets, Robbie struck a deal with Vanguard Records (once home to BUFFY SAINTE-MARIE, PATRICK SKY, COUNTRY JOE & THE FISH, etc.), for whom he issued THE VOICE OF THE EAGLE (1972) {*5} and ZARTHUS (1974) {*7}. While both records were dedicated to the guru Avatar Meher Baba (who’d inspired PETE TOWNSHEND), the former took the American Indian theme through Robbie’s “song” cycle featuring only one actual instrumental; the latter reinstated the progressive guitarist, as, er, a guitarist; check out the 19-minute `Rhapsody In Druz’.
Subsequently straying into new age territory via two Windham Hill-released sets (VISIONS OF THE COUNTRY (1979) {*4} and ART OF THE ACOUSTIC STEEL STRING GUITAR 6 & 12 (1980) {*4}, Robbie was indeed a little less philosophical; the latter actually added revisits of `The Grail & The Lotus’, `Cathedrals Et Fleur De Lis’, `Pasha’ (as `Pasha II’) and a handful of classical variations.
Although Windham Hill boss Will Ackerman was a huge fan of Robbie’s, the cult fret-man issued only a few self-released albums/cassettes before his untimely death on February 28, 1986 in Berkeley, California. When one listens to BASHO one can hear elements of distant peers such as BERT JANSCH, JIMMY PAGE and SANDY BULL.
© MC Strong 2010-GFD // rev-up MCS Dec2013

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