[Slowhand] Davy Graham Obituary - with the very slightest EC mention
turbineltd at btconnect.com
Thu Dec 18 17:07:11 EST 2008
Not DN's favourite guitarist, but hey, he can't do any more to disappoint
Musician who drew inspiration from music across the globe and influenced the
leading guitarists of his age
Last Updated: 5:55PM GMT 18 Dec 2008
Davy Graham, who died on December 15 aged 68, never achieved - or sought -
fame and fortune, but his influence as one of Britain's most brilliant and
innovative acoustic guitarists runs deep through many musical genres.
Graham's experiments with open tunings changed the way people played the
instrument; his most famous tune Anji became a benchmark for aspiring
guitarists; and his visionary experiments fusing folk, blues and jazz with
styles he had absorbed on his regular travels through Africa and India made
him a revered figure among other musicians.
He first emerged in the folk scene of the early 1960s, but seldom stayed
still long enough to collect any of the rewards enjoyed by many of his
contemporaries, who nevertheless always acknowledged his importance. He
recorded numerous albums and had short spells playing with Alexis Korner's
band Blues Incorporated and with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers; but he was
essentially a shy loner, too far ahead of his time to be embraced by the
commercial music world.
When asked to describe himself Graham invariably used the term "traveller"
rather than musician. By his own admission he was never much of a singer and
rarely wrote original material. But his virtuoso playing and groundbreaking
arrangements inspired many, from the great folk guitarists such as Martin
Carthy, Bert Jansch and John Renbourn to rock musicians such as Jimmy Page
and Eric Clapton; even Jimi Hendrix is said to have been a Davy Graham fan.
David Michael Gordon Graham was born in Leicester on November 22 1940, the
mixed-race son of a Scots Gaelic singer from the Isle of Skye and a Guyanese
mother. Brought up in London's Notting Hill area, he initially learned
harmonica and piano, but took up the guitar when he was 12 and - taught by
Oliver Hunt - became adept on classical guitar by the time he was 16, when
he also became obsessed by the hits of Lonnie Donegan. He left school in
1958 to go busking in Paris, and listened intently to music wherever he
could find it - from Rambling Jack Elliott to Big Bill Broonzy, Snooks
Eaglin, Miles Davis and Charles Mingus.
He quickly developed his own unique finger style and came to wider attention
in June 1959, when he was featured playing a complex and demanding
arrangement of the standard Cry Me A River in a Ken Russell BBC TV
documentary, Guitar Craze.
Graham secured a residency at Nick's Diner in Fulham, had a cameo role in
the film The Servant and expanded his musical horizons with trips to Italy,
Greece and Tangier, where he sat in with local musicians in the Arab
quarter, adapting their techniques into his own playing. This ultimately
resulted in his developing the DADGAD modal guitar tuning system, which
enabled him to create a richer sound and opened up a broader range of
melodic possibilities that subsequently provided a new blueprint for folk
In 1961 Alexis Korner arranged a session with him at the London home of the
recording engineer Bill Leader, resulting in the collaborative EP, 3/4AD,
released the following year by Topic Records. It included Anji, written for
his girlfriend of the time.
His first LP, The Guitar Player, was released on the Golden Guinea label the
following year, though its repertoire of standards was scarcely
representative of the original ideas he was now exploring. These came to
fruition in 1965 with the release of the Decca LP Folk, Blues & Beyond,
which merged traditional melodies such as Seven Gypsies with jazz and what
would now be called 'world music' in a style that came to be dubbed "folk
Hot on its heels came the even more daring Folk Roots, New Routes, an
experimental record still talked of in hushed tones in British folk music
circles, setting the traditional Sussex songs of Shirley Collins to bold
modern jazz accompaniments. Sales were low, but it was critically acclaimed;
and its influence resonated around the folk scene and far beyond. Later
groups such as Pentangle took direct inspiration from this concerted refusal
to recognise musical barriers.
With a sight defect dating from a childhood accident, Graham was awkward in
company: impeccably polite yet disconcertingly distant. He married the
American singer Holly Gwinn, with whom he made two albums and had two
daughters before she returned to America in 1974 without him.
By then Graham was addicted to heroin - in a deliberate attempt, according
to some of his contemporaries, to ape his jazz heroes - and he slowly
slipped from the public gaze.
Graham briefly returned to attention with The Complete Guitarist LP (1977),
which blended classical with Irish and Renaissance music, and made sporadic
He continued to travel and investigate music from different parts of the
world, mastering the Arabic oud and Indian sarod instruments and studying a
variety of different languages - even returning to his father's Scottish
roots to learn Gaelic. He also undertook charity work, with a particular
interest in helping people suffering from depression.
A new generation was alerted to him by a BBC radio documentary, Whatever
Happened to Davy Graham?, in 2005. Last year he released a new album, Broken
Biscuits, and started gigging again.
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