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©2019 Jimbo Kennedy

Jimbo Kennedy is an Oregon-based guitarist and author.

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Robbie Basho's Mystical Guitar Playing

November 21, 2018

"Do not seek the Master. Seek what the Master sought."

~Robbie Basho paraphrasing his namesake Matsuo Basho~


It is difficult to write this. Robbie Basho means more to me than any musician I have ever admired. The reverie of his music goes beyond normal listening. Sometimes silly, often euphoric, ... I find it difficult to turn these feelings into words. So bear with me. Thanks;)



Robbie Basho almost disappeared into obscurity. But at one time he regularly delighted listeners and students alike with his American Primitive style. From the 60s to the 80s, he played his guitar like a magical harp. Sometimes he would operatically sing, too. While I would love to give you the dictionary definition of Robbie, (wikipedia can handle that) I would rather tell you what he means to me.


While briefly attending the Ali Akbar College of Music, I tuned to EAEEAE (later DADDAD) to study Raga. My partner, who brought me to this marvelous school, was in Tabla class. I had hit a wall in my practice that evening and decided to get spiritual with my musical development. I reached my heart out to Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, who had only recently passed on. I asked for help with my guitar playing. I then set Last.fm on Ali's channel and hit next until something new came on. That new music was Robbie Basho. He had once studied at AACM. And this internet radio station had just brought him to my waiting ears, desperate for the most refined novelty. His whirring, open-tuned landscapes of sound rang me like a bell.



His harp-like playing baffled my ears. I couldn't follow his moves. It sounded so simple but somehon ran deeper than technique. Emotional colors exploded out my speakers and I wept. With gratitude and love for the most beautiful guitar playing I had ever heard in my life, I cried and cried and cried. Through song after song, I leapt with joy and collapsed into pain. This was the music I was looking for... Heart & Soul music.



Liner notes from one of Robbie's albums, detailing his color/music theory.


Leo Kottke, Jack Rose, John Fahey, and so many more American Primitive players have inspired me. But none so much as Robbie Basho. To listen to his music is at once relaxing and overwhelming. At first, his singing was too much and I obsessed on his guitar playing. But anymore, Blue Crystal Fire is enough to reduce me to a puddle of tears. Here is someone who can open their heart and pour it out.



A man who wrestled with unrequited love defined a unique style still alive today. He put the power of his love into his acoustic guitar music which is unrivaled in its emotive beauty. I'm happy to report that thanks to so many adoring fans, a documentary of Robbie and his music was recently produced and will soon be available to purchase:



Thanks for reading,


Check out Robbie Basho and my other guitar heroes

in the Spotify playlist:




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