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©2019 Jimbo Kennedy

Jimbo Kennedy is an Oregon-based guitarist and author.

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Guitarist James Blackshaw Transcends Modern and Primitive

January 31, 2019


To label a music style as primitive suggests the artist is self-trained or untutored. Guitarists like John Fahey and Robbie Basho officially started the American Primitive genre. And James Blackshaw expanded the borders globally. So now we have Modern Primitive. Steve Vai's new album title plays with this "Modern Primitive" idea. But historically, "Primitive" denotes acoustic guitars with open tunings - steel-string guitars, played fingerstyle.


 Photo by The Drake Hotel


With 14 solo albums to his name, James Blackshaw is nothing short of prolific. Though he fits into the same genre as Basho, Fahey, Kottke and the like, his style is all his own. His cascading music is equally at home in a large concert hall or small house concert. And the hypnotic, evocative atmospheres he creates sound almost like a harp in 3/4 time. From some alleyway, here's his a performance of his track, "River of Heaven".



As a sort of guitar minimalist, James only keeps one guitar with him at a time. Usually, that's a Guild 12-string. Rather than collecting, he prefers to keep one of each type: 6-string, 12-string, nylon, etc. He composes in almost 20 different tunings (PDF). So for performances he manages by retuning two or three pairs of strings at a time.


Unfortunately for his fans, James has taken a hiatus from performing. Though he does plan to release more music soon. Until then, we will have to be content with his multitude of instrumental albums and collaborations.


A selection of Blackshaw's album cover artwork


As a gentle departure from his acoustic guitar instrumentals, here is the recording and sheet music of James Blackshaw's "Fix" for Piano, Violin, and Cello. 


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