Monday, 22 August 2011

El Toro Arenoso Pt.1

Sandy Bull. One of the finest and most original guitarists America has ever produced, and for my money anyway, by far and way the best of the first wave of the so-called "American primitives*". "Blend", the appositely titled opening track to his first LP, Fantasias For Guitar & Banjo (Vanguard) is a twenty-odd minute dialogue between Bull's extraordinary acoustic guitar and the unstoppable invention of Billy Higgins' drumkit and assorted percussives, which manages to absorb modal jazz, blues, Indian, Middle-Eastern and Nubian influences into it's untouchable whole, at times coming on like a psychedelic acoustic Bo Diddley jamming with Can in a souk. And this was in 1963.

Yes, you did read that right, 1963. In the same fucking year as the fucking Beatles wheedled and whined their insipid way into the world's consciousness, and Coltrane was still a year or so away from A Love Supreme and tentatively dipping his toe into freer, more turbulent waters, Sandy Bull was... somewhere else, somewhere new, somewhere better. It's one of those records that's just too damn early, too fucking far ahead of the pack, that it seems to sit outside of the normal timeline, like a digital watch accidentally dropped in 1920 by a careless time-traveller. If this had fuzz on the guitar, it would be the exact music that Jerry Garcia and Jorma Kaukonen were trying so fucking hard to make in 1968. Those free-flying raga-tinged freakouts that came a few years down the line? They started here, and very few have ever come close.

More on the eclectic, erratic, eccentric genius of Mr Bull very soon, for now, I'll leave you with the full version of Blend for yr delectation, delight and other words beginning with "d".

*What a fucking stupid term for playing the acoustic guitar. I can't decide what I hate about it most; it's utter meaningless in the face of the sheer harmonic and technical sophistication that musicians like Jack Rose or (in his early days at least) Leo Kottke employed to conjour such dense, complex clouds of sound from their instruments**, or it's semantic and lexical dubiousness, reeking as it does of such lovely concepts as "noble savage" and the like, the term's implied presumption that music rooted in folk, blues or early country is somehow backward and unsophisticated. I don't care that the sainted John Fahey himself*** coined the term, apparently in homage to the French Primitive painters, it still rankles with me, with it's aura of condescension and it's unwitting borderline offensiveness. It displays that same fucking patronising 50s/60s attitude as all those sniffy white folk fans who got all up in a froth when black people dared to play the blues on electric guitars because it wasn't "authentic". It's all fucking folk music, get over yrselves, and yr silly fucking ideas.

**Go and listen to Jack Rose's Raag Manifestos and tell me there's anything primitive about this music. Well, you can if you like, but you'd be wrong and I'd probably just tell you to fuck off.

***Sarcasm. Of the heavy handed kind.


  1. It really is, isn't it? I just love it when it speeds up and the drums rush in. Amazing bit of music. It's a tragedy he's not better known, just wait til you hear his Bach interpretations on banjo...

  2. Are you posting them? I have a feeling a skilled hand at the banjo may be just what Bach needs.