The legendary English guitarist and a major influence on practically every fingerstyle acoustic guitarist for the past 50 years, Davey Graham, passed away on Monday of lung cancer which was detected only a few weeks ago. He was 68.
Born November 22nd, 1940 in Hinckley, Leicestershire, England, he took up the guitar at the age of 12. By the age of 19 Graham composed what would probably be his most famous piece, “Anji,” released on his debut 1962 EP, 3/4 AD, and later covered by the likes of Pentangle and Simon & Garfunkel.
Here in the United States, Graham perhaps wasn’t as well known as some of his contemporaries but he has been credited with single-handedly inventing the concept of the folk guitar instrumental in the U.K.-- simultaneous honors in the U.S would go to John Fahey, who was making similar innovations. Graham influenced a who’s who of British guitarists from Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Richard Thompson, John Martyn, Nick Drake, Martin Carthy, and Jimmy Page -- Page’s instrumental "White Summer" was heavily based on Graham's "She Moved Thru the Bazaar/Blue Raga."
In 1959 Graham first made headlines with his attention grabbing performance of “Cry Me a River’ in the BBC television documentary Hound Dogs and Bach Addicts: The Guitar Craze, produced by Ken Russell. During the 1960s he played a major role in the British folk revival, releasing a series of eclectic solo albums that touched on a wide range of music, from jazz and blues to Indian and Arabic and gypsy. He introduced to many an aspiring young guitarist the DADGAD guitar tuning, whose chief appeal is the ability to improvise freely, yet maintain a solid underlying rhythm and harmony. But Graham's career was somewhat unpredictable; his concerts were often hit or miss. Much of his reputation was based on a couple of brilliant albums, both released in the same week of 1965, Folk Routes, New Routes in a duet with the folk singer Shirley Collins and Folk, Blues and Beyond, a mostly instrumental album that combined all his world music styles. His live playing was best captured and recorded in 1967 on an incredible album entitled After Hours, which was recorded in a student's dorm room on the campus of Hull University in front of an audience of about eight people. Nonetheless, and in many ways, even as impulsive as he may have been, Davey Graham was the first guitar hero … and certainly one of mine.
There will be a private funeral held for Davey Graham later this week. A public memorial service is being planned for January.