Neil Young is revered as one of the finest composers of his time, but his prowess as a guitarist often flies under the radar, overshadowed by his lyrical genius. Yet, Young’s mastery of the six-string deserves its rightful acclaim.
Throughout his illustrious career, Young has delivered stunning guitar performances across his diverse catalog. From the delicate intricacies of ‘On The Beach’ to the raw aggression of ‘Hey Hey, My My,’ his versatility knows no bounds. However, it’s ‘Down By The River’ that stands out as a pinnacle of his guitar work, a nine-minute opus reminiscent of the guitar legends of yesteryears.
Young readily acknowledges the influences that shaped his guitar style, and one such figure is Bert Jansch. Before joining Pentangle, Jansch, a prominent London folk musician, roamed the coffee bar streets, infusing his music with a melancholic charm that left an indelible mark on the emerging rock scene.
Despite his proficiency on various instruments, including the banjo and dulcimer, Jansch’s love affair with the acoustic guitar remained unwavering. His mastery served as a blueprint for a generation of guitarists, including luminaries like Joan Armatrading, Jimmy Page, and Johnny Marr.
Young, deeply influenced by Jansch’s artistry, went as far as touring with him in 2010. Yet, it was in 1992 when Young made a profound declaration, likening Jansch to none other than Jimi Hendrix himself. “Bert Jansch is on the same level as Jimi Hendrix,” Young proclaimed. “That first album of his is magnificent.” Young’s admiration for Jansch’s ‘The Needle of Death’ was evident, so much so that he unwittingly based the guitar melody of ‘Ambulance Blues’ from his own album ‘On the Beach’ on it.
For Young, who holds Hendrix in the highest regard as “the greatest electric guitar player who ever lived,” to equate Jansch with him speaks volumes about the folk maestro’s influence and impact. Jansch’s legacy continues to resonate through the music of artists like Neil Young, ensuring his place among the pantheon of guitar greats.