“Ian was a student of the Rev's (Rev. Gary Davis). We lived in this house together, and it occurred to me much later that my playing was probably so obnoxious that, out of pure self-defense, he just took me under his wing. And I pretty much quit going to classes the next quarter and played eight hours a day.”
“The first song he taught was 'West Coast Blues,' which is the first song I use in my (instructional) video. My secret of teaching beginners is pretty much the way he taught me.”
Jorma Kaukonen"Kaukonen's music flowed from Yellow Springs"
Jorma Kaukonen"Kaukonen's music flowed from Yellow Springs"
"I saw Ian Buchanan play at the Metro...a little wine/beer bar big during the 70s in the Borough of Queens in New York City. [...] My stepbrother, an excellent guitarist in his own right, studied with Ian and introduced me to his work and to him, actually. A very nice man, but very obviously melancholy at the stage that I met him. My stepbrother had actually had a lesson with Ian just a short time before he threw himself out a window for the second time. Ian had attempted suicide years before. He unfortunately, or fortunately, broke his fall on an awning. This rendered him a paraplegic and relegated him to a wheelchair for the last years of his life. The second attempt, several years later was, however, successful. Ian died, I believe, in 1973 or 1974. Hell of a player. I still play Gary Davis stuff in Ian's style, and I use "Sportin' Life Blues," Ian-style, as a warm up prior to playing before audiences." ('Blind Rickie' at www.guitarseminars.com)
back cover notes plus5 page foldout bookletby Barry Hansen, HaroldCourlander & Paul NelsonElektra EKL-264 (mono)
Elektra EKS-7264 (stereo)
= Mode MDEKL 9459 (Fr 1964)
= Edsel ED248 (UK 1987)
5 CD set (=) Elektra CD 8122795661-2 (EU 2015) "TheGreenwich Village FolkScene" (five original Elektraalbums from the 1960s, including"The Blues Project")
Inside Sounds CD 508
boxed set of 4 CDs
notes by Marty Brennan
What was Ian's music like? First, like many creative musicians that please others, Ian played for Ian! If no one else was around or listening, yet Ian was playing. Second, Ian played solo and this is very important in an era of tens of thousands of "groups". Did Ian ever play or "jam" with others? Sure, but he was a whole show in himself. Third Ian was primarily a fingerpicking guitarist, an artform largely hidden from the general public. When they do hear it they think "classical" or "bluegrass", but it is an orchestra in itself. Fourth, Jan was a blues guitarist. Most people think this means screaming electric a la B.B.King, not realizing acoustic (fingerpicked once again) blues came first and was played very commercially for years before electricity came along. Fifth, he was a student of the Rev. Gary Davis and played much if not most of Gary Davis' unusual repertoire and this at a time when it was very obscure. Sixth, he played many other "old blues" by other artists. The point of "old blues" is that in the twenties and thirties blues artists did not play in as limited a format as they did later (not just 12 bars, not just I,IV,V chords) and so there were many unusual songs in structure and chord changes, and also, unusual instrumentation like resonator guitars and even mandolins (Yank Rachell). In fact this is one of the main things that struck me on first hearing him play. I had never heard anything like it. It was certainly a part of his artistry that he sought out and put together quite a collection of these long passed, rare sounds for his repertoire. Seventh, I suppose it should be mentioned by me, an instrumentalist, that Ian sang the songs along with his terrific guitar playing. Last, a large part of Ian's unusual repertoire in the order as I experienced it from and with him:
Existentialist .... It should be said Ian was an "existentialist", a philosophy not much heard of these days (2003), but much thought upon then (1960) when I might add, religion was not much in favor. How do I know Ian was this? Part of being an existentialist was that if you were, you never ever said anything about it, a person might know it by the presence of certain books around your place by authors like Jean Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, etc. Part of the creed or ethos of being an existentialist as understood by those around Antioch and other thinking circles was "authenticity". What you are in yourself (what you might do when alone) you don't go blowing off, least of all about being an "existentialist", not for image, praise of others, ideology, attainment, goals of institutional thought and standards, etc. This is part of the reason he and others liked "old blues" a form of music without pretensions, institutions, or standards, largely unknown even, outside of a dwindling obscure group of rural blacks. If a piece of "old blues" was intriguing or enjoyable even if it was unlike anything ever heard by anyone before, possibly braking all known rules of harmony, still, "it was". Its existence was its
own justification with no apparatus of any kind of academia or commercial interest to organize or explain it..
The short essay above has been sent to meby Harry 'Suni' McGrath for use "any way you think best".I gladly post it here (scanned, OCRed and a tiny little bit edited ;-) - thanks a lot, Harry!(see also Suni McGrath discography)
Ian took up the guitar in his teens and developed an early interest in what was then called the country blues, becoming a passionate collector of old 78s pretty much unknown to anyone else, re-recording them on his professional reel to reel tape recorder. When I knew him (1961 - 1967) he had an enormous collection of tapes recording these then largely unknown old 78s of blues artists from the 30s. In his late teens he sought out Reverend Gary Davis (who lived in the South Bronx at that time) and began lessons with him; he studied with Davis off and on for maybe 5 years. Ian remained close to Davis for many years after he stopped studying with him and would visit him at his house and also occasionally attended church services when Davis was preaching. Davis was not his only influence, however. Ian's tastes in the blues were broad ranging from Lonnie Johnson, Blind Willie Johnson, Broonzy, Hopkins, Blind Lemon Jefferson and everyone in between. Although Ian was very musical he would concentrate for days or weeks on one musician, dissecting his style bit by bit until he felt he had mastered it.
Ian began college at NYU's engineering school but then in 1958 transferred to Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio - a school that more closely matched his own unconventional style. At that time Antioch attracted a lot of kids from New York City talented in the sciences and the arts. It was politically left wing. Students at Antioch viewed themselves as an outpost of "the city" (NYC) both because so many were from there and because so many held co-op jobs in New York through Antioch's work-study program. When Ian began at Antioch, there was a lot of interest in bluegrass but very less in the blues; very few white acoustic blues guitarists. Ian quickly became a kind of legend of campus - partly because of his James' Dean style (black leather jacket, well worn blue jeans and engineer boots) and partly because of his brilliant blues guitar. Although very bright, Ian was not much interested in scholastic achievement nor in college life beyond music making. There was a lot of the latter at Antioch but not enough to keep Ian there for long; he dropped out in 1959. He moved back to his family home in Queens and began performing in Greenwich Village: Gerde's Folk City, Café Bizarre and Café Wha in particular. Ian like performing for an appreciative, knowledgeable audience but he found much of the club scene pretentious and irritating. One of his favorite stories was of a NY Times' critic who heard him play and said foolishly, "Wow that sounds like really old time Negro music, where did you learn it?" Ian's sardonic reply "From an old time Negro" cut short any further conversation with the critic. On the other hand the musical scene in the late 50s in Greenwich Village was exciting because other white blues guitarists were emerging as well, people like Dave Van Ronk and Spider John Koerner. There was a very active folk music scene as well (Bob Dylan also played at Gerde's which had a Monday night open mike policy) but Ian was never interested in folk music, although he enjoyed and could play bluegrass.
Ian returned to Antioch in the summer of 1961. Of course his legend proceeded him and everyone on the campus eagerly anticipated his return. He resumed playing Friday nights at the local bakery - he had an arrangement with the baker that Ian would play all night to entertain the baker as he baked. Anyone could come listen and occasionally others would join in. Ian was a very generous musician - he liked playing with others who were as serious as he was and he enjoyed teaching newcomers. This was how he came to teach Jorma Kaukonen (Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna) and John Hammond, Jr. Both of whom passed through Antioch as students while Ian was there.
As graduation loomed, Ian struggled to figure out what to do. He had not interest in continuing in mathematics (his undergraduate major) but also didn't want to return to the club scene in Greenwich Village which he felt was degrading. He was accepted in Guitar Performance at the Mannes College of Music; his plan was to study classical guitar with the idea he might be able to make a living performing and teaching. He was also eager to return to his hometown, Queens and pick up his old friendships. Ian lasted about a year at Mannes. He actually enjoyed it as much as he ever enjoyed any educational setting and he admired his guitar teacher. He developed a small cyst in his right hand, however, which compromised his ability to play classical guitar. He was told in a medical consultation that although the cyst could be removed the operation itself would probably also damage his playing ability. Ian was shattered. He briefly studied jazz guitar and then returned to his deepest passion, the blues. He continued playing the blues until his death.
Ian was a loving, generous man who, however, did not suffer fools kindly. He was never cruel or mean but would simply withdraw from social contact if he found the other person hard to bear. He liked performing as in playing with and for other musicians, but he had little interest in self promotion. His career in music always depended on his friends pursuing gigs for him and his reputation.
In May 1970, following his mother's death, Ian suffered his first psychotic break. He became very paranoid and although his friends tried valiantly to help him, he refused help. In the middle of this crisis, he jumped out the window of his apartment. He survived but was a paraplegic confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He continued to play, occasionally perform, and teach, sustained by his oldest and closest friends, especially Marty Brennan who would carry Ian up and downstairs on his back.
This memory was kindly sent to me by Kirsten Dahl,married to Ian Buchanan from 1961 until 1967
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