John Martyn / Sept 11, 1948 - Jan 29, 2009

British singer/songwriter John Martyn was my favorite kind of folkie: a guy who took in a lot of different influences (jazz, folk, rock, Caribbean, Middle Eastern, blues) and tried new things with them. From his funky rock-inspired stuff to the dub-washed material from his time hanging at Lee Perry's Black Ark to the later trip-hop material, you could always count on Martyn for some of the most experimental ideas of the Brit-folkers.

Born to opera singing parents, his birth name was Iain David McGeachy. He was part of the fertile Brit-folk scene of the mid-'60s, along with Nick Drake, Bert Jansch, Davy Graham, Ralph McTell, etc. He signed to Island and after one pretty straight album he delved into experimentalist concepts, with heavy jazz and world music vibes.

His unique tricks included using Echoplex for live looping, several effects and phasers and jazzy vocal delivery. Among his collaborators through the years included his wife Beverly Kutner (in the early years), that ubiquitous folk-jazz bassist Danny Thompson, Phil Collins, Al Stewart, Levon Helm, Eric Clapton, John Paul Jones, David Gilmour and Sister Bliss (of Faithless), among others.

His 1980 album Grace & Danger was his darkest and most direct, reflecting on divorce & madness. Diabetic problems took his leg in 2003 but he continued his performing career from a wheelchair. But it was more the drugs and drink that really killed him. His position as a giant of British folk-rock remains intact, and his mix of traditional folk, electronics, pop and jazz is very listenable to this day.

Tagged: Celebrate Icons, classic albums, folk, jazz, John Martyn, rock

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