Saturday, January 16, 2010

The saddest song ever

You can keep your Tallis Lamentations, your Victoria, your Palestrina, your Lassus, your Byrd. You can even keep your Leonard Cohen. This is melancholy, baby. The late great Roy Buchanan makes his Telecaster gently weep in C minor on “Wayfaring Pilgrim”:

Those first few minutes are as bleak, lonely and desolate as rock music gets. Younger guitar-players (yes, I’m looking at you, Angus Fraser): notice that he does nothing with his feet. He uses no pedals. He gets all his effects just from his fingers on the strings and the tone and volume knobs on the guitar, which was not modded. There’s a bit of echo at the amp but technically this is as pure as blues-rock guitar gets.

One reason that Buchanan never became famous outside the small world of guitar geeks is that he was married with children and didn’t want to tour. I can’t find the reference online but an interviewer once asked him how he could look so impassive while playing such searingly intense music. He said something like, “But I’m screaming on the inside.”

He hanged himself in jail in 1988 after being arrested for drunkenness. He wasn’t yet 50. There are loads of vids of him on YouTube. All the ones I have seen are fantastic. But you can see the car-crash coming.

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