|Birth name||Daniel R. Robinson Jr.|
August 30, 1940|
Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.
|Died||February 28, 1986(aged 45)|
|Occupation(s)||Musician, singer, composer|
|Labels||Takoma, Blue Thumb, Vanguard, Windham Hill, Silver Label|
Basho was born in Baltimore, Maryland, and was orphaned as an infant. Adopted by the Robinson family, Daniel Robinson, Jr. attended Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese of Baltimore and went on to study at University of Maryland College Park. Although he played the euphonium in the high school band and sang in middle school and high school ensembles, his interest in acoustic guitar grew during his college years, as a direct result of his friendships with fellow students John Fahey, Ed Denson, and Max Ochs. In 1959, Basho purchased his first guitar and immersed himself in Asian art and culture. It was around this time that he changed his name to Basho, in honor of the Japanese poet, Matsuo Basho.
Basho's vision was to see the steel string become a concert instrument and to create a raga system for America. During a radio interview in 1974, promoting his album Zarthus, Basho discussed his music in detail. He described how he had gone through a number of "periods" related to philosophy and music, including Japanese, Hindu, Iranian and Native American. Zarthus represented the culmination of his "Persian period". Basho asserted his wish, along with John Fahey and Leo Kottke, to raise the steel-string guitar to the level of a concert instrument. He acknowledged that the nylon-string guitar was suitable for "love songs", but its steel counterpart could communicate "fire".
Basho credited his interest in Indian music to hearing Ravi Shankar, whom he first encountered in 1962. Basho died unexpectedly at the age of 45 due to a freak accident during a visit to his chiropractor, where an "intentional whiplash" experiment caused blood vessels in his neck to rupture, leading to a fatal stroke.
Robbie Basho's dexterous, finger-picked guitar technique was influenced heavily by sarod playing, and the studies he undertook with the Indian virtuoso Ali Akbar Khan. Basho employed unusual open tunings, including a number of variants on "open-C" (CGCGCE) and played a 12-string guitar, in order to recreate the drone that is a notable feature of his beloved Indian classical music. Basho's guitar melodies were often created using Eastern modes and scales, but his work contains a broad range of noticeable influences, from European classical music to blues (in his earlier period) and ballad styles of America.
Renewal of interest
Robbie Basho's contribution to and influence on the development of the acoustic steel string guitar was eclipsed early on by the prominence of John Fahey, founder of Takoma Records and the appearance of Windham Hill Records and its roster of musicians in the late 1970s. However, there has been a reawakening of interest in him and his innovative style since 2000, spurred on by reissues by Takoma, Tompkins Square, and Grass-Tops Recording as well as the publication by Bo'Weavil and Grass-Tops Recording of previously unpublished concerts. The latter, Grass-Tops, fell heir to a body of tapes that had been preserved for 30 years by guitarist Glenn Jones. Buck Curran of Psych-Folk band Arborea has curated two Robbie Basho tribute albums, We Are All One in the Sun (2010) and Basket Full of Dragons (2016). Both albums feature contemporary artists reinterpreting Robbie's material, and original compositions inspired by his style.
In addition, British filmmaker Liam Barker premiered the first documentary about Basho, Voice of the Eagle: The Enigma of Robbie Basho in London in October 2015 at the Raindance Festival.
- Studio albums
- The Seal of the Blue Lotus (Takoma, 1965)
- The Grail & the Lotus (Takoma, 1966)
- Basho Sings (Takoma, 1967)
- The Falconer's Arm I (Takoma, 1967)
- The Falconer's Arm II (Takoma, 1967)
- Venus in Cancer (Blue Thumb, 1969)
- Song of the Stallion (Takoma, 1971)
- The Voice of the Eagle (Vanguard, 1972)
- Zarthus (Vanguard, 1974)
- Visions of the Country (Windham Hill, 1978)
- Art of the Acoustic Steel String Guitar 6 & 12 (Windham Hill, 1979)
- Rainbow Thunder: Songs of the American West (Silver Label, 1981)
- Bouquet (Basho Productions, 1983)
- Twilight Peaks (Art of Relaxation, 1984)
- Live albums
- Bonn ist Supreme (Bo'Weavil, 2008)
- Art of the Acoustic Steel String Preview (Grass-Tops, 2014)
- Robbie Basho Live in Milwaukee – 1982 (Grass-Tops, 2015)
- Portrait of Basho as a Young Dragoon (Grass-Tops, 2015)
- Rocky Mountain Raga - Live from Elgin - 1981 (Grass-Tops, 2016)
- Robbie Basho Live at Folkstudio – 1982 (Grass-Tops, 2016)
- Robbie Basho Live in Forlì - 1982 (Topa Topa, 2016)
- Compilation albums