Robbie Basho

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Robbie Basho
Birth nameDaniel R. Robinson Jr.
Born(1940-08-31)August 31, 1940
Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.
DiedFebruary 28, 1986(1986-02-28) (aged 45)
Berkeley, California
GenresFolk, American primitive guitar, experimental
Years active1965–1986
LabelsTakoma, Blue Thumb, Vanguard, Windham Hill, Tompkins Square
Associated actsJohn Fahey, Leo Kottke

Robbie Basho (born Daniel R. Robinson, Jr., August 31, 1940 – February 28, 1986) was an American acoustic guitarist, pianist and singer.


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 was prepared for college at Saint James School—an Episcopal school—in Western Maryland. He 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 Bashō.[1]

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.[2]

Guitar style[edit]

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[edit]

Basho's contribution to acoustic steel string guitar was eclipsed early by John Fahey (musician), founder of Takoma Records, and the appearance of Windham Hill Records and its roster of musicians in the 1970s and '80s. There has been a renewal of interest in his work since 2000, spurred on by reissues by Takoma, Tompkins Square, and Grass-Tops Recording as well as the release of previously unpublished concerts. Grass-Tops inherited tapes that had been preserved for 30 years by guitarist Glenn Jones.

Buck Curran of psychedelic 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 Basho's material and original compositions inspired by his style.

British filmmaker Liam Barker premiered the documentary Voice of the Eagle: The Enigma of Robbie Basho in London in October 2015 at the Raindance Festival[3] and the film premiered at San Francisco's Roxie Theater in April 2018.[4] It was nominate for the Jury Award at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.[5] The documentary traces the troubled life of Basho with previously uncovered archive material and interviews by Pete Townshend, William Ackerman, Alex de Grassi, Henry Kaiser, Glenn Jones, Country Joe McDonald, and Richard Osborn.[6]


Studio albums
Live albums
Compilation albums


  1. ^ Basho-Junghans, Steffen. "Robbie Basho-Archives/Biography".
  2. ^ "The Cosmos Club". Washington City Paper. July 7, 2006. Archived from the original on June 27, 2008.
  3. ^ Voice of the Eagle: The Enigma of Robbie Basho (2015), retrieved 2018-08-31
  4. ^ Reif, Max (2018-04-25). "VOICE OF THE EAGLE—THE ENIGMA OF ROBBIE BASHO: A film about a legendary musician premieres in San Francisco". The Mindful Word. Retrieved 2018-08-31.
  5. ^ Voice of the Eagle: The Enigma of Robbie Basho, retrieved 2018-08-31
  6. ^ Voice of the Eagle: The Enigma of Robbie Basho, retrieved 2018-08-31

External links[edit]