Robbie Basho was one of the pioneers of American Primitive Guitar along with John Fahey. He was born Daniel Robinson, but at the age of 19 he, like many young college students, became immersed in Asian culture and changed his name to Basho to honor the 17th century Japanese poet Matsuo Basho. His aim for much of his career was to elevate the steel sting guitar of he and people like Fahey, Leo Kottke, and others were exploring in the early ’60s into a concert level instrument in the style of the Indian Raga system. As part of this goal he developed an esoteric chord system that was published in the liner notes of his first album The Seal of the Blue Lotus.
It makes for fascinating reading. He not only charts each chord that he uses but also the color, mood, and “concomitant properties” of that chord. A D chord, for example, was green in a quiet pastoral mood with the concomitant property of “Runnymede, Irish meadowlands.” His interest in Eastern philosophy infused much of his work and as a result his recordings are often filed with New Age or Folk material. Fahey’s Takoma label or the New Age/Folk label Windham Hill were responsible for releasing much of his material.
This particular version of Moving Up A Ways comes off Rainbow Thunder: Songs of the American West. He also released a version on The Voice of the Eagle a few years earlier. Both albums signal a shifting focus from Eastern influences towards the indigenous cultures of the American West. The text of the track is based on a Navajo ritual signalling the upward movement from lower forms of life to higher. It was Basho’s focus while recording both albums to tap into the intimate relationship with nature that indigenous American peoples had in order to bolster the American songbook with a sort of musical landscape painting. He touches on this idea somewhat in this live performance recorded in 1978 at Coe College in Cedar Rapids.
Similar to my post on John Cale’s Summer Heat, I’ve just scratched the surface of a really fascinating period in American music. The Robbie Basho Archive is a great resource for those who want to learn more. Considering how much I love this kind of music I’ll probably be sharing it more in future tracks of the day. Enjoy!