Though not as well-known as Fahey or Kottke, Peter Lang sounds right at home among them on the 1974 compilation released by Takoma records where I first heard his playing. This track comes off his debut The Thing At The Nursery Room Window, which was put out by Takoma a year earlier. Like Kottke, Lang also hails from my home state of Minnesota and to my knowledge still lives there. As the presenter in this segment from Minnesota Public Television in 1977 lays out, the guitarists who are often grouped together under the label of American Primitive were trying to elevate the fingerstyle playing found in American folk, blues, and country music to the level of respect usually afforded to classical instruments. Even if they didn’t necessarily succeed, they definitely produced some great records in the process.
Lang released four records in the 1970s before taking a break to pursue a career in animation. He did return to music in the early 2000s, releasing a couple albums of his own and appearing on a John Fahey tribute compilation. You can see him perform Young Man live in 2007 here. I’m not sure if its the same performance, but a live album from around the same time is available on Spotify along with some of his more recent releases. When I go to record stores I usually keep an eye out for Takoma recordings, as they’re not always available electronically and even if its all in your head I think this kind of music really does sound better on vinyl.
Minnesota native Mark Lang began playing music with his brother Peter in the late 1960s, and both began pursuing a life in music once the family moved to California. While Peter was able to record a number of albums, initially with John Fahey’s Takoma Records, Mark’s lone commercial release was Texas John Boscoe released by Symposium Records (early home of Leo Kottke) in 1976. This track appears on one of the comps in Numero Group’s Wayfaring Strangers series, Guitar Soli, which features a whole host of forgotten and unsung guitarists who released instrumental material in the American primitive vein of John Fahey and Leo Kottke. Mark Lang’s fingerpicking and slide guitar work is on display with Strawberry Man, but he played maracas, banjo, and mandolin on that record as well. Texas John Boscoe was well-received within its somewhat niche market, and Mark Lang signed a deal with Capitol records at the start of the 1980s. Unfortunately nothing came of the deal, but he sure left a gem of a record behind.
Craig Leon got his start in music in the mid-1970s working as an assistant producer at Sire Records where he was involved in the discovery and development of New York groups like The Ramones, Blondie, and the Talking Heads. Nommos is his first release and it represents one of the more unique entries in the catalog of John Fahey’s Takoma Records, which is perhaps better known for releasing blues and fingerstyle guitar records more in the style of its founder. Though he was more involved with pop, electronic, and experimental work during the 1980s and 1990s, his material in recent years has been decidedly classical, working with the likes of Pavarotti. He talks about the difference in working in these two worlds in an interview with Moog:
The pop people picked up on synths a lot earlier–I was doing pop at the time–and what fascinated me was the way the so-called pop artists were doing with synths at the time were using synthesizers in their work which was close to what I wanted to do in classical. You would hear something new on a Beatles or Beach Boys album … where yes there would be one or two obvious synth sounds on a given song but theres ton of these little things that shape the sound.
He is still active as a producer, composer, and arranger of classical pieces living in England. Nommos was recently reissued by Harmonia Mundia along with his other early electronic work Visiting. Check out that Moog interview because he talks through arranging Bach for the Moog modular synth and talks more at length about using electronics in classical composition.