George Cromarty :: Grassroots Guitar

George Cromarty had already experienced a weird brush with fame before he recorded his debut album in 1973. As co-writer of the song “Plastic Jesus,” he and collaborator Ed Rush are probably the only people to be covered by both Paul Newman (in the film Cool Hand Luke) and the Flaming Lips. But Cromarty had left that type of novelty folk song long behind by the time he created his masterpiece, Grassroots Guitar. I first became aware of the album via the Numero Group’s excellent Guitar Soli compilation from a few years back, which featured Cromarty’s “Flight,” a gorgeous slice of fingerpicked nirvana. But even in these magical Internet days, when rare and out of print recordings are usually just a few clicks away, Grassroots Guitar remained out of reach, despite dogged Googling. This year, thanks to a kind donor, I finally heard the complete album — and it did not disappoint.

Though Grassroots Guitar was originally distributed by John Fahey’s Takoma Records, and although it is made up of almost entirely solo acoustic guitar pieces, it’d be a mistake to call it Fahey-esque. There’s little to no blues influence, for one thing, which was the cornerstone of everything Fahey did. A closer comparison would be the precise, crystalline solo recordings of Pentangle guitarist John Renbourn, or perhaps the more classically influenced Leo Kottke jams. There’s even a dusky melancholy reminiscent of Nick Drake present in the grooves here. But Cromarty was an original, apparently developing his style all on his own. Grassroots Guitar features 13 perfect guitar reveries (plus one vocal number), each one packed with plaintive melodies and quietly dazzling technique. Cromarty went on to record a children’s record, plus an equally great solo LP for Windham Hill, Wind In The Heather, before passing away, forgotten by all but a few, in the early 1990s. But take a listen to a couple of samples from Grassroots Guitar and you’ll agree it’s a work that should be more widely known. words/ t wilcox

George Cromarty :: Poppy Field
George Cromarty :: Rain Song

15 thoughts on “George Cromarty :: Grassroots Guitar

  1. Wow. Amazing solo guitar achievements. Thank you George for brilliant work. Rest in peace wherever you have landed.

  2. George Cromarty was my cousin, and people are wondering what happened to him, well he ended his own life. We all wish we had been more vigilant and intervened on his behalf. Huge loss and all family members regret that they had not been more proactive. I do have some of his albums and one tape of Wind in the Heather produced by Dancing Cat Records in 1984.

  3. Back in 1973 in SLO, George used to show up a house I shared with 5 girls – which is what attracted him in the first place, I suspect. One time he showed up followed by a throng of frat guys hellbent on kicking his ass for something ……….sorry to hear he’s gone as he was a great troubador who just needed some moral compass help.

  4. Thanks for this site. I first met George in 1972. Mrs. Larsen, the French teacher at Morro Bay High School, asked him to come in and sing French folk songs to one of her classes. I had a class in the same room the following period. By chance I arrived at class early to find a guy in overalls playing beautifully on a sweet little Washburn. He was done singing and just playing instrumentals. The first song I heard from start to finish was Harpsichord. When he was done, I approached him to see if he would give me lessons. He said “yes” and handed me a business card with a contact number. The card was yellow, hand drawn and had a picture of a smiling sun on it. It was for a group that he was part of called Pacific Buffalo Hawk. I kept that card among my keepsakes for many years.
    The week I was to start lessons with him, I suddenly went out of state for an extended stay and had to postpone. When I came back to California, George said his life had taken turns that wouldn’t allow him to teach. Too bad!
    In many ways that fall day in 11th grade was a defining moment in my life. I had a passion for solo acoustic guitar that had started with exposure to John Fahey and Sandy Bull. I had been playing guitar for about a year and immediately gravitated to fingerstyle. George’s tone on that vintage Washburn parlor (vintage in 1972) and his compositions clarified my dreams in ways that have shaped my life ever since.
    Some people have compared him to Fahey but I think that’s really misleading. I’m a fan of Fahey’s brooding improvisations but George was an altogether different guitarist. Instrumental guitarists have been criticized for composing by building on a riff that often starts with finger technique and not melody. George was a composer who wrote solid, well-harmonized melodies that happened to be played on the guitar. Of all of the solo guitarists I’ve enjoyed over the years, I think George was truly the best composer of them all.
    To Nannette and the rest of the family, be assured that you are not alone in your loss.
    To George, rest in peace! I hope to hear you again one day in another place.

  5. Would love to have or hear this music again – unfortunately your song links seem to be gone. 🙁

    If anyone can help me out, it’d be appreciated!

    A FUNNY STORY . . .

    Back in 1973, I was going to college at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, California.

    One day, I was walking through a coffee shop and I heard this record playing and it knocked me out.

    So I went up to the counter and asked who’s record this was. And the guy behind the counter said, “That’s my record.”

    And I said, “No – I know it’s your record. I want to know who’s playing.”

    And he said, “Yeah – It’s my record I’m playing.”

    And I said, “Yeah – I know you’re playing the record, I want to know who’s that playing on it.”

    And he said, “For God’s sake, man, it’s my record – that’s me playing on it.”

    And that’s how I met George Cromarty.

    Man, I must have been dense back then as a kid. 😉

    I’m sure he’s playing with the angels and giving them a run for their money.

    Thanks George! Truly appreciated and well remembered.

  6. I knew and played with George in Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo back in 1970. I was always floored by His herringbone Washburn 1890s parlor guitar. He was a very kind and very talented guy, but I thought something of a fish out of water here on this earth. People were constantly taking Him the wrong way. I am sorry to hear of His passing 25 years after the fact. I worked with Him some on the childrens album songs, in development. He was determined to make it a good one. We would see each other now and then, but in 1974 my wife and I moved to Louisiana for work, and we never reconnected. I remember Him with His young Son, George really loved that kid, and it showed.

Comments are closed.