Spirit In The House :: Jack Rose’s Enduring Legacy

“Everyone felt a big gap all of a sudden,” Keith Jarrett said after John Coltrane died in 1967. “But he didn’t intend to leave a gap. He intended that there be more space for everybody to do what they should.”

The same could be said of Jack Rose. Seven years after his much-too-soon passing, the guitarist’s influence is all over the underground these days, in both obvious and subtle ways. And thanks to vinyl reissues of six of his finest works via VHF and Three Lobed Records this month, it’s easy to understand why. Rose sounds better than ever, as he navigates his way through deep blues and folk forms, raga excursions, unbelievable drones, and unclassifiable zones. New Possibilities, indeed.

To celebrate these fantastic LPs coming back into print, we asked a few favorite musicians to share their thoughts on Jack Rose’s extraordinary craft — and why his spirit remains very much in the house.  words: t wilcox / photo: sam erickson / photo treatment: d norsen

Ben Chasny (Six Organs of Admittance, Rangda, 200 Years, Comets On Fire, New Bums)

When I wrote about Jack Rose for Pitchfork in 2005, he had only put out his second (solo acoustic guitar) record at the time, the beautiful Opium Music on Eclipse Records. Though his ultimate statements would come later, with records like Kensington Blues and Luck In The Valley, the space he covered between his first record, Red Horse, White Mule, and that second record was a warning sign to look the fuck out for this dude with an acoustic guitar who was about to open up the space for making the sound of Takoma Records cool again. There had been some “dark precursors” to this opening of space already:  Byron’s Coley’s article on Fahey in November of ’94, Sonic Youth talking about Fahey tunings in guitar magazines, Cul De Sac covering Fahey  on their Ecim record, Jim O’Rourke, etc. These moments poured the foundation, but Jack took that space reserved for a  small crowd of tastemakers and blew it open through dedication to a sound. The guy didn’t just know music and have it in his collection, he incorporated it into a praxis involving hours and hours of practice and playing. This dedication was folded into talent bordering on divine inspiration. That is the sound of Jack Rose.

Our relationship was confined to guitar talk. We would see each other about once or twice a year since 2000, the year we met and toured together. This guitar talk would consist of all night sessions discussing where different guitar players should be placed on the continuum from inspirational to get-that-shit-off-the-stereo. Old players, new players, everyone got discussed. I’d say we agreed as much as we disagreed. It was a special way of being friends that I’ve never really had with anyone else. All guitar, all the time. Sometimes, nowadays, I like to imagine what Jack would think of a particular player, new or old,  but the fact is that Jack was not predictable in what he found to be good. I also do not know what he would have made of his recent hagiography, which has been coalescing into a concrete myth. Such is the way after an artists dies, so it is not a surprise. But no matter what, it is a wonderful thing to see more and more people being turned on to his music and this reissue campaign will do a lot to make that happen. As far as I am concerned, the more people who listen to Jack, the better the world will be. Praise should be given to Three Lobed and VHF for getting together with the awesome plan to make this happen.

Dr. Ragtime & His Pals by Jack Rose

Jason Meagher (Black Dirt Studios, Steve Gunn and the Outliners, No-Neck Blues Band)

One of my trusted panaceas for the musician in the studio struggling against the heavy reality commonly referred to as “red light syndrome,” is the comforting thought that a keeper take is simply an audio snapshot of a moment in time, rather than a definitive statement. The idea is to loosen up the performer enough to allow them to break the mummifying stress that a studio date brings. Perhaps then something like a moment of perfection, with all of its inherent anomalies and blemishes, will sneak through the capsule of the microphone.

It's difficult for me to choose a favorite Jack Rose track because he was a type of living embodiment of this idea. The time he played “Sundogs” in the tiny back room of a bar in the early fade days of Brooklyn, that wounded my concepts of reality and made my stomach feel like an evening spent spinning through a summertime carnival, may be his most palpable impression on my addled memory banks. But, having worked with him in the studio's nascent days, I quickly learned the truth about the 'snapshot' concept. The tracks you hear on a Jack Rose LP are the favorite takes of the man himself. These were not always my favorite takes, and I was often both surprised that he felt there were higher peaks to ascend to, as well as terrified that they would be insurmountable and the song in question might find its way to the cutting room floor. Some of those earlier takes, the other little squares on the contact sheet, were of jaw dropping beauty. And I tend to believe that out there in the infinity loops that were Jack's tour routes, someone heard him unleash a version of an album track that allowed everyone's feet to gently rise a few inches above the highest peaks he strove for when the shutter of the audio camera that is a recording studio went "snap!"

All of that said, I must apologize to the kind reader in advance of my next statement; there is an unreleased version of "Linden Ave Stomp," Jack with a band consisting of people he cared greatly for — Glenn Jones, Harmonica Dan, Hans Chew and Nathan Bowles — that is brimming with so much joy it is almost tangible. Performance, snapshots, cutting room floors... I like that track quite a bit.

Jack Rose by Jack Rose

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