Now that I’m playing as part of an acoustic guitar duo again I’ve been thinking about the form generally, and its influence on me. I suppose that like most of my guitar-playing peers, my first experience was having a friend who was also learning to play and sitting down with him to strum chords together, but the first recorded duets I heard were by Eddie Lang and Lonnie Johnson. They were very exciting for me because they featured acoustic instruments and the music was blues based. As a consequence I felt that – if I really worked at it – I might be able to play that stuff one day. Here’s an example – this is Lang and Johnson playing ‘Blue Room’, recorded around 1929.
The next duo recording I heard was a track from the famous Davy Graham EP – ‘3/4 AD’. This featured Graham in an eponymous duet with Alexis Korner. As far as I know neither player recorded much in the guitar duo format apart from this, but it was another eye-opener for me and first gave me a sense of the idea of musical conversations. There is no clip available but a look at the original sleeve notes by Alexis Korner does shed some light on the proceedings.
Bert Jansch and John Renbourn were both influenced by Davy Graham, both signed to Transatlantic Records and both emerged on the London scene at around the same time, so it was inevitable that they would end up recording together. Their most famous project was the group ‘Pentangle’, but before that they made a duo album entitled Bert and John that was influential in its own right and spawned many an acoustic guitar duo in and around the sixties folk circuit. Here’s ‘Lucky Thirteen’ from that album, which was recorded in 1965.
I listened to a lot of music over the next thirty years or so, including a lot of jazz guitar duos. I also had several acoustic guitar duos myself, notably a partnership with the late John McCartney (who was better known as a superb electric bass player), The Blue Five with Leigh Heggarty, and a previous collaboration with my current musical partner – Chris White, but I didn’t hear another notable recording of the format until my second visit to Brazil in 1996/97. I was lying on the floor of a jazz bar-come-CD shop in Sâo Paulo at about eleven o’clock one night (for reasons that are too complicated to go into now but involve a free bottle of Cachaça) when I first heard Notenstock and was enchanted by them. Strictly speaking they were a trio, as the two French guitarists – Michel Jules and Stéphane Sarlin - were accompanied by Brazilian percussionist Luiz Carlos de Paula, but the music would have worked perfectly well without the percussion so it fits the bill as far as I’m concerned!
I have never come across anyone else in this country who knows their work and I haven’t been able to find much information on line, but I do know that their first album – ‘A Coté du Soleil’ was recorded in 1992, and a second album - ‘Live in Vienne’ – featured bassist Abraham Laboriel as a guest and was recorded in 1993. I know that the group were still playing in the later nineties because my son and his then-wife saw them in a club in Sâo Paulo and got a signed copy of the second CD, although sadly the line up had changed due to the early death of Michel Jules. I’ve only been able to find one example of their work on line – a tune from the first album entitled ‘Libra Livre’. You can listen to it here.
My next example is a couple of Brazilian guitarists who go under the name of Duofel. They have been playing together for over twenty five years and their musical range is as astonishing as some of their techniques. I have to thank my ex-daughter-in-law for bringing them to my attention. If you are interested in acoustic music that really explores new territory then I would urge you to go out and find their recordings. As an incentive, here’s ‘Norwegian Wood’ and ‘Eleanor Rigby’ as you’ve probably never heard them before…
There are many other guitar duos out there that I haven’t mentioned, but the rest of my favourites are not exclusively acoustic – and that was the brief I set myself for this particular posting. I enjoy the work of Pete Oxley and Lusi D' Agostino for example, but they also play electric guitar. In fact, I can feel another posting coming on, dedicated to all the jazz guitar duos. Right. I’m off to trawl through my CDs again.