Philadelphia-based acoustic guitarist Jack Rose died Sunday morning of a heart attack. He was 38 years old.
Rose was a traditional musician with a flare for the experimental. A Virginia native, he got his start during the mid-’90s performing with the Richmond-based avant-folk group Pelt. A few years later, Rose went solo. Inspired by American primitive guitarists like John Fahey and Robbie Basho, he began crafting dexterous finger-style compositions that merged traditional blues and ragtime with elements of drone and Indian-classical music. Rose would go on to release numerous EPs and LPs throughout the decade, both under his own name and as Dr. Ragtime. He was among the artists featured on Devendra Banhart’s popular Golden Apples of the Sun compilation, alongside Six Organs of Admittance, Joanna Newsom, and Espers.
In concert, though, Rose was truly something else. Although he was apparently self-taught, I’m hard pressed to think of any other living acoustic guitarist who could play with Rose’s vigor and imagination. Whether he was performing on the slightly dingy stage at Velvet Lounge or the even dingier confines of the living room at 611 Florida Avenue, Jack Rose brought it. If there’s a Mount Olympus for American guitarists, surely that’s where he is now.
Rose is quoted in Dave Dunlap’s 2006 City Paper story about the Takoma Records. Read it here.
Update: Clavius Productions founder Scott Verrastro booked almost every show Jack Rose ever played at D.C. (Save for one gig at Rock & Roll Hotel, supporting OM). He shares his thoughts on Rose after the jump:
Jack was there when I first started booking shows at my house (611 Florida) in 2003. He played one of the very first shows that I ever booked (with Landing), and played my house six times total—including my 28th birthday in 2005 (with Glenn Jones, PG Six and Harris Newman). I probably booked Jack more than anybody else, as I thought him to be the best acoustic guitarist on earth, and I’m saying that without hyperbole. Watching Jack’s fingers pick and fret was like watching two of the most gracious dancers in motion. It was that stunning. The level of dexterity he possessed was truly perplexing and awe-inspiring.
Whether he was mining Fahey territory with “Kensington Blues” or the Basho-esque 12-string explorations of “Calais to Dover,” or even the experimental, haunting ghostliness of “Sundogs,” Jack’s compositions were timeless and penetrating. He was one of the only musicians that could bridge the gap between numerous generations: whether you were 20 or 90, you could appreciate Jack’s music.
As a person, Jack was a cranky, cantankerous bastard. He was extremely opinionated, but he had a warm heart and was a good friend. He never beat around the bush and you always knew how he felt about something. I always knew he had my back if I needed it. He was never reluctant to tell me how much prog sucked, but we also agreed on the genius of Michael Chapman and John Martyn.
I last saw Jack two weeks ago in Philly when he came out to see Chris Forsyth, and he was happier than I’d ever seen him, gloating about the successful UK tour he just had with the Twigs. For the past two years, he was making a living off of his music, which is something most of us will never be able to say. And he accomplished this without compromising one iota. For sheer artistry and vision, I’d have to put him up there with Richard Thompson and Neil Young (even though Jack did not attempt the breadth of those two).
RIP, Jack. You certainly touched my soul and affected many others. Thanks for making me laugh and for talking about the brilliance of Chrome and Robbie Basho and why most indie-rock is totally boring bullshit. You will be missed.