It's one thing when a 40-plus-year career wins over the respect and eventual contributions of a succeeding folk generation.
That's part of the newly recharmed artistic life of Bert Jansch, the Scottish-born folk guitarist, singer and songwriter whose newer recordings have enlisted such youthful stylists as onetime Smiths guitarists Johnny Marr and producer/ex-Suede guitarist Bernard Butler (for 2000's album Crimson Moon) as well as folk/pop champions Beth Orton and Devendra Banhart (for 2005's The Black Swan).
But what currently makes Jansch's extensive folk history all the more remarkable is the renewed appreciation by one longtime, high-profile fan: Neil Young. For his current acoustic Twisted Road Tour, which comes to Louisville on Wednesday, the two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Famer enlisted Jansch as his opening act. In a 1992 interview with Rolling Stone, Young proclaimed, "Bert Jansch is on the same level as Jimi Hendrix."
Such an estimation might take fans of the soft-spoken Jansch by surprise. While his level of musical influence might be as profound as the great Hendrix, Jansch comes from a stylistic world of his own. His songs are deceptively reserved, almost to the point of being contemplative. Yet under his subtle, whispery vocals sits guitarwork and story songs that mesh British folk tradition, American folk blues and even a touch of intercontinental jazz inspiration.
Speaking by phone from his home in London, England, Jansch said of his career renaissance: "There's been no plan or anything, on my part. I think it's just because of the nature of the music. Being folk-based, it's music you have heard through your parents or your parents' music collection. For there, you find something that intrigues you.
"Even in this country, there are players, Bernard and people like that, that have come to my music not through people of their own generation but from musicians from the one before it — through people like Johnny Marr. There's a progression at work."
Initially influenced by such celebrated British folk guitarists as Davey Graham, Jansch became a fixture of an active folk club community after relocating to London in the mid-'60s.
"The folk clubs in the early days were very, very popular," Jansch said. "And that was great because there wasn't much going on with radio. The BBC tended to play ... well, not exactly rubbish. But I considered it to be middle-of-the-road, sort-of-nothing music. The only way to hear folk music was at the clubs. You either created your own music or you would go to where there were people with as like a mind as your own."
It was in the clubs that Jansch was introduced to guitarist John Renbourn. Following Jansch's groundbreaking self-titled 1965 album (an album openly branded by Young as "epic"), an alliance was struck up with Renbourn that led to several esteemed duo albums that included 1966's Bert and John. A year later, the two teamed with vocalist and longtime pal Jacqui McShee and a pair of British jazz aces — bassist Danny Thompson and drummer Terry Cox — to form the groundbreaking band Pentangle. Mixing folk, blues, jazz references and subtle psychedelia, Pentangle released a string of six extraordinary albums before disbanding in 1972. The original Pentangle reunited for a series of radio shows and concerts in 2007 and 2008.
"When we first got together, myself and John were doing a residency at a club called The Horseshoe," Jansch recalled. "We used to invite anybody and everybody to come play. Pentangle eventually developed out of that club.
"At first, it was a fairly loose sort of thing. It was pretty strange for us to be playing with a jazz bass player and drummer. But Danny and Terry also used to get a lot of grief at Ronnie Scott's (the long-running London jazz club), where they were working. They said they were getting a hard time for playing with those long-haired hippies down the road."
Pentangle didn't interrupt Jansch's solo career, though. In 1971, he released Rosemary Lane, an album that remains one of the singer's personal favorites. "It just has a nice, easygoing feel," he said.
Hitting the road for a tour with Young this summer, along with a June 26 set at Eric Clapton's annual Crossroads Festival, is more than a mere kick to such a lengthy and formidable career. The performances also will possess an undeniable air of survival as Jansch was forced to cancel an entire 2009 tour, which was to have included an August concert at The Dame, after being diagnosed with lung cancer. With the disease now in remission and his health restored, Jansch is ready to perform for any and all generations that have followed his folk music journey.