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Epiphanies of Glenn Jones 

An American Primitive guitarist looks back on a bittersweet journey

Note: When I interviewed Glenn Jones last Friday, he and guitarist Jack Rose were set to play a Dec. 11 show at Colorado College. The morning after we spoke, the 38-year-old Rose suffered a fatal heart attack in his sleep. Jones canceled the show, but hopes to make his way out here in 2010. — BF

Meeting your heroes can be unsettling. Working with them can be downright disastrous.

In the late '90s, Glenn Jones' band Cul de Sac recorded an album with John Fahey. As a high school student, Jones had become obsessed with the legendary guitarist after his art teacher introduced him to one of Fahey's early albums.

"There's an aggressive syncopated style that players like Fahey brought to steel-string guitar music that you just don't get anywhere else," says Jones of what's become known as "American Primitivism," a term since applied to his own work as well. "You wouldn't say that Fahey didn't have any technique, but he kind of had just as much technique as he needed to express what he wanted to express."

The cross-generational collaboration began whimsically enough: Fahey was staying at Jones' house during early rehearsals, shortly after Jones' veterinarian had convinced him to start brushing his cat's teeth (a ritual he describes as a "real treat" for all involved).

"One morning I got up and I saw Fahey in the bathroom brushing his teeth with the cat's poultry-flavored toothpaste," recalls Jones. "I just kind of shrugged and decided not to say anything about it, and John didn't mention it, either."

What Fahey did mention was his dissatisfaction with the material Cul de Sac had worked up. At one point, he went so far as to dismiss Jones' avant-rock band as a "retro lounge act."

It was only after the band took a more improvisational approach — and after Fahey brought in a strange ceramic sculpture he'd found in a thrift store, dubbed the Great Kooniklaster, and insisted would guarantee the project's success — that the sessions took off. At Fahey's suggestion, they named the album The Epiphany of Glenn Jones.

Other Cul de Sac career highlights include less contentious collaborations with the likes of Can vocalist Damo Suzuki. But earlier this year, Jones pulled the plug on Cul de Sac, a band that, as Magnet magazine put it, survived a post-grunge era when "no one wanted to hear a fingerpicked folk melody scoured with Pere Ubu-esque synth washes."

Did they ever?

"Not that I know of," says Jones, who's nevertheless proud of the band's accomplishments. "We existed for 20 years and we did a lot of touring, but we were never what you would call a success by any stretch of the word. I mean, we all had day jobs, and the band was basically a sinkhole for whatever discretionary funds we had."

In recent years, some of Jones' energy had been spent on European tours with kindred spirit Jack Rose, whom he first met at a "free-folk" festival and describes as "one of my young heroes."

"I totally understood where he was coming from: I heard the Fahey influence, but also the [Robbie] Basho influence," says Jones, referring to the guitarist who pioneered an Americanized take on Indian ragas. "Those are things you usually don't hear in the same player."

Rose, who died unexpectedly this past Saturday, was set to release a new album on Thrill Jockey including recent collaborations between the two musicians.

bill@csindy.com

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