My Brush with John Renbourn Greatness

It was Autumn, 1971. I was three months shy of 21, living with some friends in Silver Springs, MD, on a break from college. On December 7, I went to a Pentangle concert in DC. After the performance, I walked backstage and spotted an open door. It was the band’s dressing room, so I stepped inside. There sat Bert Jansch and John Renbourn. Badly attempting to express how much their guitar chops had meant to me, I managed to convey to John that I had learned “My Dear Boy” by ear from his 1968 LP “Sir John Alot…”

John then asked me to play it for him: He picked up his guitar and led me outside the dressing room into a nearby empty stairwell. He handed me his guitar, and I then performed his song in front of him. I hadn’t felt so simultaneously humbled, intimidated, and thrilled.

When I finished, I gave his guitar back to him, and he then proceeded to play it the right way, without my awkward, gymnastic fingerings all over the fretboard. Oh, you barre it here, and there, and it’s so simple and approachable that way!

John then offered to send me a guitar transcription of the song and asked me to write down my address. I did, but, alas, the transcription never arrived. No matter; that evening with him in that stairwell, playing his guitar to an audience of one — him — was quite enough.

Rest in peace, John Renbourn. You were the most enduring influence in my late teenage guitar daze.

Originally posted on my Facebook page on March 28, 2015, shortly after John’s passing.