John Renbourn, Co-Founder of Pentangle, Dies at 70
British folk guitarist John Renbourn, a founding member of Pentangle whose solo career stretched for more than 50 years, was found dead at his home in Hawick, Scotland, on March 25. He was 70.
Renbourn’s body was discovered after he failed to show up for a concert at the Ferry in Glasgow on March 25. Renbourn’s agent Dave Smith confirmed the news, but no cause of his death was given.
One of the finest folk musicians of the 1960s and ‘70s, Renbourn was an active performer up until his death. He had already played nine shows this month in the U.K. with guitarist Wizz Jones and was set to return to Crete for a guitar workshop in May.
Renbourn, like many early British rock ‘n’ rollers and folk musicians, got his start playing skiffle before studying folk music and classical guitar. In London in 1964, he started performing in pubs in Soho, accompanying singer Dorris Henderson, with whom he would eventually record the albums There You Go and Watch the Stars.
During that time, Renbourn fell in with a folk crowd that included Bert Jansch, Davey Graham and Paul Simon. Jansch (who died in October 2011) and Renbourn started performing together and after both secured solo recording deals -- Renbourn was on Transatlantic == and teamed up as Bert & John.
His first full-length solo album, Sir John Alot of Merrie Englandes Musyk Thynge & Ye Grene Knyghte, was released in 1968, and soon thereafter he and Jansch formed Pentangle with Jacqui McShee, Terry Cox
and Danny Thompson. The band’s first tour of the U.S. included performances at the Newport Folk Festival and
Fillmore West with the Grateful Dead.
The group made five albums for Transatlantic, which Reprise released in the U.S., and signed Renbourn to the label as a solo artist as well. All five the band’s albums reached the lower rungs of the Billboard 200, 1971’s Reflection charting the highest at No. 183 in 1971.
Twice Grammy-nominated in the 1980s, Renbourn made solo albums throughout his tenure in Pentangle. Once the group disbanded, he worked solo, in group settings and in duets with guitarist Stefan Grossman
His book of compositions and tablature, starting with Guitar Pieces in 1972, were popular with budding guitarists interested in fingerpicking. In the 1980s, Renbourn studied composition at Dartington College and would later teach guitar at Dartington and at guitar seminars elsewhere. He also wrote columns for the magazines Frets and Guitar Player.
In 2007, Pentangle reunited to receive the BBC Folk Awards Lifetime Achievement honor. His final recording was Palermo Snow, released in 2011.