I never met Jack Rose. I never went to a single one of his shows. I don’t think I had the chance to, to be honest, and I’m sad that I won’t. But there are a few people whose work feels so close to me that I imagine I must have known the person responsible for it. Jack Rose is one of those people.
His music reminds me of home and of the places where I first heard instrumental guitar music played. That’s a loose connection to make, but upon hearing Kensington Blues for the first time I half-gasped from the feeling it put in my stomach. My friends, my family, and the geography of home were all there before me in the notes that Jack struck, and I closed my eyes and put up my feet and (how how else can I say it?) Jack’s music shined. It was like having the warmth of the sun on your body every time “Kensington Blues” began to play. And when you’re feeling alone and down, what better feeling can you have than the warm presence of your friends and family? I knew he wasn’t from Illinois, but I almost didn’t believe it. That sound was so close to my heart it almost had to come from some place familiar to me.
I think I can explain that feeling.
Jack’s music was a time machine. Along with others, I often thought of John Fahey and Robbie Basho when I listened to him. But, I discovered that all three of them were time-traveling partners. Rose’s connection to the past was more distant and deeper than his associations with other guitar players. It had more to do with the musical styles from which he borrowed and by which he innovated. Jack loved pre-World War II culture and music and something about his own work brought that era back to life. I could hear the blues and gospel and folk music coursing through his work like blood and that meant the old musicians weren’t dead and forgotten. Someone else remembered the old songs and felt that they were powerful and beautiful too. I was so happy for that.
In some fantastic part of my imagination I believed Jack to be my comrade. He was keeping the past alive and keeping us connected with it, even as technology and shorter attention spans and flashier sounds tried to drown it out. When a certain kind of music speaks to you so powerfully, you’re always so happy to have somewhere there that might hear it like you do, someone that believes in its power and in its soul. Jack believed, but he went further. He made it all new again and brought the past out of the fog of memory. His music isn’t an artifact of a bygone time or a reproduction of an antiquated musical style; it is a part of the present, woven right into its fabric. And that means it is a part of me. Not old music, but new and magical music that exists in every place and every time.
I remember listening to “Calais to Dover” one night as the sun set. As the light disappeared into the dark, Jack’s guitar responded with an incredible intensity and beauty. I turned up the volume and felt his music begin to pass into me, like a physical presence blanketing and suffusing my body. Part of me believed I was being carried off somewhere, so I closed my eyes and imagined I was being taken somewhere along with the light. I found, in the end, that I was being taken inside myself. Jack was turning everything inside out and giving me the chance to pause and to think and to recollect myself. I came out of that trance with a deep breath and an impossibly calm feeling.
I never knew Jack Rose, but I knew his music. And through his music I came to know myself a little better.
It sounds crazy, but I think maybe Jack knew me.
God bless you, Jack. Rest in peace.
01. Jack Rose “Kensington Blues” from Kensington Blues (2005) on Tequila Sunrise
02. Glenn Jones “Linden Avenue Stomp” from This is The Wind That Blows It Out (2004) on Strange Attractors Audio House — a duet with Jack Rose
03. Jack Rose “Soft Steel Piston” from Dr. Ragtime and His Pals (2008) on Tequila Sunrise
04. Jack Rose “Dusty Grass” from The Black Dirt Sessions (2009) on Three Lobed
05. Jack Rose and The Black Twig Pickers “Little Sadie” from Jack Rose and the Black Twig Pickers (2009) on VHF Records
06. Jack Rose “St. Louis Blues” from Self-Titled (2008) on Tequila Sunrise
07. Pelt “Deep Sunny South” from Ayahuasca (2001) on VHF Records
08. Windy & Carl “Awhile” from Drawing of Sound (1996) on Icon Records
09. Arab Strap “Haunt Me” from The Red Thread (2001) on Chemikal Underground
10. Oneida “Doin’ Business in Japan” from Come On Everybody Let’s Rock (2000) on Jagjaguwar
11. Kurt Vile “Overnite Religion” from Childish Prodigy (2009) on Matador
12. Cat Power “Good Woman” from You are Free (2003) on Matador
13. Soundpool “But It’s So” from But It’s So 7″ (2010) on Killer Pimp
14. Nightmare Air “But Not Now” from Nightmare Air (2009) on Self Released
15. Jack Rose “Now That I’m a Man Full Grown II” from Kensington Blues (2005) on Tequila Sunrise
16. Jack Rose and The Black Twig Pickers “Special Rider” from Jack Rose and the Black Twig Pickers (2009) on VHF Records
17. Jack Rose “Dark was the Night” from Self-Titled (2008) on Tequila Sunrise — attributed to Blind Willie Johnson
18. Jack Rose “Box of Pine” from The Black Dirt Sessions (2009) on Three Lobed
19. Jack Rose “Walkin’ Blues” from Dr. Ragtime and His Pals (2008) on Tequila Sunrise
20. Jack Rose and The Black Twig Pickers “Sail Away Ladies / I Shall Not Be Moved” from Jack Rose and the Black Twig Pickers (2009) on VHF Records
21. Jack Rose “Calais to Dover” from Kensington Blues (2005) on Tequila Sunrise