Once was lost, now is found

When I was a teenager, the folk revival was in full swing and I heard several exiting artists, some on records, some on TV, including singer/guitarist Mississippi John Hurt (1892 – 1966). His style of picking the guitar with his fingers captivated me and convinced me that I had to go toward acoustic music and learn how to fingerpick like him. I bought my first acoustic guitar, a used Gibson J-45. It is with this guitar that I later started to write my own acoustic guitar compositions which eventually led to my first recording, Première chute, in 1975, recorded entirely with my Gibson J-45. I had also bought a few instructional books by Stefan Grossman, a New York guitarist who has devoted his entire life to teaching people how to play the music he loves – blues, ragtime and celtic pieces. I started to teach myself how to fingerpick.

In 1976, I met luthier/guitarist Marc Beneteau, a big part of my second and third albums, and wanted him to build me a guitar. To pay for this new guitar, I sold my Gibson J-45 to Roch Tassé, a good friend from Rockland who played various percussion instruments on the same recordings as Marc. Afterwards, I lost track of Roch for more than 30 years – life; it interferes with everything. But once was lost, now is found – Roch and I met before Christmas, thanks to another friend, and he lent me his Gibson J-45.

Roch Tassé

Roch Tassé

Roch took very good care of the guitar. At the time, I had painted a bluebird on the guitar top because of Stephen Stills’ “Bluebird”, one of my all-time favourite songs, which he recorded with Buffalo Springfield. The bluebird is intact and looking at the guitar and playing it brings back memories of those days when I was learning how to fingerpick. Of course, I wanted to record something with my old guitar and chose “Katz Rag”, one of the first pieces I learned how to fingerpick from one of Stefan Grossman’s instructional books. I remember that my arrangement of the piece was closer to the Reverend Gary Davis (1896 – 1972), one of my favourites, who attacked the guitar with a wonderful abandon that I tried to bring into my playing. I remember my arrangement, which I haven’t played in 40 years, but I forget practically everything else from one day to the next! Go figure.

The Gibson J-45

The Gibson J-45

I always thought that “Katz Rag” was written by Steve Katz, another New York guitarist and friend of Grossman’s who went on to some fame with the very popular group Blood, Sweat and Tears. I recently communicated with Grossman through his website and learned that the piece started its development with Dave Van Ronk, another of the brotherhood of New York guitarists and a good friend of Bob Dylan. Van Ronk then taught it to Steve Katz, who taught it to Stefan Grossman, who recorded it and included it in his teaching material, what Grossman referred to as the “folk process”!

Thanks Roch. Here’s my version of “Katz Rag” played on an old guitar with an old sound.


Katz Rag

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