Sketches of Spain

Mission Creek 2008: Peter Walker communes with a new muse
Raga man

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John Fahey remains the beacon of American Primitive Guitar, but Peter Walker's two out-of-print 1960s albums — Rainy Day Raga and Second Poem to Karmela or Gypsies Are Important (both Vanguard; 1966, 1969) are benchmarks of exuberant raga-blues sure to destroy any open-tuned acolyte. Solo guitar has never been a bankable venture — Fahey himself pawned instruments to pay the rent — but the recent stream of reissues and compilations (e.g., Tompkins Square's Imaginational Anthem series and Numero Group's Guitar Soli) highlight the breadth and influence of this loose-knit musician's movement, while younger disciples like Jack Rose, James Blackshaw, and Ben Chasny reanimate the tradition. Walker writes me a series of e-mails from Peru about his eye-opening experience touring with Rose: "I had no idea I could work in this country or that anyone cares about what I was playing.... All of these younger players have picked up the ball from Sandy Bull, me, Robbie Basho, and John Fahey and run with it."

The fresh faces on the 2006 A Raga for Peter Walker tribute album seem eager to lap up Walker's former torrents of notes, but the 70-year-old guitarist has long since moved on to the more capacious terrain of Spanish flamenco. He points out that the form is based on some of the same scales as raga in the liner notes to his new record, Echo of My Soul (Tompkins Square), a bridge he's given himself plenty of time to cultivate in his 40-year gap between records.

"I first went to Spain to study in the fall of 1963," he writes. "It wasn't until that winter that I had a chance to study in Valencia with a Sr. Pappas, who sold meat during the day and taught flamenco at night a few miles outside the city. It transformed my view of the instrument and what was possible." This from the man who participated in at least two zeitgeists in his younger days, playing the Greenwich Village coffeehouse circuit with people like Tim Hardin and Karen Dalton, and serving as the "musical director" for Timothy Leary's LSD-coated celebrations.

Once a bright light of the counterculture, Walker's voracious musicality returned him to the semi-anonymity of tutelage. While Echo of My Soul evokes tender evenings and intergenerational anthems, it's also something of a student portfolio: "I made a recording each year reflecting my development, [and] I took the best of these to make a compilation to submit as my application to play in a major competition in Murcia," Walker writes. "The consensus in the Sacromonte community was whether or not it was pure traditional flamenco. It was certainly very beautiful music, so I decided to release it."

When I saw Walker play at the 21 Grand two years ago, I knew nothing of this long back-story, but the explorative nature of his musicianship was plain from his relaxed performance. He ran through many of the lyrical themes and rippling chord clusters that comprise Echo of My Soul, pausing between each piece to relay a story from Seville, Granada, or Woodstock. The 21 Grand is a chilly performance space, but Walker imbued it with worldly warmth — something decidedly lacking in most club performances. It might seem anachronistic to travel thousands of miles to study a musical form in the age of the iPod, but computer interfaces cannot satisfy curiosity in such full bloom. "I am in Lima, having a blast," Walker mentions in our first e-mail exchange. "Great music scene here.... The flamenco/Inca/jazz fusion is great."


With the William Hooker Trio

July 19, 7 p.m., $12

Hemlock Tavern

1131 Polk, SF

(415) 923-0923

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