Many of you are probably too young to remember the impact that the first late ’70s releases on Will Ackerman’s Windham Hill label had on steel-string guitar music. Though clearly from the same bloodline as John Fahey’s ground-breaking Takoma Records, Windham Hill presented a new generation of guitarist/composers to a record-buying public that was hungry for interesting yet still consonant instrumental music. In those early days, Windham Hill LPs were routinely lumped into “New Age” bins at record stores, but anyone who was paying attention to what was actually in the grooves could hear that so much of the “Windham Hill sound” was surprisingly complex compositionally; far from the aural wallpaper the “New Age” tag implied to many.

A case in point was Alex de Grassi. His 1978 Windham Hill debut, Turning: Turning Back, revealed an artist who was both a sophisticated composer and a staggeringly good guitarist. To this day, that album remains an important milestone in the evolution of modern steel-string guitar, much as a pair of early ’80s Windham Hill releases by Michael Hedges (Breakfast in the Field and Aerial Boundaries) hugely affected so many acoustic guitarists. For this Throwback Thursday, let’s revisit what many consider to be de Grassi’s masterwork: “Turning: Turning Back.” This live version (with de Grassi playing a custom Traugott guitar) was recorded in Nashville and appears on the Mel Bay DVD, Alex de Grassi in Concert. A studio audio version of the piece can be found on Alex de Grassi: A Windham Hill Retrospective (highly recommended), and also the excellent Windham Hill 25 years of Guitar: Touch, featuring de Grassi, Hedges, Ackerman, and others from the label’s impressive stable.

And here’s a link to the Acoustic Guitar video/book guide, Alex de Grassi Fingerstyle Guitar Method.

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