After discovering American Primitive guitar playing, Glenn Jones spent years cultivating his own sound

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Glenn Jones by Jesse Sheppard

Anyone who tells you that purely instrumental music can’t express emotion as well as a band with a singer hasn’t heard Glenn Jones play guitar. In Jones’ hands, the acoustic guitar becomes something different, almost like a paintbrush or a pen.

He can use it to tell stories in pure sound, letting a chord resonate through the air or weaving a delicate, intricate fingerpicked web of melody. And he’s capable of skillfully complex, lightning-fast fretboard magic.

But more often he concerns himself with intuitive, exploratory playing that creates an almost visual impression.

It’s a sound derived from the American Primitive style of acoustic guitar, a mix of neoclassical composition and country-blues fingerpicking that was pioneered by the late John Fahey.

When Jones was a teen in the 1960s, he first discovered Fahey.

“I’d been playing guitar for a couple years before I heard his music,” Jones says. “At the time I was playing Dylan songs, and like a lot of people from my generation, I’d been listening to Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, and The Doors. And I had this idea that in order to play music, you needed a drummer and a bass player. John Fahey’s music made me realize that you don’t really need all of that to do something meaningful and full of expression.”

Jones dove headfirst into the American Primitive style of playing, seeking out Fahey’s albums on the independent Tacoma label.

“Back then, there weren’t really any books or DVDs to tell you how to play this stuff,” Jones says. “It was very much off the radar at the time. There was a mystery to it, not just because of what he was doing, but because his records were so hard to find. Tacoma ran on enough of a shoestring budget that they couldn’t re-press a lot of the older albums in their catalog. So you couldn’t really find some of his records. It took me a couple of years to complete my collection, and that kind of added to the attraction; it was almost out of reach.”

But for Jones, it wasn’t enough to simply imitate his idol; he eventually became skilled enough to create his own alternate and open tunings, crafting a playing vocabulary all his own. And that took some time.

“I didn’t feel like I was creating my own music or speaking in my own voice till I was in my 30s,” he says. “The challenge for someone playing music is that you’re inspired by somebody to take up the instrument, and you follow that path. Then you discover that you have to learn your own language. It can be hard to escape the shadow of that influence and find your own little place in the sun.”

Both as a solo artist and as a member of the experimental rock band Cul De Sac, Jones has been releasing albums since the early ’90s, and what he seems to have learned from that process is that the only place he doesn’t like to record is an actual recording studio. His most recent solo album, “Fleeting,” was recorded in a house by Rancocas Creek in New Jersey (one can occasionally hear a bird chirping or a gust of wind in the background), and 2011’s “The Wanting” was recorded in a fourth-floor apartment.

“With Cul De Sac, we made a number of our records in the studio,” he says. “And that’s a fine way to work, but in the studio, you can feel the clock ticking on the wall. The process is a lot more fun in a place that feels like someone’s home, a comfortable place where you can follow your own intuition without having to worry about any other considerations.”

In fact, it’s that sense of informality that’s drawn Jones back to Horizon Records on Friday for his third in-store performance. “It’s different from a concert setting,” he says, “I’ve always felt like there was a nice feeling of support and community, which is why I continue to do shows in that space.”

Glenn Jones w/ Pete Nolan & Ed Yazijian
When: Friday, Nov. 10, 7 p.m.
Where: Horizon Records, 2 W. Stone Ave.
Admission: Free
Info: 864-235-7922, horizonrecords.net

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