Voice of the Eagle: The Enigma of Robbie Basho was sent to me at random by MVD, a company specializing in republishing existing material about musicians of whom you’ve likely never heard. They’ve sent a number of other documentaries my way, too, which I have sitting in a pile of content for which I’ve simply not found the time.

For whatever reason, Voice of the Eagle intrigued me. The 2015 documentary features a number of friends, family and contemporaries reminiscing about Robbie Basho, a guitarist known for his inclusion of international guitar techniques who rose to some relative prominence during the late 1960s. He had a troubled life and died in 1986 after a freak accident with his chiropractor.

There is no need to reiterate the other biographical details shared at length in the documentary (also available on Amazon Prime Video). Basho had a tumultuous childhood, was adopted, attended Catholic school and found meaning with other musicians in college. His life changed when he heard Ravi Shankar, the famous Indian musician, and like many others during the 1960s, Basho adopted an approach to string instrumentation heavily influenced by different Asian countries.  

The enigma of the title comes from Basho having lived with just the right level of notoriety for people to care about him, but not enough to end up the subject of storybook mythology. His old friends speak to never being entirely sure who he was in private — a saint, a sinner or, like the rest of us, somewhere in between? Recollections are contradictory from person to person — not in argument, but just fond, dissonant remembrances. Basho is unknowable simply because he wasn’t endlessly documented during his lifetime.

What’s not in dispute is Basho’s talent. Some of the samples and archival footage are, apparently, shown here for the first time. It’s pleasant music, even if it’s not really my thing. He had a resurgence in the 2000s, after several musicians found his work and felt inspired by it. Two tribute albums exist. Basho was the sort of musician who seemed to come and go; passionate and dedicated to his art, but never one who hit the big time. He isn’t a household name, and never will be, but Voice of the Eagle: The Enigma of Robbie Basho does a good job memorializing him. It’s a quick 82 minutes of kind-hearted storytelling that focuses on a man, not on building a new legend.