A friend recently turned me on to John Fahey (cheers, Bruce!) an artist who is not nearly as well known as he should be by regular folks, even though he was named in the top slice of Rolling Stone magazine’s Top 100 Guitarists a few years back. Fahey’s fingerpicking influence has been considerable and he was also a key figure in bringing the blues to a broader audience base.
Fahey’s particular style of playing the guitar – which he dubbed ‘American Primitivism’ since it was a blend of both self taught technique and facets of art and spirituality – was also sometimes fused with experimental music, world music such as Indian and predominantly, the pure original blues. Ahead of his time, much of his brilliance went largely misunderstood. But John’s playing, often performed on a steel string guitar had a bright, lyrical quality that could be fresh and clean, deeply complicated or achingly poignant depending on the song.
Fahey also invented a tongue-in-cheek blues persona called “Blind Thomas” to be the name on his records and established his own label called Takoma.
He secretly sneaked his early work into music stores and thrift shops as a venue to gathering listeners: a humorous pre-cursor to the current trend of burning CDs and leaving them around bus stations etc.as a way to spread new music.
Although he was deeply moved and influenced by early blues artists such as Bukka White and Skip James, Fahey brought an original sound to the fore every time. There was both intelligence and a musical strata in everything he attempted.
This is particularly evident in a charming Christmas album simply called Christmas Guitar. A broad range of short, tasty morsels John delivers a versatile offering with everything from Hark the Herald Angels Sing to a haunting, almost Elizabethan version of In the Bleak Midwinter. The guitarwork on this last one sounds lute-like in its purity. Highly recommended!
On another stellar album, The Best of John Fahey 1959-1977 which you can sample below, there is a wide range of material to choose from. Personal favs include the St.Louis Blues and the highly authentic and passion fueled Dance of the Inhabitants of the Palace.There’s not a dud on this whole record – the tracks have been chosen with care and consequently provide a musical road map worthy for any listener.
In later years, Fahey had many demons to face including illness, failed relationships, alcoholism and depression all of which began to overshadow his immense talent. Tragically, he passed away in 2001.