John Fahey

John Fahey’s fingers hold the key to great guitar music. Enlightened at an early age by old 78rpm records of mysterious blues musicians (his turning point was being brought to tears by Blind Willie Johnson’s ‘Praise God I’m Satisfied’), Fahey began to craft his own, minimalist guitar style informed by his musical knowledge and dexterity, as well as the understanding that the key to the blues is that you must be far more informed by emotion, experience and personality as you are by a technical musical understanding. This is why players like Leo Kottke, while extraordinarily gifted in their own way, could never quite match the sheer hypnotized musical mindfulness that one gets the sense both the audience and Fahey feel when he plays in a handful of performances. He shakes his head and lets the sound flow, any ‘hiccup’ simply being an interrupted transmission of his soul.

His brilliant sense for dissonance and economy made his guitar a kind of channel through which America’s natural essence and character could travel in song. As Jimmy Crosthwait (a musician on Fahey’s own early ‘Takoma’ label) put it: ‘Music is a part of the pulse, the heartbeat of this place. Maybe it’s linked to the Mississippi River–if you think about it, there’s a steady, giant volume of matter moving at 9mph… Which almost has some magnetic pull.’ Through the dissonant pluck of a few ringing notes, he held an archive of American music past while envisioning his own characterful pastiche of his country’s myth and legend filled with enigmatic blind bluesmen and talking turtles. Old and weird enough for ya, Greil?

Here’s ‘Song’ from his 1972 record ‘Of Rivers and Religion’. Highly recommended albums include The Yellow Princess (1968), The Great San Bernardino Birthday Party (1966) and the Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death (1965)

‘fahey was a magician.’
– Unkown Youtube commenter

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3 thoughts on “John Fahey

  1. Fahey, huh? Know the name, haven’t listened to much. I know you’ve mentioned him before. Any recommendation for a listen on YouTube, maybe an album? By Greil I assume you mean Greil Marcus. What’s the deal there? All music must be made by old black blind guys to be valid? :-0 As to Bussard, where the hell did you find this guy? That is one impressive collection.

    Lastly, you’re a Brit yes? So, like your countryman Elvis Costello, perhaps you can be ‘American Without Tears.’ :-O

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  2. Hey…we’re not all emotionless…(he says as he sternly sips his cuppa tea)
    Found out about Joe Bussard by scouring the interwebs for oldy-timey music, and saw that he was the ultimate authority.

    As for Greil Marcus: ”The Old, Weird America, a term coined by Marcus to describe the often eerie country, blues, and folk music featured on the Anthology of American Folk Music (1927-1932; released 1952). Marcus’ book studied Basement Tapes, and likened the lyrics and playing to the sometimes surreal ‘Americana’ imagery in the songs of old bluesmen and folk artists”.
    And for John Fahey, I suggest Of Rivers and Religion as an album, and check this out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9H6A6e7fVic

    BTW, I realise how it probably looks like I consider myself some intense musicologist, when the reality is I’m just raving mad.

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  3. A little madness is perhaps a necessary condition to live in this world. I am listening to the Fahey song you posted right now and digging it. (I play guitar and much as I love electric, acoustic is a whole ‘nother thing). As to the other Fahey stuff, it’s now on the list. Thanks from across the pond.

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