John Fahey

The much imitated John Fahey (1939-2001) was one of the undisputed fathers of the modern acoustic guitar. If you love the acoustic ambient sounds of classic Windham Hill and artists like William Ackerman, Fahey's music laid much of the groundwork for that generation of Amercian guitar instrumentalists.

artist:
John Fahey

country of origin:
USA

style(s):
New acoustic, folk, blues, ambient

decades active:
60's - 90's

essential releases:

  • Death Chants, Breakdowns & Military Waltzes (1963/67, Fantasy/Takoma)
  • Rainforests, Oceans & Other Themes (1986, Varrick)
  • I Remember Blind Joe Death (1987, Varrick)
  • Return Of The Repressed: The John Fahey Anthology (1994, Rhino)

Reviewed by Mike G

The much imitated John Fahey (1939-2001) was one of the undisputed fathers of the modern acoustic guitar. Much has been made of his idiosyncrasies, e.g. his demented track titles, his years in psychotherapy, the fact that he re-recorded his Blind Joe Death album no less than three times. But that shouldn't scare you away from his engaging and generally beautiful music. If you love the acoustic ambient sounds of classic Windham Hill and artists like William Ackerman, Fahey's music laid much of the groundwork for that generation of American guitar instrumentalists.

Founder of the now legendary Takoma label (which would later also launch the recording careers of guitarists like Leo Kottke), his emergence as a performer and recording artist coincided with the 1960's folk revival. But Fahey was different from the others. His self styled "American primitive guitar" music was highly eclectic, blending elements as diverse as blues, country, classical and Eastern music with such skill that he virtually created a whole new genre on his own. Fahey was the first to show how the fingerpicking and bottleneck styles of blues and country could be used to express ideas outside their genres, and his eccentricity lent his music a kooky, surreal atmosphere previously unheard on the instrument.

Listed above is listed one compilation album and three originals - all you need to get well acquainted with Fahey's music.

Return Of The Repressed (1994) not only manages a decent summary of his music from 1959 to 1990 over two CD's, it also includes a detailed essay and lovingly compiled notes by his friend and associate Barry Hansen. The first disc suffers occasionally from inferior sound quality, focusing as it does on Fahey's 60's output, but the album's music is magnificent throughout. His versatility is in abundance: the haunting blues of "Evil Deed Blues"; the striking guitar arrangement of an Indian raga on "A Raga Called Pat"; the meltingly gorgeous pastoral colours of "One Summer Day"; and the occasional stunning display of dexterity like the menacing "The Approaching Of The Disco Void", a concert favourite which by the 1980's Fahey found so frightening that he could no longer bring himself to play it. But flashy technique was never Fahey's forte. It was melody, emotion, atmosphere. Return Of The Repressed gloriously captures it all.

Of his dozens of original albums (and he rarely made a dud), the melancholic I Remember Blind Joe Death (1987) is the most recent and best sounding version of a debut album originally recorded in 1959. Though this one dates nearly 30 years on from the original, it retains from earlier versions that rich sense of history of early country and blues music, rejuvenated once again with Fahey's own peculiar angles on the source material that inspires him.

An essential slice of 60's Fahey is his second and groundbreaking album Death Chants, Breakdowns & Military Waltzes (1963/67), a CD re-release which includes both the 1963 original versions and the 1967 re-recordings of the same tracks. Rainforests, Oceans & Other Themes (1986) is his finest late-period album, with a title that hints at Fahey's influence on new age music and a selection that mixes solo tracks with small ensemble pieces featuring a second guitar and percussion. It's a consistently fine and melodic set, showing that his muse was intact well into his forth decade of recording.

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