Monday, June 25, 2007

John Fahey - Fare Forward Voyagers (Soldier's Choice),LP,1973,USA

John Fahey (February 28, 1939 – February 22, 2001) was an American fingerstyle guitarist and composer who pioneered the steel-string guitar as a solo instrument. His style has been greatly influential and has been described as American Primitive, a term borrowed from painting and referring mainly to the self-taught nature of his art. Fahey himself borrowed from the folk and blues traditions of America but incorporated classical, Brazilian, Indian and abstract music into his eclectic oeuvre. In 2003, he was ranked 35th in the Rolling Stones "The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time".John Aloysius Fahey was born in Takoma Park, MD into a musical household--both his parents played the piano. On weekends, the family often attended performances of top country and bluegrass groups of the day, but it was hearing Bill Monroe's version of Jimmie Rodgers' "Blue Yodel No. 7" on the radio that ignited the young Fahey's passion for music.
In 1952 he purchased his first guitar for $17 from the Sears-Roebuck catalogue. Along with his budding interest in guitar, Fahey was attracted to record collecting. While his tastes ran mainly in the bluegrass and country vein, Fahey discovered his love of early blues upon hearing Blind Willie Johnson's "Praise God I'm Satisfied" on a record-collecting trip to Baltimore with his friend and mentor, the musicologist Richard K. Spottswood. Much later, Fahey compared the experience to a religious conversion and remained a devout blues disciple until his death.
As his guitar playing and composing progressed, Fahey developed a style that blended the picking patterns he discovered on old blues 78s with the dissonance of contemporary classical composers he loved, such as Charles Ives and Béla Bartók. In 1958 Fahey made his first recordings. These were for his friend Joe Bussard's amateur Fonotone label. He recorded under the pseudonym Blind Thomas.
The following year, having no idea how to approach professional record companies and being convinced they would be uninterested, Fahey decided to issue his first album himself, using some cash saved from his gas station attendant job and some borrowed from an Episcopalian priest. So Takoma Records was born, named in honor of his hometown. One hundred copies of this first album were pressed. On one side of the album sleeve was the name "John Fahey" and on the other, "Blind Joe Death" - this latter was a humorous nickname given to him by his fellow blues fans. He attempted to sell these albums himself. Some he gave away, some he sneaked into thrift stores and blues sections of local record shops, and some he sent to folk music scholars, a few of whom were fooled into thinking that there really was a living old blues singer called Blind Joe Death. It took three years for Fahey to sell the remainder.
After graduating from American University with a degree in philosophy and religion, Fahey moved to California in 1963 to study philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley. Arriving on campus, Fahey — ever the outsider — began to feel dissatisfied with the program's curriculum (he later suggested that studying philosophy had been a mistake and that what he had wanted to understand was really psychology) and was equally unimpressed with Berkeley's (hippie) music scene. Fahey loathed the polite Pete Seeger-inspired revivalists he found himself classed with. The following year, Fahey moved south to Los Angeles to join the folklore master's program at UCLA at the invitation of department head D.K. Wilgus. Fahey's UCLA master's thesis on the music of Charley Patton, later published, is considered among the very best of folklore academia. He completed it with the musicological assistance of his friend Alan Wilson, who shortly after became a member of Canned Heat.
During this period Takoma Records was reborn. Fahey and ED Denson, a Washington, DC area friend who had also moved west, decided to track down Blues legend Bukka White by sending a telegram to Aberdeen, MS (White had sung that Aberdeen was his hometown, and Mississippi John Hurt had been rediscovered using a similar method). White became the first non-Fahey Takoma release. Fahey also, finally, released a second album in late 1963, called Death Chants, Breakdowns and Military Waltzes. To their surprise the Fahey release sold better than White's and Fahey had a career going. But still Fahey did not begin playing in public for another year.
His releases during the mid '60s employed odd guitar tunings and sudden style shifts rooted firmly in the old time and blues stylings of the 1920s. But he was not simply a copyist, as compositions such as "When the Cactus Catfish is in Bloom" or "Stomping Tonight on the Pennsylvania/Alabama Border" demonstrate. Fahey described the latter piece as follows : "The opening chords are from the last movement of Vaughan Williams' Sixth Symphony. It goes from there to a Skip James motif. Following that it moves to a Gregorian chant, 'Dies Irae'. It's the most scary one in the Episcopal hymn books, it's all about the day of judgement. Then it returns to the Vaughan Williams chords, followed by a blues run of undetermined origin, then back to Skip James and so forth." A hallmark of his classic releases was the inclusion of lengthy liner notes, parodying those found on blues releases. Typically, these were epic acts of self-mythologization, mixing personal biography, reverie, folklore and myriad obscure blues and bluegrass references.
Later albums from the sixties, such as Requia and The Yellow Princess found Fahey making sound collages from such elements as Gamelan music, Tibetan chanting, animal and bird cries and singing bridges. In 1967, Fahey recorded with Red Crayola at the 1967 Berkeley Folk Festival, music that resurfaced on the 1998 Drag City reissue, The Red Krayola: Live 1967.
In addition to his own creative output, Fahey expanded the Takoma label, discovering fellow guitarists Leo Kottke, Robbie Basho and Peter Lang, as well as emerging pianist George Winston. Kottke's debut release on the label, 6- and 12-String Guitar, ultimately proved to be the most successful of the crop, selling more than 500,000 copies. Fahey eventually sold Takoma to Chrysalis Records in the mid-'70s.
By the mid-1970s Fahey's output had slowed and he was beginning to suffer from a drinking problem. He lost his home in the dissolution of his first marriage, remarried, divorced again, and moved to Salem, Oregon in 1981 to live with his third wife. In 1986, Fahey contracted Epstein-Barr syndrome, a long-lasting viral infection similar to chronic fatigue syndrome, which exacerbated his diabetes and other health issues. He broke up with his third wife and his life began to spiral downwards. He made what appeared to be his last album in 1990, and silence descended.
Although he won his five-year battle with Epstein-Barr, Fahey spent much of the early 1990s living in poverty, mostly in cheap motels. Gigs had dried up, due to his health problems. He paid his rent by pawning his guitars and reselling rare records he found in thrift stores.
Following a 1994 entry on Fahey in Spin magazine's spin-off 'Alternative Record Guide' publication, Fahey was informed that he now had a whole new audience, which included alternative US bands Sonic Youth and Cul de Sac, British comedian and writer Stewart Lee and the avant-garde musician Jim O'Rourke. Byron Coley published a large article called "The Persecutions and Resurrections of Blind Joe Death" (also in Spin magazine) and at the same time a two-cd retrospective called "The Return of the Repressed" all combined to kick-start Fahey's career. Suddenly new releases started to appear in rapid succession, in parallel to the reissue of all the early Takoma releases by Fantasy Records.
Jim O'Rourke went on to produce a Fahey album, 1997's Womblife, while in the same year Fahey recorded an album with Cul de Sac, The Epiphany of Glenn Jones (Glenn Jones is the lead guitarist of Cul de Sac). This late flowering showed Fahey had changed. Gone was the melodic dreaminess and folk-based meditations of the 60s and 70s, which Fahey himself characteristically denounced as "cosmic sentimentalism". Now his music was harsh, grating, and confrontational.
At the same time as he was delving into more experimental electric music, Fahey's passion for traditional roots music did not subside. After coming into some money upon the death of his father in 1995, Fahey used the inheritance to form another label, Revenant Records, to focus on reissuing obscure recordings of early blues, old-time music and anything else Fahey took a fancy to. In 1997, the label issued its first crop of releases, including albums by artists such as British guitarist Derek Bailey, American pianist Cecil Taylor, guitarist Jim O'Rourke, bluegrass pioneers the Stanley Brothers, Rick Bishop of Sun City Girls and slide guitarist Jenks "Tex" Carman. Revenant's most famous release would become Screamin' and Hollerin' the Blues: The Worlds of Charley Patton, a seven-disc retrospective of Charley Patton and his contemporaries, which won three Grammy awards in 2003.
Fahey performed in Europe in Autumn 1999, including a sell-out show at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London in September. His life appeared to observers to be spiralling out of control. Old fans often walked out of these concerts, but Fahey didn't care.
In 2000, the American record label Drag City published a volume of Fahey's esoteric short stories, How Bluegrass Music Destroyed My Life, edited by Damian Rogers with an introduction by O'Rourke.
In February 2001, just a few days before what would have been his 62nd birthday, John Fahey died at Salem Hospital after undergoing a sextuple bypass operation.
In 2006, five years after his death, no less than four John Fahey tribute albums were released as a testament to his reputation as a 'giant of 20th century American music' (Byron Coley).
From Wikipedia.
Deep guitar weirdness scaring in it's simplicity.Sacred music!

***************NEW LINK POSTED SEPTEMBER 2012***************

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Anonymous said...

Nice Post! Fahey was such a cool guy and in my opinion musical genius. He had a great sense of humor too!
I really love his music!

d-tuned friend

Pajamas (like Bahamas) said...

thank you thank you thank you
you've pluck't mine world
all the best


Morgan FitzPatrick Andrews said...

Speaking of rare Takoma records, any chance of posting the Psychedelic Sounds of Charlie Nothing?

Rod Warner said...

I bought this album years ago - then gave all my vinyl away to a friend a while back... so this is a welcome treat! One of Fahey's best albums... thanks a lot!

Anonymous said...

Charlie Nothing at:

Art Simon said...

Really great post, thanks!

Art Simon said...

If you are interested in Fahey's electronic stuff here are some links:
Here's Womblife:


City of Refuge:

Anonymous said...

At some point somebody should post a digital version of the ORIGINAL vinyl version of AMERICA, the one with the four complete tunes--some of those were cut down to make room for all the tunes originally planned for a double LP that was never released as such. It always seemed wrong to mutilate the release Fahey chose to bring out in order to get out new titles--ones left for whatever reasons on the cutting room floor so to speak. I mean I'm grateful to have those other titles, but shouldn't we also respect the integrity of the work Fahey consciously gave us? Jezzer