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Guitar Artistry of John Fahey

John Fahey was born into a musical household and spent his formative years in Tacoma, Maryland. His father working as a government official, both of his parents being fond of playing the piano. Musical tastes range from classical music to bluegrass. The teenage John Fahey developed a fascination for the guitar and is especially interested in the sounds and myths of classic country blues and bluegrass. He successfully works on a degree in philosophy and religion and heads out West in 1963 to continue his studies in California. At this time, examples of John Fahey’s original music for guitar have been put onto vinyl already. A couple of friends talk the reluctant (and gas-pumping) musician/academic into investing some small funds into the recording and pressing of just 100 copies of an album that was to gain legendary status in the years to come: BLIND JOE DEATH. On the surface the name of a long lost black bluesman, but in reality the first of Fahey’s many inventions and pseudonyms. BJD - an alter ego that was to re-surface time and again and a debut release that already featured some of Fahey’s one-of-a-kind prose. The almost grotesque „musicologist“ liner notes on the album’s cover provide a first taste of his many quasi-surrealistic writings to come. “Blind Joe Death“ establishes an almost allegorical connection from Fahey to the early practioners of black Southern country blues. At the same time the guitarist manages to found his own label “Takoma Records“, a company that over the years turns into a forum for up-and-coming players like Robbie Basho and Leo Kottke.

John Fahey’s life ended by kidney failure following multiple bypass surgery. Some obituaries appeared that recognize his trailblazing musical legacy as a pioneer of American guitar music, but to get to the bottom of his musical and spiritual cosmos remains an almost inconceivable task to this day. It’s a world that hasn’t lost any of its strange darkness and bewildering mystery, weird humor and intellectual richness. John Fahey has remained a mystery - both as a person and as an artist. His music still stands as an expression of intrepid individuality. Many successors like Michael Hedges, Leo Kottke, Alex De Grassi and William Ackerman have profited immensely from the groundbreaking work he did in the course of a career that lasted almost forty years.

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    Guitar Artistry of John Fahey

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    "One of acoustic music’s true innovators and eccentrics, John Fahey was a crucial figure in expanding the boundaries of the acoustic guitar over the last few decades. His music was so eclectic that it’s arguable whether he should be defined as a “folk” artist. In a career that saw him issue several dozen albums, he drew from blues, Native American music, Indian ragas, experimental dissonance, and pop. His good friend Dr. Demento has noted that Fahey “was the first to demonstrate that the fingerpicking techniques of traditional country and blues steel-string guitar could be used to express a world of non-traditional musical ideas -- harmonies and melodies you’d associate with Bartok, Charles Ives, or maybe the music of India.” The more meditative aspects of his work foreshadowed new age music, yet Fahey played with a fierce imagination and versatility that outshone any of the guitarists in that category. His idiosyncrasy may have limited him to a cult following, but it also ensured that his work continues to sound fresh.

    Fahey was a colorful figure from the time he became an accomplished guitarist in his teens. Already a collector of rare early blues and country music, he made his first album in 1959, ascribing part of it to the pseudonymous “Blind Joe Death.” In college, he wrote a thesis on Charley Patton (an exotic subject at the time). Yet Fahey did not perform publicly for money until the mid-1960s, after his third album. Fahey’s early albums for Takoma in the mid-1960s laid out much of the territory he would explore. His instrumentals, filtering numerous genres of music into his own style, evoked haunting and open spaces. At times they could be soothing and plaintive; at other times they were disquieting, even dissonant.

    He was a catalyst in other subtle ways, helping to form Canned Heat by introducing Al Wilson (who played on a Fahey album in 1965) to Bob Hite, and rediscovering Delta bluesmen Bukka White and Skip James." – Richie Unterberger

    Titles include: Red Pony, Death of the Clayton Peacock, In Christ There Is No East or West, Poor Boy, Medley: Twilight On Prince George’s Avenue and O Holy Night and My Prayer, Who Will Rock The Cradle, Steamboat ‘Gwine Round The Bend, The Story of Dorothy Gooch, Part One, Guitar Rag, On The Sunnyside Side Of The Ocean, Medley:Blueberry and Special Rider, St. Vitus Dance, Dorothy, City of Refuge, Mexico and Discarded

    Bonus Tracks: Interview with Christian Roebling Guitar Lesson: Some Summer Day

    Running Time: 134 minutes

    Review: They waited. And waited. But he didn't sing. Instead the fingerpicked innovations and slide excursions that peeled off his acoustic guitar would have to suffice for insights into John Fahey's soul. Mysteries, like "Death Of The Clayton Peacock" and the gentle juggernaut "On The Sunny Side Of The Ocean," were emotional outlets. In the process, the silent kid first seen here in 1969 tumbling "In Christ There Is No East Or West" off the strings ended up inventing new concert art: the solo steel-string guitar instrumental. And inventing his Blind Joe Death persona. And "rediscovering" Skip James. And evolving into the cult hero ranked as Rolling Stone's 35th All-Time Greatest Guitarist. (Mighty impressive for working alone and unplugged amongst a list of electric band monsters.) That musical story spills out over two different interviews and performance footage of his Guitar Artistry spread over decades. Whether magically pulling both "Sea Cruise" and Skip's "Special Rider" out from "Blueberry Hill" or squishing out dissonant curlicues from a lap-steeled "St. Vitus Dance" Fahey always took the road less traveled by. And that made all the difference. – Dennis Rozanski/BluesRag

    Review: The latest in Stefan Grossman's Guitar Artistry series features the father of American Primitive guitar. Today, 10 years after his death at 61, Fahey's legend continues to grow, thanks to young disciples like the late Jack Rose and a burgeoning appreciation for Fahey's own iconoclastic eccentricities.

    This DVD continues the Guitar Artistry format, mixing reminiscences with up-close and personal performances, shot from a guitar player's perspective, - lots of close-ups of right hand picking and left hand chords (and also, in Fahey's case, steel guitar bar moves). The result is hybrid oral history/house concert/guitar workshop. This episode even features a formal lesson, Fahey teaching his “Some Summer Day.” A tablature PDF is included on the disc.

    Fahey discusses influences, notably Charlie Patton and Bela Bartok, and talks at length about pioneering Louisville guitarist Sylvester Weaver. He demonstrates Weaver's “Smoketown Strut,” misremembering the title as “Darktown Stomp.” He talks about rediscovering Mississippi bluesmen Bukka White and Skip James, starting his Takoma Records label and other chapters in a uniquely intriguing life. But mostly there's Fahey's guitar, in both open and standard tunings, played both “Spanish” and “Hawaiian” style.

    For Fahey fans, this is an absolute must-have, a way to virtually hang out with him. But anyone who loves acoustic fingerpicked guitar will be mesmerized by Fahey. Clips are from a variety of sources, all the way back to a stately “In Christ There is No East or West,” by a clean-cut young Fahey. These Guitar Artistry discs are great resources. Intermediate and advanced players can learn by watching masters play their signature pieces. But since they're not formal, repetitive lessons, they're accessible to any guitar lovers. – Larry Nager/Blues Revue

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