John Fahey was an American fingerstyle guitarist and composer who played the steel-string acoustic guitar as a solo instrument. His style has been enormously influential and has been described as the foundation of American Primitive Guitar, a term borrowed from painting and referring mainly to the self-taught nature of the music and its minimalist style.
Fahey borrowed from the folk and blues traditions in American roots music, having compiled many forgotten early recordings in these genres. He would later incorporate 20th-century classical, Portuguese, Brazilian, and Indian influences into his work.
"Auld Lang Syne" (Scots pronunciation: [___l(d) l___s_in]: note "s" rather than "z") is a Scots-language poem written by Robert Burns in 1788 and set to the tune of a traditional folk song. It is well known in many countries, especially in the English-speaking world. Its traditional use being to bid farewell to the old year at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve. By extension, it is also sung at funerals, graduations, and as a farewell or ending to other occasions.
John sets his arrangement in an Open C tuning (C G C G C E).
"Away in a Manger" is a Christmas carol first published in the late nineteenth century and used widely throughout the English-speaking world. In Britain, it is one of the most popular carols. Although it was long claimed to be the work of German religious reformer Martin Luther, the carol is now thought to be of wholly American origin.
The two most-common musical settings are by William J. Kirkpatrick (1895) and James Ramsey Murray (1887). A great many published editions ascribe the lyrics of the first two verses to Martin Luther, but there is little evidence for his authorship, and researchers have not yet confirmed the original lyricist(s) of these verses. The third verse was added somewhat later.
John sets his arrangement in an Open D tuning (D A D F# A D).
"Claire" is basically a slowed-down reinterpretation of a Scrapper Blackwell piece in A. Scrapper used similar licks in all his tunes in that key i.e
"Blue Day Blues" or "A Blues".
"Greensleeves" is a traditional English folk song and tune, over a ground of the form romanesca, passamezzo antico or Andalusian progression, or some combination of these. A broadside ballad by the name "A Newe Northen Dittye of ye Ladye Greene Sleves" was registered by Richard Jones at the London Stationer's Company in September 1580, and the tune is found in several late-16th-century and early-17th-century sources, such as Ballet's MS Lute Book and Het Luitboek van Thysius, as well as various manuscripts preserved in the Seeley Historical Library in the University of Cambridge.
There is a persistent belief that Greensleeves was composed by Henry VIII for his lover and future queen consort Anne Boleyn. Boleyn allegedly rejected King Henry's attempts to seduce her and this rejection may be referred to in the song when the writer's love "cast me off discourteously". However, the piece is based on an Italian style of composition that did not reach England until after Henry's death, making it more likely to be Elizabethan in origin.
John sets his arrangement in Standard tuning.
In 1889, Rudyard Kipling published his poem, "The Ballad of East and West," which begins, "Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall
meet." Those lines sound as if Kipling is saying that there is no hope that people from East and West can ever come together, but the opposite is true.
The poem tells of Kamal, a man of India who steals an English Colonel's horse. The Colonel's son rides off in pursuit. The two men end up in a place
where Kamal has a soldier behind every rock, but he respects the young Englishman's courage and spares his life. The young Englishman, in turn, passes
up a chance to use a hidden pistol with which he could have killed Kamal. The poem ends as it began with these lines:
Oh, East is East, and West is West,
and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently
at God's great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West,
Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face,
though they come from the ends of the earth!
Kipling's poem celebrates the possibility of mutual respect between people who are very different from each other. Nine years later after Kipling's poem was published, William Arthur Dunkerly (using the pen name John Oxenham) wrote this hymn, "In Christ There Is No East or West." The occasion was a great missionary exhibition sponsored by the London Missionary Society.
This is one of John's most popular arrangements. Leo Kottke record John's version. The playing uses pattern picking and the alternate bass.
"It Came Upon the Midnight Clear" (1849), sometimes rendered as "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear", is a poem and Christmas carol written by Edmund Sears, pastor of the Unitarian Church in Wayland, Massachusetts. Sears' lyrics are most commonly set to "Noel", adapted by Arthur Sullivan from an English melody (in Commonwealth countries), or to "Carol", composed by Richard Storrs Willis (in the United States).
He wrote "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear" while serving as a part-time preacher in Wayland. Writing during a period of personal melancholy, and with news of revolution in Europe and the United States' war with Mexico fresh in his mind, Sears portrayed the world as dark, full of "sin and strife", and not hearing the Christmas message.
John sets his arrangement in Standard tuning.
John Fahey is truly an original and distinctive voice in the musical world, revered by artists and performers the world over for his unusual compositions and cross-pollination of genres.
His recording career has drawn influence from Country Blues, Old-Time music, Indian ragas, the European classical tradition and Gregorian tonalities. He formed a loosely defined 'school' of American Primitive guitarists that included such diverse characters as Leo Kottke and Robbie Basho.
In 1968 Fahey released his first album of Christmas songs and holiday melodies to great critical acclaim. The arrangements reflect Fahey's preference for slightly Jazzy and upbeat styles.
"Go Tell It on the Mountain" is an African-American spiritual song, compiled by John Wesley Work Jr., dating back to at least 1865, that has been sung and recorded by many gospel and secular performers. It is considered a Christmas carol because its original lyrics celebrate the Nativity of Jesus.
John sets both arrangements in an Open D tuning (D A D F# A D).
"Joy to the World" is a popular Christmas carol with words by Isaac Watts. As of the late 20th century, "Joy to the World" was the most-published Christmas hymn in North America. John had a love for Christmas music. He recorded "Joy To The World" on his albums "Christmas Guitar, Vol. 1", and "The New Possibility".
It is played in an Open C Tuning (C G C G C E).
First released in 1975 on "Old Fashioned Love", this tune appeared again on the 1992 album "Old Girlfriends and Other Horrible Memories", this time titled "Twilight On Prince Georges Avenue". It turns up yet again in 1999, again as "Marilyn", on "Georgia Stomps, Atlanta Struts and Other Contemporary Dance Favorites", having been recorded before a live audience on the electric guitar with a little echo and reverb.
John played this in an Open D tuning (D A D F# A D).
"My Prayer" is a 1939 popular song with music by salon violinist Georges Boulanger and lyrics by Carlos Gomez Barrera and Jimmy Kennedy. Boulanger originally wrote it with the title "Avant de Mourir" in 1926. Kennedy added the lyrics for this version in 1939.
Glenn Miller recorded the song that year for a number two hit and The Ink Spots' version featuring Bill Kenny reached number three, as well, that year. It has been recorded many times since, but the biggest hit version was a doo-wop rendition in 1956 by The Platters, whose single release reached number one on the Billboard Top 100 in the summer, and ranked four for the year. It was this version that influenced John.
John recorded this on his album "Georgia Stomps, Atlanta Struts, and Other Contemporary Dance Favorites". It is played in an open D tuning. It marked John's
adventure in arranging pop and rock standards.
"On the Sunny Side of the Ocean" is from 1965's "Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death". It is a masterpiece of droning open-tuned right-hand wonder,
building steam and dimension until it opens up with an unexpected pull off that turns the entire ship eastward on its journey. John's playing echoes
the music of Charley Patton and Mississippi John Hurt.
"Poor Boy Long Ways From Home" is a traditional blues song of unknown origin. As with most traditional blues songs, there is great variation in the melody and lyrical content as performed by different artists. The tune became a John Fahey standard. He played it an open D tuning using a strong alternating bass.
There are many source recordings for this tune. In 1927 Gus Cannon (as Banjo Joe) recorded a magical version on bottleneck slide banjo with Blind Blake accompanying him on guitar. Robert Wilkins had a variation recorded in 1929 titled "That's No Way To Get Along" (aka "The Prodigal Son") that was recorded by the Rolling Stones.
"Silent Night" (German: "Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht") is a popular Christmas carol, composed in 1818 by Franz Xaver Gruber to lyrics by Joseph Mohr in the small town of Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Austria. The song has been recorded by a large number of singers across many music genres. The version sung by Bing Crosby in 1935 is the third best-selling single of all-time.
The song was first performed on Christmas Eve 1818 at St Nicholas parish church in Oberndorf, a village in the Austrian Empire on the Salzach river in present-day Austria. A young priest, Father Joseph Mohr, had come to Oberndorf the year before. He had written the lyrics of the song "Stille Nacht" in 1816 at Mariapfarr, the hometown of his father in the Salzburg Lungau region, where Joseph had worked as a co-adjutor.
The melody was composed by Franz Xaver Gruber, schoolmaster and organist in the nearby village of Arnsdorf. Before Christmas Eve, Mohr brought the words to Gruber and asked him to compose a melody and guitar accompaniment for the Christmas Eve mass, after river flooding had damaged the church organ. The church was eventually destroyed by repeated flooding and replaced with the Silent-Night-Chapel. It is unknown what inspired Mohr to write the lyrics, or what prompted him to create a new carol.
John sets his arrangement in Open G tuning (D G D G B D) and uses a bottleneck/slide.
John recorded Some Summer Day on his "Death Chants, Breakdowns and Military Waltzes" album.
Steve James in his book "Roots and Blues Fingerstyle Guitar" writes "'Spanish Fandango' was derived from the influential guitar music of 18th century Spain, this waltz was quite popular with American guitarists of the 1800s, and numerous arrangements were published. It was published in 1860 by Henry Worral... 'Spanish Fandango' is one of the true parent pieces in American guitar music, and many recordings exist."
Here are a few interesting recordings you should check out:
Mississippi John Hurt on "Memorial Anthology" and "Live"
Elizabeth Cotten on "Freight Train and Other North Carolina Folk Songs"
Mance Lipscomb on "You Got To Reap What You Sow"
Etta Baker on "One Dime Blues"
John re-recorded "Spanish Two-Step" in 1977 for his album "The Best of John Fahey". On his 1981 album "Live in Tasmania" John changed the title to "Tasmanian Two Step" and performed it in a medley with "Sunny Side of the Ocean".
John remarked once, "I can't remember writing this... it's very pretty but just a series of clichés that you'd play in open G with a bottleneck." He recorded it several times on "Of Rivers and Religion", "God, Time and Causality" and "Live in Tasmania.
John played this in an Open G tuning: D G D G B D
"Steel Guitar Rag" is based on Sylvester Weaver's "Guitar Rag", recorded in 1927. Weaver was - until someone finds another earlier - the first man to have recorded slide. This tune along with his "Guitar Blues" laid down at the same time, was one of the first blues instrumentals to be recorded. His slide-guitar technique, using a knife blade on the strings, was much imitated by players who heard his records and in the 1930s, Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys made their adaptation of Sylvester's tune, re-born as "Steel Guitar Rag", into a country standard.
John's version is played in an Open D Tuning (D A D F# A D) and has many echoes of Sylvester Weaver's recording. John recorded this on "The Dance of Death
and Other Plantation Favorites".
One of Fahey's most celebrated and popular instrumentals. The tune "Sunflower River Blues" was written and first released in 1964. He recorded it several times and can be heard on: "Death Chants, Breakdowns & Military Waltzes", "Fahey, Kottke, Lang", "Best of John Fahey, 1959-1977" and "The Return Of The Repressed".
John played this in an Open C Tuning (C G C G C E).
"The Bells of St. Mary's" is a 1917 popular song. The music was written by A. Emmett Adams, the lyrics by Douglas Furber, following a visit to St. Mary's Church, Southampton, England.
The song was revived in 1945, in the film of the same name, by Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman. Due to the inclusion in the 1945 film of a scene featuring a Christmas pageant, both the film and the song have come to be associated with the Christmas season, although the song has no direct lyrical connection with the holiday (and, indeed, refers to the "red leaves" of autumn in the chorus).
John sets his arrangement in an Open C tuning (C G C G C E).
"The First Noel" ("The First Nowell") is a traditional English carol most likely from the 16th or 17th century, but possibly dating from as early as the 13th century. It appeared in Some Ancient Christmas Carols (1823) and Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern (1833), edited by William Sandys.
John sets his arrangement in an Open G tuning (D G D G B D).
John had been working on this composition since 1969. It wasn't until 1989 that it was released on the album "God, Time, and Causality". This is a rendition based off of the song "Wine & Roses" According to the sleeve notes on his third release, "The Dance of Death & Other Plantation Favorites" he came up with the tune after hearing Mancini's "Days of Wine and Roses" on the radio and tried to play it from memory.
John played this in an unusual tuning: Open D Minor Tuning (D A D F A D).
The song describes the three Kings from the East - Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar - who followed the star to find the Christ Child in Bethlehem, carrying three gifts: gold to symbolize his kingship, frankincense to symbolize his being God, and myrrh to represent his future death to save mankind from their sins.
John sets his arrangement in Standard tuning.
"When The Springtime Comes Again" first appeared in 1963 on John Fahey's Volume 2: "Death Chants, Breakdowns, and Military Waltzes". John re-recorded it in 1967. It is a masterpiece of musical economy and composition. John expanded on the basic themes throughout his career.