Yesterday marked what would have been the 80th birthday of musician, folklorist and proponent of American Primitive Guitar, John Fahey. In honor of this occasion, we pulled a few Fahey-related highlights from our collection.
The 1967 rerecording of his debut set Blind Joe Death provides an excellent primer on the breadth and depth of his idiosyncratic playing style, nicknamed “American Primitive Guitar,” juxtaposing traditional country blues fingerpicking guitar techniques against melodies drawn from traditions ranging from gospel hymns and 20th century classical music to Indian ragas.
By the late 60s, Fahey had expanded the sonic palette of his recordings significantly: incorporating found sound and tape collage techniques and occasionally bringing in additional musicians to flesh out his solo guitar performances. The Yellow Princess exemplifies this experimentation by featuring contributions by Jay Ferguson and Mark Andes from the psychedelic band Spirit and ex-Byrds drummer Kevin Kelley alongside musique concrete pieces and Fahey’s own consistently excellent solo guitar.
Fahey was also known for founding the influential folk label Takoma Records, which was responsible for several high-profile releases by like-minded musicians such as Leo Koettke, Robbie Basho, Peter Lang and Joseph Byrd among others. The 1974 split LP Leo Koettke/Peter Lang/John Fahey shows all three guitarists in fine form, each performing a set that exemplifies the American Primitive Guitar style.Our archival holdings also include a number of fascinating Fahey-related items. Of particular note in the Greenhill Family/FLi Artists/Folklore Productions Collection (20542) are tapes containing safety masters and rough mixes from Fahey’s 1975 LP Old Fashioned Love as well as promotional artwork meant to accompany the Shanachie records re-release of Death Chants, Breakdowns and Military Waltzes.
In addition, this collection holds a number of unique Fahey manuscript items: including a typescript copy of Fahey’s unpublished book Admiral Kelvinator’s Clockwork Factory. Especially exciting are handwritten lead sheets and orchestration charts for a number of his pieces, prepared as part of the copyright registration process for these compositions.
John Fahey passed away in 2001, leaving behind a vibrant and restlessly imaginative body of work that continues to inspire musicians to this day.
Hello there! My name is Andrew Crook and I’ve been an audiovisual archives assistant with the Southern Folklife Collection since mid-September. Prior to arriving at UNC, I worked as a photo archivist at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, GA and I am a 2015 graduate of the library science and information science program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (where I got my first taste of audiovisual preservation as a graduate assistant in the university’s library system). I am one of the three new hires working under a generous grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to help expand the scope of the digitization work undertaken at Wilson Special Collections Library over the next several years. With that in mind, I’d like to use this post as an opportunity to introduce all of us and talk a bit about what we get to do on a day-to-day basis.Mel Meents is also working under this grant as an audiovisual archives assistant. Mel is a 2017 graduate of the library and information science program at the University of Illinois and prior to starting at UNC, was employed at the Nashville Metro Archives Audiovisual Conservation Center in Nashville, TN working as a project archivist and digitization technician.
On the ground level, we are both responsible for managing the files produced during our regular digitization projects and preparing them for long-term digital storage. This ongoing process requires us to carry out a number of tasks: including inspecting and editing metadata to ensure that the digital files produced by our engineers are directly tied to their original items, packaging preservation masters with supporting documentation in preparation for long-term storage, producing high quality derivatives of master files for user access and connecting streaming files to the finding aid entries associated with the original items. We have been working on the grant for almost three months and, to date, we have already posted and packaged digital files for around 1300 items: including standout selections from the Archie Green Papers (20002), William R. Ferris Collection (20367) and Apollo Records Collection (20539) and fascinating tapes from the Bushyhead Family Collection (05773). We are also on call to help out with a number of activities to ensure that our rare and unique materials are ready for immediate playback by our audio engineers: including varying degrees of mold remediation and item cleaning.Alongside our daily duties, we have undertaken a number of independent projects. For instance, Mel has singlehandedly processed and arranged a large number of items from the Student Television Collection: a collection spanning 25 years worth of student-generated media productions across over 1600 tapes (Mel will be writing in greater detail about this project in the near future, so stay tuned!). I have been barcoding and organizing hundreds of reels in our film collection—including over 700 raw film elements from the Florentine Films collection that were used in the production of Ken Burns’ Baseball documentary—to prepare them for eventual relocation to our off-site cold storage facility. These projects have served to ensure greater access and longevity to the unique materials that are housed in Wilson Library.Audio engineer Dan Hockstein is another new member of the Mellon Project Team. Dan comes to us from Philadelphia, PA, where he spent time as a QC engineer with George Blood Audio after earning a degree in audio post production and sound design from Emerson College.
Dan is performing parallel transfers—digitizing up to 12 cassettes at a time—to prepare preservation masters derived from the thousands of cassette tapes in the collections. Over the past two months Dan has digitized a large number of items, with highlights from the Bruce Bastin Collection (20428), Jas Obrecht Collection (20512) and Greenhill Family/FLi Artists/Folklore Productions Collection (20542), constituting much of the nearly 600 items that he has transferred to date. Dan actively troubleshoots any potential issues associated with certain objects before playback: a task that sometimes requires him to re-house cassettes or bake the tapes themselves in order to guarantee smooth playback. Dan has also begun working with audio engineer Brian Paulson to develop an automated method to streamline the audio department’s pre-existing metadata workflow.
Our group has definitely hit the ground running and we’re looking forward to helping expand access to the materials held by Wilson library, not to mention those held by our new partners, in the new year!