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In addition, this collection holds a number of unique Fahey manuscript items: including a typescript copy of Fahey’s unpublished book Admiral Kelvinator’s Clockwork Factory.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.