John Fahey, who introduced himself to the world as Blind Joe death, has been the single biggest musical influence on me as a musician and as a listener in the last twenty years. It is the most beautiful and challenging music that I can consistently listen too and never tire of. Every time I listen to any of his albums I always discover something new that draws me in. Almost every time I put some Fahey on it's on for the entire evening as I just let all the albums I have play. This long intensive listening experience is never dull and it works whether I am in the mood to just sit and listen, or if I am engaged in writing or even reading. His music enhances any creative endeavor. I am often inspired to play guitar and compose after listening. The music is just so interesting as it taps into a myriad of emotions and paints a variety of landscapes for the imagination. The music is intense, dynamic, sweet and haunting often in the same piece.
Tonight I began by listening to his second album the 1964 release Death Chants, Breakdowns And Military Waltzes. An amazing album of Fahey originals and arrangements that contains one of my all time favorites "Stomping Tonight On The Pennsylvania/Alabama Border." This is the classic Fahey that incorporates traditional country blues fingerpicking with a funky post modernist rock feel that becomes uniquely his own.
This album is followed by the ambitious 1966 release and excursion into experimental soundscapes and sound effects "The Great San Bernardino Birthday Party, Volume 4." This album was controversial and devicive, like the expanding work of most great artists who don't just stay in the one place that made them popular with one group of people. The growing artist has to move on and take the risk of leaving behind some who don't wish to move on with him/her. The album is by far his most "psychedelic" even though Fahey was never a big fan of hippies and the counter culture of the 60's. Over the years as I've listened to certain jazz artists and the edge fringes of folk, my ear has come to love certain dissonant and atonal sounds and chords that are like a salve to my damaged spirit, and some of my favorites are on this album. The challenging title track is one of these great rambling myterious pieces. "Guitar Excursions Into The Unknown" and "900 Miles" are strange meditations that will carry you away to new lands if you let them. Then John will bring it all back home with a wonderful jangling traditional track like "Sail Away Ladies" with a nice little sitar interlude thrown in.
Next his very first album "The Legend Of Blind Joe Death" comes up on my player and I am immedietly transfixed by the haunting blues and nuanced playing of "On Doing An Evil Deed Blues." Man this is as serious as anything by any of the Mississippi delta bluesmen. It was deep in Fahey's soul and it was real. "The Legend Of Blind Joe Death" is one of the first independent record releases and only 100 copies of the original edition exist.
After some years in relative obscurity Fahey was rediscovered by avant rocker Jim O'Rourke and some of the folks in Sonic Youth in the mid-nineties and had a strong resurgence of creativity until his death in 2001. John recorded with the band Cul-De-Sac as well as his own trio and played a lot of electric guitar. Fahey kept growing musically right to the end.
If you've never given yourself the chance to fall under the spell of the music of John Fahey do yourself a favor and check him out. Here and above are a couple video clips from the great pioneer of original fingerstyle guitar who led the way for Leo Kottke and countless others.