Friday, 14 September 2012

more on John Fahey

These are the John Fahey albums that you should rush out and buy:

1. Blind Joe Death.  
2.The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death
3. Death Chants, Breakdowns and Military Waltzes
4. God, Time and Causality
5. Of Rivers and Religion/After The Ball (which handily are available on one cd)

There are good things on all of his albums, but there are also experiments, some of which don't bear repeat listening and some of which don't bear one listen. 

Two more points about John Fahey:

1: You can learn how to play fingerpicking guitar from listening to him. He 'shows the working' as art students say. You can literally see what he is doing. It's really fairly simple. You pick the bass strings with your thumb and the high strings with two fingers. As such, hearing Fahey was to me the acoustic guitar equivalent of hearing Lou Reed and becoming a songwriter. I would never have known how to write a song if I had only heard Springsteen or Dylan or The Beatles with all their fancy piano chords. But listening to Lou Reed I figured out how to do it. You just need two chords to start with! It's quite simple. Realising that you can do something yourself is huge. There are the artists who show you how and there are the ones who's technique is an impenetrable mystery. I love both kinds, but the musicians that i could copy as a kid are very important to me. Just as Lou Reed showed me what you needed to do to make a song, so John Fahey showed me how to fingerpick a guitar. Guitar playing would have remained an impossible kind of magic to me had I only ever heard Leo Kottke or Chet Atkins, or (heaven help me!) Manitas de Plata, perhaps technically the greatest of them all, with his eight arms and thousand fingers. This is still super important to me, and surely the reason there are so many Fahey compositions on ''Little Martha''. Musicians and music journalists love to talk about music as if it is some kind of black magic, but god bless the artists who keep it simple and let us in.

2. Fahey was the best namer of instrumentals who ever lived. I had no idea what to name my instrumentals. His titles are works of art in and of themselves. Consider the following, each one suggests a story: 
Stomping Tonight on the Pennsylvania/Alabama Border
The Downfall of the Adelphi Rolling Grist Mill
Dance of the Inhabitants of the Palace of King Phillip XIV
The Death of the Clayton Peacock
The Great San Bernardino Birthday Party
The Portland Cement Factory at Monolith, California
When the Catfish Is in BloomView (East from the Top of the Riggs Road/B&O Trestle)
The Waltz That Carried Us Away and Then a Mosquito Came and Ate Up My Sweetheart
The Epiphany of Glenn Jones
The Great San Bernardino Birthday Party

And one more clip, playing lap slide guitar this time. I love this one:


  1. Great stuff.Can't wait to hear your record. I love the song titles too they conjure up so much, like 'Steve Talbot on the Keddie Wye' I now know its a bridge! His music stirs emotion. When I listen to 'Life is Like a Mountain Railroad' i have a big grin on my face. Love it.

  2. saw this just now on someone's blog:
    "You must play until you are no longer afraid of the guitar. Many players are afraid to touch the guitar, and they act like it. You must create an intimate relationship with your guitar. Getting over your fear of it is much like a romantic-sexual conquest. It is no poetic metaphor when some songs refer to a guitar as though it were a woman. Mastering a guitar is really very similar to conquering a woman, and when you fail to master it, like when you fail to master a woman, you have the same feelings of humiliation and violence.

    When you are alone with your guitar, you must win if you are to be a man. And you can win - with any guitar. Sit there with it for six hours. No guitar can withstand the creative spirit that is in every human being.

    Anyone who calls his guitar a “box” does not understand. Anyone who calls his guitar an axe cannot play it very well.

    The typical middle-class interpreter of folk music makes his guitar sound like a metronome, without timbre changes and without percussive and loud-soft tone contrasts. He is a friendly guy. He likes everybody. He smiles alot. He wants you to like him. He’s volk. To hell with him. The real test when someone is playing hot or hard-driving is this: Does his music make you want to dance, or not?"
    — John Fahey