John's guitar plunged giant steel roots into the traditions of bluegrass, folk, and Appalachia: arising with a fugue of sounds eclectic, but beautiful. He finger-picked a 5-mile swath calmly, acoustically, through many a year. As he forged onward, the wheels picked up bits and pieces of everything: Native American themes, snatches of blues, gospel, hillbilly songs, ragas, pop to dissonance.
Though you might find some of his albums near the New Age guitarists, his raging creativity and idiosyncratic sounds stand far above. Influenced by many things, Fahey spent his early years collecting early blues and country tunes. A few particular inspirations were guitarist Frank Hovington and Mississippi John Hurt, an early delta blues scrawler.
In the 1960's, John started recording albums for Takoma (half labelled under the pseudonym Blind Joe Death). These albums strike the tent-posts for his thematic material: ghostly melodies, aided with spectre's hands, jut up against dissonant, rambling experiments in strange tunings which predict the coming turn to improvised psychedelica. Fahey also helped rediscover blues artists like Skip James and Bukka White, who played on some of his albums in this period.
Into the '80s, he was still only known as a cult favorite. His pair of bizarre takes on the Christmas album where the most well known pieces. Sadly, John contracted Epstein-Barr syndrome in 1986, which combined with long-standing diabetes and alcoholism cut short his live performances, which were none too steady in the first place.
Though John would overcome his various afflictions, he spent the '90s in Oregon, barely surviving by selling rare classical LPs he found at garage sales and flea markets. Rhino Records released a large career retrospective called Return of the Repressed in 1994, which got him noticed for the first time in years. He was then able to record a few more albums, notably with John McEntire from post-rock band Tortoise.
John Fahey passed away February 22, 2001 at 61 following a failed sextuple bypass procedure. He had just published a memoir, titled "How Bluegrass Music Destroyed My Life".
Here's the stuff that I am positive has been (or still is) available on CD at some point in time from Takoma or Fantasy. I'd tell you it's worth digging for vinyl, but that's just me.
Listed are the last editions: John often re-recorded entire albums for re-printing.
- Blind Joe Death (1959, three versions over time, all worthwhile)
- Death Chants, Breakdowns, and Military Waltzes (1963, get the 1967 2nd edition)
- The Dance of Death and Other Plantation Favorites (1964, get the 1999 expanded)
- The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death (1965)
- The Yellow Princess (1968)
- America (1978, get the 1999 double album version)
- Let Go (1983)
- I Remember Blind Joe Death (1987)
- God, Time, and Causality (1989)
- The Return of the Repressed compilation (1994)
- Womblife (1997)
- The Epiphany of Glenn Jones (1997)
- Georgia Stomps, Atlanta Struts and Other Contemporary Dance Favorites (1998)
- Hitomi (2000)
- Christmas with John Fahey Vols. 1 and 2