John Aloysius Fahey, 28 February 1939, Takoma Park, Maryland, USA, d. 22 February 2001, Salem, Oregon, USA. Fahey learned to play country-style guitar in the footsteps of Hank Williams and Eddy Arnold at the age of 14, inspired by the recordings of Blind Willie Johnson, and other blues greats. He toured during his teens with Henry Vestine (later of Canned Heat), and studied for several years at the American University in Washington to gain a BA in Philosophy and Religion. In 1963, he briefly attended the University Of California at Berkeley before transferring to UCLA to study folklore and write his thesis on Charley Patton. Fahey announced himself with a style based on an original folk blues theme, encompassing blues, jazz, country and gospel music, and at times incorporating classical pieces, although retaining an almost traditional edge to his arrangements. His 12-string work, featuring intricate fingerpicking and open tunings, became a major influence on other American acoustic guitarists. Fahey was also quick to spot other talent. He persuaded Bukka White and Skip James to return to music, and was the first to record Leo Kottke.
Faheys early recordings appeared under the Blind Thomas moniker on the obscure Fonotone label. These 1958 recordings, pressed up as 78s and catalogued as authentic Negro folk music, were an elaborate joke at the expense of folk purists, but also demonstrated Faheys mastery of the blues idiom. He released only a hundred copies of his 1959 debut, Blind Joe Death, financing the pressing with $300 raised from his job at a gas station. His satirical humour was again in evidence, with one side of the album credited to an obscure bluesman called Blind Joe Death who Fahey alleged to have discovered on a field trip to the south. Fahey re-recorded the album in 1964 and 1967 (The Legend Of Blind Joe Death, released in 1996, is a mix of all three albums), and by the late 60s it had become a cult record, one with which to be seen, rather than actually play. Faheys early recordings appeared on his own Takoma Records imprint, with his second and third albums also being re-recorded for reissue in 1967.
The masterful The Transfiguration Of Blind Joe Death, probably his greatest album, was originally released on the River Boat label in 1965. Fahey signed with Vanguard Records in 1967, although he only recorded two albums for the company, including the musique concrete album Requia And Other Compositions For Guitar Solo. Later still, after a brief sojourn with Reprise Records during which he recorded two albums with an orchestra of Dixieland musicians, he was dropped due to insufficient sales. Faheys work was heard in the counter-culture classic Zabriskie Point, but generally, his influence was greater than his own success. The ambitious America, which was restored to its intended double album length when reissued in the late 90s, didnt sell as well as its predecessors and Takoma suffered in the general recession that hit the music industry in the 70s. The label was eventually sold to Chrysalis Records.
Faheys personal problems intensified in the 80s as, suffering from diabetes and chronic fatigue caused by the Epstein Barr virus, he fell upon hunting down and selling collectable records to earn money. He retained his cult following, however, and continued to release the occasional album. Fahey affiliated himself with the alternative rock community in the 90s, concentrating on the electric guitar and musique concrete instead of the acoustic blues/folk of his earlier albums. He co-founded the influential Revenant label, while his intent to disown his past was signalled by the dissonant soundscape of On The Death And Disembowelment Of The New Age, the key track on his comeback release City Of Refuge. The album, which included a dedication of the song Hope Slumbers Eternal to Mazzy Stars vocalist Hope Sandoval, received a good reception in the alternative press. In 1997, Fahey recorded an album with the avant gardes figurehead Jim ORourke, and teamed up with Boston-based post-rock outfit Cul De Sac on The Epiphany Of Glenn Jones. The following year he recorded his first solo electric guitar album, Georgia Stomps, Atlanta Struts, And Other Contemporary Dance Favorites. Faheys creative renaissance was sadly cut short by his death in February 2001, two days after undergoing coronary bypass surgery.
Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.