February 28, 2011

John Fahey - Azalea City and Turtle Outtakes

Sorry I missed posting yesterday, sometimes these things happen.
Today is Fahey's birthday, normally the end of Fahey Week but...one never knows...eh?

Here's today's treats: The unreleased album called


Download it here

And all kinds of Voice of the Turtle outtakes and such.

Download it here

JohnFahey.com has extensive notes on the effort here

All these cuts were originally uploaded by Stephen over at the Fahey Record Labels site.  He has some great posts on the cover art and his own theories about the release of this material.  All of his links are dead so I've re-upped them.

February 25, 2011

Charlie Schmidt - When the Catfish is in Bloom part 3

Today Charlie wraps up his tutorial of When the Catfish is in Bloom.   Enjoy, and be sure to let Charlie know how you are doing on your performance of When the Catfish is in Bloom.  Leave a comment here or on his Youtube page!


February 24, 2011

Charlie Schmidt - When the Catfish is in Bloom part 2

Today Charlie leads us through part 2 of his tutorial of When the Catfish is in Bloom.

I want to say a few things about learning to play a song this way.  I am one of many, many people that feels lost without a pile of TAB in front of me to guide me through a song.  For many years now I have all but given up on learning to play a song any other way.  I often have this feeling that I've been doing myself a disservice by insisting on learning songs in this fashion.

Instead of being a slave to the tapping of your foot and the sheets of paper, try to use listening and feeling as your guide.  If you have spent any time at all fingerpicking you may be surprised at how your fingers will know what to do, especially on the right hand.

Besides, with an open tuning of CGCGCC it's hard to hit a wrong note!

Good luck!

February 23, 2011

Charlie Schmidt - When the Catfish is in Bloom

Many visitors to Delta Slider are familiar with the late guitarist John Fahey, who passed away ten years ago on February 22nd , 2001. As some of you may know, Chicago guitarist Charlie Schmidt has earned quite a reputation for his eerily accurate renderings of John Fahey songs. In the article below, he describes some thoughts and insights into the playing of Fahey material.

I was fifteen when I discovered the guitar world of John Fahey. I wasn’t immediately hooked, it took about six months for me to begin to appreciate what I was hearing. I recall that one album in particular, Death Chants, Breakdowns, and Military Waltzes, had excellent pieces that were especially evocative. I recall that the piece When the Catfish Is In Bloom from a different album proved beyond a doubt I was hearing the work of a genius. By 1978, I was well on my way in my musical journey, one I am still on today, 33 years later.

Watch Charlie play “When The Catfish Is In Bloom.” 

I was enthralled by this music and had the ridiculous idea back then that I was going to listen to these songs really carefully and teach myself how to play them, and all that that entailed. To my surprise I managed to learn a few and the few turned into many. I played as a hobby, with no designs to perform or record. I was content to just experience that music in as direct a manner as possible, for friends and family only. My entire family was musical, and I got plenty of support, especially from my mother Donna. My sister Martha Helen Schmidt is a composer and educator in Minneapolis.

I didn’t write my own songs until much later, when I was in my 30s.

My devotion to the “Fahey oeuvre” however hasn’t changed much in 33 years. I still mostly play for myself, to revisit in an immediately gratifying way the many Fahey songs I have come to revere and enjoy with each passing year. Fahey’s work holds up extremely well over repeated hearings. His work was far ranging, of immense scope, depth, and simplicity; his person unlike any I have known before or since. Glenn Jones’ essay on Fahey “Railroads to Plowshares” is among the notes to Revenant’s Fahey album Red Cross. It captures the experience of what it was like to be around Fahey, which in all honesty was no picnic.

An important fact about John is that he was not only a very good guitar player, he was an also an outstanding composer for the steel-string guitar. I recall a phone conversation John and I had ca. 1996. We spoke about how incredibly good Leo Kottke was, all around. But I quickly added (probably awkwardly) that no one could touch Fahey when it came to his industriousness and musical economy. No one had wielded the spiritual depth and pure inspiration as assertively as he had; on this there was no argument from Fahey. (With all due respect to Mr. Kottke, if I could play like him, I would, believe me. Good heavens who wouldn’t?)

As a “Fahey player” I like to play Fahey’s music like he would play it himself, or at least how I think he’s playing it. Not that one should or shouldn’t improvise. I’ve always felt free to improvise within the style as long as the changes are consistent with what Fahey might do, such as reversing the order of themes, increasing or decreasing tempo, switching from a straight tempo to a syncopated rhythm, putting on or removing of plastic fingerpicks. But usually it’s easiest to just copy Fahey’s recorded version pretty much as is, making as few changes as possible, letting the little flubs add color, working as hard as I can to hit all the notes and control my tempo, while trying to sound effortless. Most of the differences you will hear between my versions of Fahey and the Fahey originals are just flubs that I’ve managed to salvage. In reality, even if one tries to copy, one really can’t. Despite this, I’ve learned that those “flubs and recoveries” turn into internally consistent nuances that can add to the interest and spontaneity of a performance. Of course, there’s no substitute for practice.

It’s rarely the case that adding something to a Fahey tune – adding my stamp for instance - improved it in any way. To the contrary, leaving something out is a far more likely event. When I choose to play from the Fahey repertoire, I’ve consciously tried to preserve the coherence that he so deliberately and beautifully realized in his compositions; from the shorter art songs such as the perennial In Christ There Is No East or West and Some Summer Day to the longer more cerebral tone poems like Voice of the Turtle, and across the terrain of open tunings. The “classical” period ca. 1959-1970 Fahey songs typically have a structure that makes them distinctively transparent to the ear, making it easier (than most guitarists) to identify fingerings, idiosyncrasies, and phrasing.

Is this a completist’s neurosis to imitate note-for-note one man’s artistic vision? Nah. It has never been about wanting to be like Fahey, or trying to outplay anyone, or to prove anything. It was and remains to be about the joy in the artistry of the music itself. Fahey himself imitated musicians who came before him such as Skip James, Sam McGee and Sylvester Weaver. But then he transformed those imitations into something new and timeless, as he once put it, into consciously artful pieces that are made to sound easy. Similarly, my CD Xanthe Terra was a deliberate effort to demonstrate that I could do my own thing, and create my own art.

So why should anyone care about playing like Fahey? Well, an audience does not begrudge a symphony orchestra conductor who has followed an original score. Chopin’s stunning 24 Preludes Op. 28 is not improved by improvisation. Charles Ives’ Unanswered Question doesn’t get better with added percussion. Nobody complains when the conductor follows the score. Rather, a conductor may try to emphasize a nuance or quality through his orchestra that is already inherent in the composition. That’s what I try to do with my Fahey renderings; to find the essential spirit and celebrate it, to state it again and again, immune to the passing fashions of the day, as if it were an old familiar friend. I choose to follow the Fahey “score” as a conductor might, albeit more as an advanced amateur than a trained pro. If that makes a song into a museum piece, so be it; it’s a museum I want to visit. It shouldn’t be a curse for a song to belong to a canon of classical works, whatever that may be. A song would not be canonical in the first place if it weren’t for its distinctive identity. So by the same token, a guitarist should be free to recreate Fahey songs with impunity, as I do. Granted, as long as John was alive, it seemed a bit pointless to “play Fahey.” But now that John and his musical genius have been gone for ten years, I’m more inclined than before to share my experience with others. Our host Scott is posting a few of my Fahey renderings this week right here at Delta Slider. Additional renderings at my YouTube channel may be of interest, among dozens of others who have posted on YouTube and been in some way inspired by Fahey’s music.

Now, for those of you who already know, the most interesting part of my story was the day Fahey asked me to recreate his recordings as him.

It is not without a little irony that Fahey – who was known to encourage artists not to copy him but to create their own songs – would nevertheless find in me an appropriately obscure guitarist who could convincingly imitate him. It would satisfy his need to pull the wool over our eyes, to sow confusion, blur attribution, defy our expectations. It was a mark of his humility, self-deprecation, and even recklessness to allow me to ghost his interpretations. Yes, he had heard me play his songs, but only a few bars here and there, just in passing. (I achieved this by volunteering to change his strings between sets when he was in town, while he schmoozed with fans or took long cigarette breaks.) And so it was, in March of 1993, that he took me at my word, paid my recording costs and set me loose in the studio as the “Fahey Doppelganger,” remarking that I would make an “excellent impostor” for a project he was doing with Shanachie Records, a label that had planned to reissue re-recordings of some of Fahey’s earliest and best work. In exchange, I got a vote of confidence from my mentor I could never have anticipated. I proceeded to record a new Death Chants, Break Downs, and Military Waltzes, and sent Fahey the DAT masters. I also included some bonus tracks of my own compositions, including one we named The Hyattsville Anti-Inertia Dance. Fahey was impressed, but nothing came of my recordings (or so I thought) and the subject was dropped. Then the tapes sat, for a decade, until something completely unexpected happened in 2004, three years after Fahey had died. Read about it in this profile from the Chicago Reader.

I devote my free tutorials of When the Catfish Is In Bloom to the memory of John A. Fahey, the messenger, born 2/28/39; died 2/22/01.

You can watch a 3-part tutorial by Charlie of  “When The Catfish Is In Bloom,” here is part 1. Parts 2 and 3 will be presented in the following days.  NOTE: Tuning is CGCGCC

February 22, 2011

John A. Fahey - Feb. 28th 1939 to Feb. 22nd 2001

This time last year I ran a little thing I called Fahey Week. A tribute and a celebration of the man and the music. Like last year it will run from the day of his death, February 22nd to the day of his birth, February 28th.

On this day, 10 years ago, a man died. A man that inspired countless musicians to pick up an acoustic guitar and play. Play like never before.

Of course his music didn’t die that day. John Fahey was a prolific artist and the casual/inquisitive fan can get his good stuff easily. A completist can get the rest without breaking the bank.

If anything, Fahey’s music was resurrected that day. There were the tribute concerts, tribute CD’s and some musicians even put down their current instruments to get back to the roots of their love. The acoustic guitar and…well that’s it, the player and the guitar working together to create, recreate and relive the genre invented, coined and eventually even shunned by John Fahey: American Primitive.

There are musicians far and wide crediting their inspiration to Fahey, early work as well as late. I marvel at the breadth of his influence. There’s no shortage of acoustic plunking out there that is readily relatable to his early work. But the music and musicians that have pushed the boundaries of their art to new limits, the ones that upon first listen seem to have nothing to do with Fahey amaze me. That he could spawn such distant cousins of composition is truly amazing.

That many of those cousins have been coming home over the years is further tribute to the cornerstone that Fahey set so many years ago. And why do these musicians look back? And why do the newbie’s want to play/sound just like Fahey? There are few musicians that invoke the desire to imitate. When they do, you know it’s special.

So this year, during Fahey Week there will be a fair amount of focus on playing like Fahey and a further discussion about why one would want to do such a thing.

This year I am assisted by, oh who am I kidding, my guest this year is doing all the heavy lifting to make this week a real Fahey Week to remember. How about a little instruction in the art of playing Fahey? Let’s try this on for size…

Check out the songs below and leave me a guess who you think it is. Tomorrow our esteemed guest will be revealed and he will be performing a major role in Fahey Week.

Here are a few notes on each piece

Open D modal Suite
This track is an improvisation of various themes Fahey used during his career. It's in Open D Modal tuning, which resembles open D tuning but with the third string tuned up a half-step. Recorded last week (Feb. 2011).

Some Summer Day
A Fahey "classical" piece, Some Summer Day follows a standard blues form. It's a masterpiece of musical economy and simple variation, where every note counts. This version is pretty close to the original, with a few unintended changes that seem to fit. Recorded summer 2010.

The Last Steam Engine Train
Simple, brilliant, hot. One of the first songs I taught myself, this one just never gets old. Recorded early 2011.

February 8, 2011

Concert Review - Led Kaapana

Swallow Hill claims to be the biggest, baddest Folk alliance west of the mighty Mississippi. Well that’s bound to attract Homeland Security but nonetheless, I believe it. I’ve been going to great shows there for years and they always bring in people that probably would never step foot in Colorado if it weren’t for Swallow Hill.

This weekend is the 4th annual Denver Ukefest, something I’ve never really paid much attention to, until this year. I’ve recently started listening to Hawaiian Slack Key guitar and lo! Ukefest brings in Led Kaapana! Ding ding! That’s a winner. Looking back through the previous fests it doesn’t appear that I missed any slack key guitarists in the past. So that’s cool.

Show started right on time, something you can always count on with Swallow Hill, with the opening act, The Ooks of Hazzard. The Ooks are a large ukulele group but only four members made the show. It started off well enough with a cover of Led Zeppelin’s Battle of Evermore (sans vocals) but with Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Tuesday’s Gone we entered the twilight zone. They went on to cover Radiohead and play an old blues standard and even played a little slide uke. While the crowd was appreciative and full of laughter at the inventive covers I couldn’t help but think that The Ooks of Hazzard were playing the fools.

Led Kaapana took the stage and said Aloha and the crowd gave him a hearty Aloha right back! He started off with ukulele himself. Kaapana took the more subtle fingerpicking approach to the instrument. No Pete Townshend wind milling here! I don’t claim to know squat about the Uke but I can say that I preferred the approach Kaapana took. Sweet songs embellished tastefully along tangents of the melody, some instrumentals and some vocals.
I came to see Kaapana play the guitar, and he didn’t disappoint. On the guitar Kaapana enjoys stretching the melodies with everything from jazzy runs to sliding the octaves that slack key tuning afford him, all over the neck. Kaapana inevitably slips right back into the melody effortlessly and smoothly.
Though I’m not a fan in particular of Hawaiian singing it plays out better in concert and I rather enjoyed it. Kaapana’s falsetto is rough but heartfelt and he has just a touch of growl that goes well with the guitar and surprisingly well with the ukulele. Kaapana also likes to tell a story or two between songs and as he is tuning including a story about how he had to practice tuning after being booted off stage for spending more time tuning than playing songs!