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.


  1. Let me be the first to say how much I am looking forward to this weeks posts. Thanks!!!

  2. Hiowdy y'all! "Twas on this day ten years ago we learned of John Faheys death...the news hit me like a ton of bricks...John shook my world once more, like he did way back in 1969...I had been estranged from Johns music since the early '80s, but kept playing the guitar...this time electric for nearly 20 years...I spent the next week recovering from the tragic news and wondering what to do next...well the answer was easy...I sold all my electric equipment and used some of the money to buy my current guitar Dixie...I was determined to fingerpick again...and I think I did not too badly! Anyways, I was and am determined to carry on the legacy of Johns early musical efforts, as it was his early LPs that inspired the work I do now...I was hoping to get my tribute to John completed before this anniversary, but, I've more work to do to finish the project I've thought about for the last ten years...Cheers! Blind Brand X

  3. Thank You for the post...and I look forward to what is to come in the next few days!
    Belonging to that group of severly middle aged men in Europe who first became hit by Fahey in the end sixties and have not yet completely recovered...if ever...
    Thaks again!

  4. this is fantastic--I'm thinking maybe Amide or Schillace? (Schmidt seems too on-the-nose). looking forward to more tasty surprises for Fahey Week. bless you sir for all that you do.

  5. Hiowdy y'all! And a big thanks to host Scott Moore and guest picker Charlie Schmidt!

    Charlie...I was brought to tears by your rendition of the Catfish song...

    Scott...any chance of a similar scenario for Robbie Basho and Fred Gerlach in the near future?
    I'm not trying to take away from Fahey week...I just hate to see Johns contemporaries passed by...
    Cheers! Ralph.

  6. Thank you kindly Ralph, you're a gent.
    This is Charlie: it wouldn't take my URL??

    Everyone, have some Catfish, its delicious in a nice egg wash, panko crumbs, deep fried in Faheyana. Done to a turn, without all the turnin. They are best harvested when they begin to bloom. Everybody goes down to the river when the catfish are in bloom.

    Regarding contemporaries, I have just two words.
    Peter. Lang.

  7. Ralph! No problem. You just whip up that Basho or Gerlach instructional video and I'll get it posted!!! :)
    Seriously that is a great idea Ralph.

  8. And while still on the subject of contemporaries:
    No need to say Peter Lang, everybody knows anyway...even if I personally see him more as an inheritor...
    But I will take the opportunity here to promote
    Suni McGrath and especially George Cromarty, of whom I am very fond of the album "The Wind in the Heather"...and have been looking for a long time for "Grassrotts Guitar"!

    chief karlsson

  9. For those of you who cannot tolerate an entire week of John Fahey on the tenth anniversary of his death, tomorrow is his birthday, the week is almost out, and soon we can get on to more influential and important artists like George and Fred.

  10. Who the Hell is George...and who is Fred?
    George Washington and Fred Flintstone perhaps?

    chief karlsson

  11. George is the person in your very own post, chief. Not Flintstone.

  12. Dear Anonymous!
    How very nice to find out that someone besides myself still remembers the late great George Cromarty!
    Very Nice indeed!
    And might this Fred then perhaps happen to be Mr. Gerlach himself??

    kind regards chief karlsson

    (No chance that someone perhaps happens to have Grassroots Guitar for mp3 download???...the album seems impossible to find!)

  13. Hey Ralph, I just saw Rich Osborn say he is working on an essay about Basho that will be published on WorkandWorry.com in the future. Be sure to watch for that!