February 28, 2016

John Fahey Guitar Tab

Today I've got a guest post from Dale Cotton of Ontario, Canada.  Dale is often found on the Yahoo! Fahey forum.  

New Era Guitars
Here is a tab I made decades ago and have recently worked on some more. I realize there are already tabs for this piece available, but hopefully having a different read on the same piece will be of use to somebody out there. In particular I've made more of an attempt to visually indicate rhythm/duration than is usually provided. The main thing, of course, with double-thumbing is that the base line falls on the beat and the notes in the melody line either fall on the beat as well (pinch) or between beats (roll). Since we have recordings to imitate, we don't really need to have any more than that in the notation. For me, it's just easier to read music without losing my place when I can see markings that group notes together by beat. The exact nature of the markings isn't all that important.

Joe Kirby Blues

BTW: I've noticed that many people these days seem to scorn tab, if anything even more than they scorn sheet music, especially in the realm of folk and blues. The case seems to be that it's more authentic to learn by imitating a live performance, and if that's not available, to imitate a recording. No argument from me ... so far as it goes. But allow me to gently point out that tablature precedes even what we now call "standard" or sheet music notation by centuries. Tab was written and widely circulated in Europe from the medieval era, through the renaissance, and well into the baroque, especially for plucked string instruments like the lute and guitar. If tablatures had not been written down back then, there are hundreds of popular songs and instrumental compositions that would long since have vanished from the face of the planet. And many of these are much closer in spirit to what we now call finger picking than anything from the intervening centuries.

The very fact that John Fahey didn't have to (re-)invent open tunings seems to be due to the spread of two remarkable guitar compositions we still know today, and both of which John Fahey recorded: Spanish Fandango and Sebastopol. These were written in the mid-1800s in open tuning and were known throughout North America, not via recordings or live concerts, but via sheet music. These two compositions were used over and over again in the instruction books that went hand in hand with the sale of the wildly popular parlour guitar of that era. John was a student of blues history; he would have known this to be true.

A century later, I like many thousands of others were able to learn acoustic guitar after being seduced by Blind Joe Death and company, not via tracking down John Fahey, then somehow getting him to teach us how to play. Instead, we bought books of tablature by Happy Traum, Stefan Grossman, and others. An entire generation of amateur guitarists who can read tablature as easily as you can read this page was born. Yes, folks: somehow we made do without YouTube in that unimaginably primitive era. ;)

And just to complete the circle: it's not inconceivable that John Fahey's compositions will be rediscovered a thousand years from now, not via recordings on obsolete media whose every bit has long since been scrambled, but via yellowed and tattered paper tablatures uncovered in some archeological dig. I've read that JF carried a book of lute tablature in his guitar case when he traveled - and while my suspicion was that he thought it might prove useful for impressing impressionable young ladies ;) - I also suspect he had heard lute recordings that struck a chord and fully intended to have a go at the material. So the tablature connection with even as inveterately an ear player as JF was may not be *quite* as remote as we might otherwise believe.

Thanks to Dale for taking the time to work on a classic Fahey tune.  

I also wish to present to you some tabs sent to me by Paul...

Is there anything better than this?  No.  So I suggest that if you haven't already, you sit right down and learn this.  Oh, and here is a tab of it!

And here's some more Fahey tab.  I think all of this is already out there but I also think it's good to get different interpretations of them out there so you might want to check these out even if you recognize that they are already tabbed out some where on the web.

Thanks to Paul for sending these to me.  He's been working hard lately tabbing and there is some more I'll be posting for him soon.  Some nice surprises for sure!!!
I've got some minor news regarding Fahey tabs.  I have it on good authority that Stropes is considering a re-issue of the long out-of-print Fahey Xmas tab book.  Some errors would be fixed and possibly even some songs would be added.  It is not currently a work in progress, I'm told, but the idea is there.  


  1. Looking for John Fahey Tab/In a Persian Market

  2. Anyone know where I can get the tablature and tunings for the songs on Fahey's 'Railroad' album ?

  3. Hi, thanks for a great site,
    I have noticed that the above tab links are faulty, I get this message.
    "Cannot connect to the rep database because: Lost connection to MySQL server at 'reading initial communication packet', system error: 111"

    1. Delta-Slider re-upped some of these: others are lost! John Fahey Guitar Tab

  4. Astute Observations by Dale. Don't forget to mention "The Best Of John Fahey 1959-1977" oop book pdf. A must-have imo. -Andrew Stranglen (Youtube Username=lectrikdog)

  5. Hiowdy!!! Thanks Dale!!! To confirm, I saw the lute tabs in John's guitar case when I opened for him at the Soft Rock Cafe in Vancouver, BC, oh, so many years ago...Cheers!!! Ralph Johnston.

  6. Hiowdy!!! Thanks Dale!!! To confirm, I saw the lute tabs in John's guitar case when I opened for him at the Soft Rock Cafe in Vancouver, BC, oh, so many years ago...Cheers!!! Ralph Johnston.

  7. Any chance you could fix the link for "John Fahey & his Orchestra - I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free"?