"On Clive Selwood's elderly gramophone revolves one of the amazing records of John Fahey. I'm not sure in how many places in London you can obtain these essential jewels....but I know you can find them at Chris Wellard's shop in New Cross. Please don't talk them into selling you the LPs they're holding for me."
(Peel in his Perfumed Garden column in International Times, December 15th-28th, 1967)
"The Kenny Dalglish of the guitar... stupid thing to say, but I've said it."
(Peel, 06 March 2001)
John Fahey (1939-2001) was an influential American guitarist who was also a record collector, a folk and blues scholar and a record label owner. He developed a style which he called "American Primitive Guitar", drawing heavily on the earlier US music forms which fascinated him, from country blues and old-time white country music to American "parlor guitar" of the nineteenth century. He was a member of the network of collectors who unearthed obscure 78 rpm records from the 1920s and 1930s and rediscovered long-forgotten but significant performers such as Son House, Skip James and Bukka White.His first, self-produced, recordings were inspired by early blues, introducing his alter ego Blind Joe Death and his habit of writing lengthy LP sleevenotes full of private jokes and cod scholarship. Yet his own music was more than mere blues revivalism, subsequent albums for his own Takoma label illustrating a wider range of musical influences, ranging from twentieth-century Western classical music to elements of the Indian, Chinese and Latin American traditions.
By the mid-1970s Fahey was an established cult figure, even recording a couple of albums for Warner/Reprise, the first of which, Of Rivers And Religion, gained considerable press acclaim. This was not matched by record sales and the label dropped Fahey, but he continued to release new material on Takoma Records. In the late 1980s his career was affected by serious illness and he fell into poverty and obscurity, reportedly supporting himself by selling old records he had found in thrift stores.
The 1990s saw a revival of interest in his work, as a new generation of listeners, including contemparary performers Sonic Youth, Jim O'Rourke and Cul De Sac, provided him with the attention and support to restart his career. His new music was in sharp contrast to the records which had made his name, being electric, experimental and harsh, and alienating some of his previous audience. Deapite this he was able to continue performing and recording until his final illness, with numerous reissues of his earlier work consolidating his reputation.
Once again, Fahey founded a record label, Revenant Records, whose releases included reissues of vintage pre-World War Two blues and country music. The most notable of these were a 7-CD set of the complete recorded works of seminal Mississippi bluesman Charley Patton and the "missing" fourth and final volume of Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music, the collection which had done so much to shape the US folk revival at the time when Fahey was beginning his career. Other Revenant releases reflected his interest in various types of avant-garde music, including a collection of previously unissued material by Captain Beefheart And His Magic Band.
A prolific and sometimes eccentric writer, Fahey also published several books, including a study of the music of Charley Patton, which appeared in the UK in 1970 as one of Studio Vista's Blues Paperbacks series and has since become a collector's item . He remains a revered cult figure with a committed following, as is shown by the websites devoted to his work.
Links to Peel
The lengthy sleevenotes to Fahey's album The Great San Bernardino Birthday Party And Other Excursions are written in Fahey's own private language, which is hard to decipher, but they seem to describe how the guitarist drove to San Bernardino, believing he would play at a friend's birthday party, but found that she had arranged a public performance, as a result of which he may (or may not) have got drunk and behaved disgracefully. There are also references to a radio station in San Bernardino, but it appears to be a community radio station playing non-commercial folk music like Fahey's, rather than a pop station like Peel's then employer KMEN. The album was issued in 1966, when Peel was living in San Bernardino and Fahey was based on the West Coast, so it is possible that Peel might have heard of the guitarist during his time in the US; but as far as is known, the DJ only discovered Fahey's music in late 1967, after he had returned to London.
Peel wrote appreciatively of Fahey's work in his International Times column (see quote above) and played tracks by him on Top Gear and Night Ride. The DJ's enthusiasm for Fahey's music led to the release of several of his albums - The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death, Blind Joe Death, Death Chants, Breakdowns and Military Waltzes, The Yellow Princess - in the UK during 1968 and 1969, and to a tour in 1969, which included a session for Night Ride, with some of the tracks being played on the following Sunday's Top Gear. Peel served as Fahey's driver during this tour, according to his wife Sheila's account in Margrave of the Marshes. Fahey expressed his gratitude by sending Peel a mint Blind Lemon Jefferson 78 as a Christmas present.
On his show of March 31, 1986, Peel said he'd "only just found out that John Fahey had died last year" - which turned out to be untrue. He continued to feature Fahey's music on his shows in subsequent years, and "Sail Away Ladies", from The Great San Bernardino Birthday Party And Other Excursions, was included in the 1965 Peelenium. The last documented play of a track by the guitarist was in December 2003 (see below)..
Festive Fifty Entries
- One session only. No known commercial release.
- Buckingham Stomp (Bucktown Stomp) / Death Of The Clayton Peacock / Sunflower River Blues / In Christ There Is No East Or West/ Steel Guitar Rag / Dance Of The Inhabitants Of The Palace Of King Philip XV / Some Summer Day / Poor Boy
- NB: The last three of these were not transmitted in the original broadcast (on 'Night Ride'), but were broadcast (on 'Top Gear') on 22 June 1969.
Other Shows Plays
- 31 December 1967: Sail Away Ladies (LP: The Great San Bernardino Birthday Party And Other Excursions) Takoma
- ("One of my most prized possessions," says JP, who only plays a short extract from this 6-minute track. "One of these days I shall lock myself in here and play all of that...Music for playing to your friends late at night...")
- 17 April 1968: Sail Away Ladies (LP - Guitar Vol. 4 / The Great San Bernardino Birthday Party And Other Excursions) Takoma
- 03 July 1968: The Death of the Clayton Peacock (LP - The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death) Transatlantic
- 18 May 1969: Sail Away Ladies
- 11 October 1969: Joy To The World (LP - The New Possibility: John Fahey's Guitar Soli Christmas Album) Takoma
- 26 April 1973: Desperate Man Blues (LP – Blind Joe Death) Takoma
- 03 May 1973: Poor Boy (LP – The Dance Of Death & Other Plantation Favorites) Takoma
- 15 May 1973: Sail Away Ladies (LP – The Great San Bernardino Birthday Party And Other Excursions) Takoma
- 12 June 1973: Orinda-Moraga (LP: Volume 5 - The Transfiguration Of Blind Joe Death) Takoma
- 19 June 1973: Brenda's Blues (LP: Volume 5 - The Transfiguration Of Blind Joe Death) Takoma
- 21 June 1973: I Am The Resurrection (LP: Volume 5 - The Transfiguration Of Blind Joe Death) Takoma
- 24 July 1973: New Orleans Shufffle (LP: After The Ball) Reprise
- 02 October 1973: When You Wore A Tulip (And I Wore A Big Red Rose) (LP - After The Ball) Reprise
- 10 April 1975: The Last Steam Engine Train (LP - Volume 3 / The Dance Of Death And Other Plantation Favorites) Takoma C-1004
- 13 January 1976: In A Persian Market (LP - Old Fashioned Love) Sonet
- 06 December 1976: Sail Away Ladies (with anecdote about JP's brother Alan borrowing Fahey albums for soundtack of TV report he's making on a travelling circus - and then "losing" them)
- 15 June 1978: Fight On Christians, Fight On (LP - Requia) Vanguard
- 01 April 1980: unknown
- 05 September 1981: The Last Steam Engine Train (The Dance of Death and Other Plantation Favourites) Takoma
- 12 September 1981: Sail Away Ladies (LP- The Great San Bernardino Birthday Party and Other Excursions) Takoma
- 08 December 1983: I'm A Poor Boy A Long Ways From Home (LP - Blind Joe Death) Takoma
- 09 January 1985: Poor Boy, Long Ways From Home (LP – Blind Joe Death) Takoma ("a goal every time he gets into the arena")
- 01 January 1986: May This Be Love / Casey Jones (LP - Rain Forests, Oceans, And Other Themes) Varrick
- 22 April 1986: Medley: Imitation Train Whistles/Po' Boy (LP - Railroad I) Takoma
- 05 May 1986: Medley: Imitation Train Whistles/Po' Boy (Album - Railroad I) Takoma TAK 7102
- 01 September 1986: Steamboat Gwine ‘Round De Bend
- 29 December 1986: 'Lo, How A Rose E'er Blooming (LP-The New Possibility: John Fahey's Guitar Soli Christmas Album)' (Takoma)
- 08 January 1987 (Andy Kershaw): The Grand Finale (LP - Visits Washington, D.C.) Takoma
- 13 January 1987: The Grand Finale (LP - Visits Washington, D.C.) Takoma
- 15 June 1987: 'On The Sunny Side Of The Ocean (LP-The Transfiguration Of Blind Joe Death)' Takoma
- 02 November 1987: You'll Find Her Name Written There (LP - I Remember Blind Joe Death)
- 21 December 1987: White Christmas (LP - Christmas With John Fahey Volume II) Takoma
- 26 June 1989: Afternoon Espee Through Salem (LP - Railroad I) Takoma
- 01 July 1989 (BFBS) (Peel 107 (BFBS)): 'Afternoon Espee Through Salem (LP-Railroad I)' (Takoma)
- 03 November 1990: Poor Boy (LP - The Transfiguration Of blind Joe Death) Riverboat
- 27 March 1992: I Am The Resurrection (LP - The Transfiguration Of Blind Joe Death)
- 23 May 1992: Lion (LP - God, Time And Causality) Shanachie
- 29 May 1992: Revelation (LP - God, Time And Causality) Shanachie
- 13 February 1993: Are You From Dixie
- 08 October 1993: Lewisdale Blues (album - The Voice Of The Turtle) Takoma
- 11 December 1993: Bottleneck Blues
- 04 March 1994: May This Be Love/Casey Jones (LP - Rain Forests Oceans & Other Things) Varrick
- 10 June 1994: St Patrick's Hymn (LP - Rain Forests Oceans & Other Things) Varrick
- 08 July 1994: Unknown (LP - Rain Forests Oceans & Other Things) Varrick
- 25 November 1994: I'm Gonna Do All I Can For My Lord Worried Blues (2xCD-Return Of The Repressed: The John Fahey Anthology) Rhino
- 30 December 1994: Dance Of The Inhabitants Of The Palace Of King Philip XIV Of Spain Worried Blues (2xCD-Return Of The Repressed: The John Fahey Anthology) Rhino
- 07 January 1995 (BFBS): Poor Boy (2xCD-Return Of The Repressed: The John Fahey Anthology) Rhino
- 20 January 1995: Sligo River Blues Worried Blues (2xCD-Return Of The Repressed: The John Fahey Anthology) Rhino
- 28 January 1995 (BFBS): Sligo River Blues Worried Blues (2xCD-Return Of The Repressed: The John Fahey Anthology) Rhino
- 03 February 1995: Dance Of The Inhabitants Of The Palace Of King Philip XIV Of Spain (12" - Research and Destroy) White Label
- 10 March 1995: Worried Blues (2xCD-Return Of The Repressed: The John Fahey Anthology) Rhino
- 18 March 1995 (BFBS): I'm Gonna Do All I Can For My Lord Worried Blues (2xCD-Return Of The Repressed: The John Fahey Anthology) Rhino
- 27 July 1996 (BFBS): Uncloudy Day (CD-The Legend Of Blind Joe Death) Takoma
- (JP: 'A lovely player, and I wish he was still making records. He had a 78 out, actually, recently, which was kind of OK, you know, just noodling, but not a lot of tune. With John Fahey stuff, I like a tune.')
- 15 May 1997: The Mill Pond (CD – City Of Refuge )’ Tim/Kerr Records
- 21 May 1997: Chelsey Silver, Please Come Home (CD – City Of Refuge) Tim/Kerr Records
- 29 May 1997 (BFBS): 'Chelsey Silver, Please Come Home (CD-City Of Refuge)' (Tim/Kerr)
- 13 May 1998: Jesus Is A Dying Bedmaker (CD - America) Takoma
- 24 June 1998 (BFBS): 'Jesus Is A Dying Bedmaker (CD-America)' (Takoma)
- 28 October 1998: Sail Away Ladies
- 24 November 1998: Song For Sara (CD - Georgia Stomps Atlanata Struts) Table Of The Element
- 25 March 1999: (John Fahey & Cul De Sac) Tough (LP - Unknown) Thirsty Ear
- May 1999 (FSK): Sail Away Ladies (LP - Guitar Vol. 4 / The Great San Bernardino Birthday Party And Other Excursions) Takoma
- 28 October 1999: Sail Away Ladies (Peelenium 1965)
- 22 December 1999: Medley (LP - The New Possibility) Takoma
- 21 December 2000: Medley: Hark, The Herald Angels Sing / O Come All Ye Faithful (LP - The New Possibility: John Fahey's Guitar Soli Christmas Album) Takoma
- 22 February 2001: Sail Away Ladies (LP - The Great San Bernardino Birthday Party) Takoma
- 06 March 2001: Sun Gonna Shine In My Back Door Someday Blues (LP - Return Of The Repressed) Rhino
- 18 December 2001: Carol Of The Bells (LP - The New Possibility) Takoma
- 20 December 2001: Silent Night (LP-The New Possibility) Ace
- 19 November 2002: Remember (LP - Red Cross Disciple Of Christ Today) Revenant
- November 2002 (FSK): Charley Bradley's Ten-Sixty-Six Blues (CD - Red Cross Disciple Of Christ Today) Revenant
- 18 December 2002 (with Richard Ruskin) Christmas Medley: Oh Tannenbaum / Angels We Have Heard ...
- 27 December 2002 (BBC World Service): 'The First Noel (CD-The New Possibility: John Fahey's Guitar Soli Christmas Album / Christmas With John Fahey Vol. II)' (Takoma)
- 07 January 2003: 'Charley Bradley's Ten Sixty-Six Blues (LP- )' Revenant
- 16 January 2003 (BBC World Service): 'Charley Bradley's Ten Sixty-Six Blues (LP- )' Revenant
- 27 February 2003: Revelation on the Banks of the Pawtuxent (LP- The Dance of Death & Other Plantation Favourites) Takoma
- 06 March 2003 (BBC World Service): Revelation on the Banks of the Pawtuxent (LP- The Dance of Death & Other Plantation Favourites) Takoma
- 20 November 2003: Hard Time Empty Bottle Blues 1 (Hard Time Empty Bottle Blues EP) Table of the Elements
- 09 December 2003: Hard Time Empty Bottle Blues 2 (Hard Time Empty Bottle Blues EP) Table of the Elements