Personalities | John Fahey | Fantastic Fingerstylist | Guitar Heroes

John Fahey (1939–2001) was an American fingerstyle guitarist, composer, folklorist, intellectual and eccentric. Influenced by the folk and blues traditions of America, he incorporated classical, Brazilian, Indian and abstract music into his works.

His moody instrumentals foreshadowed new-age music, but Fahey’s intensity makes him more closely aligned with rock. His eclectic approach won him a cult following that grew with a string of reissues after his death in the Nineties.

Fahey was born in Takoma Park, MD, into a musical household. Hearing Bill Monroe’s version of Jimmie Rodgers’ ‘Blue Yodel No. 7’ on the radio ignited his passion for music. In 1952 he purchased his first guitar for $17 from the Sears-Roebuck catalogue. Fahey became an accomplished guitarist in his teens. Already a collector of rare early blues and country music, he made his first album in 1959 on his own Tacoma label, calling himself Blind Joe Death. Fahey did not perform publicly for money until the mid-Sixties, after his third album.

Fahey’s early albums were haunting and original. Some of his material even foreshadowed psychedelia, with lengthy improvisations sometimes lasting 20 minutes and the use of Indian modes, unpredictable stylistic shifts and overall strangeness. He also employed odd guitar tunings. His reputation as an eccentric was amplified by his bizarre and lengthy liner notes and song titles like ‘When The Catfish Is In Bloom’ and ‘Stomping Tonight On The Pennsylvania/Alabama Border’. Fahey maintained his following through the mid-Eighties. With his Takoma label, he was instrumental in starting the career of Leo Kottke. Fahey sold Takoma to Chrysalis in the mid-Seventies, but continued to record and tour regularly.

In 1986 he contracted Epstein-Barr syndrome, a long-lasting viral infection that, combined with other health problems, sapped his energy and resources. But a major career retrospective on Rhino, Return Of The Repressed (1994), boosted his profile to its highest level in years. In 1997, he returned to active recording with City Of Refuge (1997) and was planning more recordings when he died following sextuple-bypass surgery at the age of 61.

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