John Fahey’s death from medical complications earlier this year was a shock to many of his loyal listeners, but in the context of the commercial music world his passing went largely unnoticed. A prime reason for this disparity of awareness originates in Fahey’s resolute refusal to play the commercial music game and in many instances to openly (and cleverly) mock it. One of his earliest ruses was the invention of an alter ego for himself (the legendary itinerant bluesman Blind Joe Death) and the release his debut recording as a split album credited to both his real and imagined personas. Several critics took the ploy at face value only to be humiliated later when Fahey finally came clean with the hoax.
His music and the mythology he created around it and himself live on in the circuitous discography he left behind. Fortunately the holdings of Takoma Records, Fahey’s own label, lie in the hands of Fantasy Records. Finer stewards for the rich catalog would be impossible to find. In the last five years the Berkeley-based company has reissued the bulk of Fahey’s work and this recent reissue marks the final piece in the puzzle that is the guitarist’s output on Takoma. Informally known as John Fahey, Volume 6, it’s an album very much in the experimental vein that he first started tapping in the early 1960s. Placed alongside such rustic, straight picking fare as “The Revolt of the Dyke Brigade” and “Joe Kirby Blues” are pieces that make early use of splicing and sampling. Mixing in the sounds of locomotives and whippoorwills the two-part “A Raga Called Pat” is at once eerie and meditative. Fahey’s strummed passages intersperse with ambient effects creating the illusion of wild wide-open spaces. Tunes like the somber and centering “My Shepherd Will Supply My Needs” are tempered with streaks of hopeful lyricism. A contemplative air of the artist in his element taking sonic paint and to easel permeates each piece and the resulting whole ranks with Fahey’s other masterpieces of the period such as Death Chants, Breakdowns and Military Waltzes and The Voice of the Turtle.
At the time of this record’s release the idea of a solo guitar album was for the most part the sole province of Fahey and fellow Takoma peers like Leo Kottke and Robbie Basho. Today, with a host of labels like Windham Hill specializing in this sort of offering it’s easy to take the pioneering spirit of these men for granted. Still, Fahey’s influence remains indelibly etched in the psyches of those who have followed him, regardless of whether or not the corporate music culture chooses to recognize it. The self-styled grandfather of “American Primitive” guitar may be gone, but with documents like this one within ready reach his memory and music will endure for years and years to come.
Takoma on the web: http://www.fantasyjazz.com
Personnel: John Fahey- guitar. Recorded in 1967.