John Fahey portrait One of American music's great oddball geniuses, John Fahey (1939-2001) was perhaps probably the single most inventive and influential acoustic guitarist to come out of the '60s folk revival. Fahey pioneered guitar playing, as well as independently-released music distribution... His academic career led him into ethnomusicology, and extensive research into the acoustic Delta Blues style of the American South. He wrote his thesis on the legendary Depression-era blues picker Charley Patton, work that was complimented by Fahey's own explorations into guitar playing. Fahey literally took folk and blues music apart, turned it inside out and refashioned it into a wildly original synthesis of divergent styles and dazzling technique. Operating completely outside the folk mainstream, Fahey started his own record label, Takoma Records, issuing small runs of early albums that would later prove to be unimaginably influential. Fahey probably raised the bar for acoustic guitarwork higher than any other player in the post-Eisenhower era, mentoring the likeminded Leo Kottke, and influencing an entire generation of guitarists that came in their wake. It may take me a while to dig out all my old LPs, track down the ones I don't have, and then actually get around to reviewing them... But here, at least, is a list of Fahey's work, with comments added as time allows...


John Fahey "Blind Joe Death" (1959, Takoma) (LP)

John Fahey "Death Chants, Breakdowns And Military Waltzes" (Takoma, 1963)

John Fahey "The Dance Of Death And Other Plantation Favorites" (Takoma, 1964)
(This album was rereleased with extra material in 1999)

John Fahey "Blind Joe Death" (Takoma, 1964)
(2nd edition: three tracks re-recorded)

John Fahey "The Transfiguration Of Blind Joe Death" (Riverside/Takoma, 1965)
The tunes on this album are among the most widely anthologized of his recordings, but there's really nothing like hearing the whole thing from end to end, the way it was meant to be... Fahey weaves a real spell on this one, mixing bouncy, ragtime-ish ditties with deep, mysterious slide blues. It's a real winner; one of his best. Highly recommended!

John Fahey "Guitar Vol. 4: The Great San Bernardino Birthday Party And Other Excursions" (Takoma, 1966)

John Fahey "Guitar Vol. 6: Days Have Gone By" (Takoma, 1967)

John Fahey "Blind Joe Death" (Takoma, 1967)
(3rd Edition: entirely re recorded)

John Fahey "Death Chants, Breakdowns And Military Waltzes" (Takoma, 1967)
(2nd Edition; entirely rerecorded)

John Fahey "Requia" (Takoma, 1968)

John Fahey "The Yellow Princess" (Vanguard/Takoma, 1968)

John Fahey "The Voice Of The Turtle" (Takoma, 1968)

John Fahey "The New Possibility" (Takoma, 1968)

John Fahey/Various Artists "Memphis Swamp Jam" (Arhoolie, 1969) (LP)
(Produced by Chris Strachwitz & John Fahey)

A blues compilation album featuring old-timers such as Nathan Beauregard, Sleepy John Estes, Furry Lewis, Josiah Jones, Fred McDowell, Piano Red, Napoleon Strickland, R L Watson, Booker White and Johnny Woods... Apparently Fahey, who helped produce the album, performs three songs with a guy named Bill Barth...

John Fahey "America" (Takoma, 1971)
(Full version released 1998)

John Fahey "Of Rivers And Religion" (Reprise, 1972)
A brief flirtation with a major label that led to two excellent albums, and only a few burnt bridges. This is one of Fahey's most fluid and cohesive albums, centering on the twin themes of river living and spirituality in the face of death. The album is split in two parts - Side One romps through the South, giving old folk themes and Jerome Kern's "Ol' Man River" equal footing. But even amid the bouncy nostalgia there's a strain of melancholy, which comes to fruition on Side Two, where spirituals by Albert E. Brumley mix with Fahey's adaptations of traditional gospel material, and Fahey's own homage to Mississippi John Hurt. A sad, elegant, soulful album, with a strong dose of New Orleans funeral marching music throughout. Great stuff.

John Fahey "After The Ball" (Reprise, 1973)
A companion to Of Rivers And Religion, this album has a defter, more Dixieland tone to it, conjuring images of rakish gamblers and old-time burlesque halls. Many of the same musicians worked with Fahey as on the earlier Reprise album, which proves to be a nice change of pace from his usual solo material. This includes one of my favorite Fahey tunes, the irresistible "Hawaiian Two-Step," as well as plenty of bouncy cathouse rags... Neither album sold that well, and Reprise dropped Fahey like a brick -- nonetheless, it's nice to see these discs back in print!

John Fahey "Fare Forward Voyagers (Soldier's Choice)" (Takoma, 1973)

John Fahey/Leo Kottke/Peter Lang "John Fahey/Leo Kottke/Peter Lang" (Takoma, 1974)

John Fahey And His Orchestra "Old Fashioned Love" (Takoma, 1974)
Plenty of great, rhythm-warping guitar work, as usual, though this disc is most notable for Fahey's collaboration with (gasp!) a bunch of other musicians... Woodrow Mann provides second guitar on the opening tracks (or third, or fourth, depending on how you view Fahey's multidexterous fretwork...) Flip the disc over to Side Two and he's got a whole band behind him, a contingent of LA-based jazz players who spin in and out of Dixieland and rock touches... Not only that, but there's actually some singing on this album, amid the wildly creative

John Fahey "Christmas With John Fahey, v.2" (Takoma, 1975)

John Fahey "John Fahey Visits Washington D.C." (Takoma, 1979)

John Fahey "Yes! Jesus Loves Me -- Guitar Hymns" (Takoma, 1980)

John Fahey "Live In Tasmania" (Takoma, 1980)
A fine live set in Australia, featuring several of Fahey's better-known "hits," songs such as "Steamboat Gwine 'Round De Bend," "Indian-Pacific R.R. Blues" and, appropriately enough, "Tasmanian Two-Step" and "Return Of The Tasmanian Tiger." Fahey wows the crowd at Hobart College with his gruff, muttered comments, as well as his nigh unbelievable guitar playing. It's pretty cool to hear him play these tunes straight through, with no studio assist -- just pure, dazzling musicianship. Recommended!

John Fahey "Railroad" (Shanachie, 1981)

John Fahey "Christmas Guitar Volume I" (Varrick, 1982)
(A re-recording of the music on 1968 The New Possibility album...)

John Fahey "Let Go" (Varrick, 1983)

John Fahey & Terry Robb "Popular Songs For Christmas And The New Year" (Varrick, 1983)
Although not as incandenscent or evocative as Fahey's original Christmas albums, this is still a lovely set, with beautiful guitar duets and a new repertoire of pop tunes such as "White Christmas," "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town," "Winter Wonderland," etc. And in Fahey's world, these songs are given glorious new life. Recommended!

John Fahey & Terry Robb "Rain Forests, Oceans And Other Themes" (Varrick, 1985)

John Fahey "I Remember Blind Joe Death" (Varrick, 1987)
But did Blind Joe remember John? Despite the nostalgic reference in the title, this is one of Fahey's least beloved albums... It was recorded when he wasn't feeling well, lacks energy and focus as a result, and has few adherents. Stiiiiiillll.... You might want to check it out. It is John Fahey, after all!

John Fahey "God, Time And Causality" (Shanachie, 1989)

John Fahey "Old Girlfriends And Other Horrible Memories" (Varrick, 1990)

John Fahey "The John Fahey Christmas Album" (1991)

John Fahey "Double 78" (Perfect, 1996) (vinyl 78)

John Fahey "The Mill Pond" (Important Records, 1997)
(Double EP)

John Fahey "City Of Refuge" (Polygram, 1997)

John Fahey "Womblife" (Table Of Elements, 1997)

John Fahey & Cul De Sac "The Epiphany Of Glenn Jones" (Thirsty Ear, 1997)

John Fahey "Georgia Stomps, Atlanta Struts And Other Contemporary Dance Favorites" (Table Of Elements, 1998)

John Fahey "Hitomi" (LivHouse, 2000)

John Fahey "John Fahey Trio 1" (Jazzoo, 2002)

John Fahey "Red Cross" (Revenant, 2003)

John Fahey "The Great Santa Barbara Oil Slick: Live At The Matrix San Francisco, California 1968/1969" (Water/Runt, 2004)

John Fahey "Sea Changes & Coelacanths: A Young Person's Guide To John Fahey" (Table Of Elements, 2006)


John Fahey "The Essential John Fahey" (Vanguard, 1967)
A faux "best-of" from 1967 that combines the Requia and Yellow Princess albums, minus one track.

John Fahey "The Best Of John Fahey: 1959-1977" (Takoma, 1977)
This single-CD best-of has a fair amount of material in common with the Rhino collection listed below, but is a more compact and cohesive reading of the first half of Fahey's career. Stunning acoustic guitar work with the undying creativity that Fahey infused into all his work.

John Fahey "Return Of The Repressed: The John Fahey Anthology" (Rhino, 1994)
Although his individual albums each have a unique charm and magic to them (and should be experienced on their own merit...), you can't go wrong picking up this super-fab 2-CD retrospective. It captures the full sweep of his mastery and manipulation of blues and folk forms, and the fluidity with which he was able to shift from relatively simple hypnotic-repetitive traditional riffs into mind-blowingly complex, beautiful variations... and how LARGE a soundscape he could create using a single guitar! If you haven't heard Fahey before, then you should pick this collection up as fast as you can... It's great stuff!!

John Fahey "The Legend Of Blind Joe Death" (Fantasy/Takoma, 1996)

John Fahey "The Best Of The Vanguard Years" (Vanguard, 1999)

John Fahey "The Best Of John Fahey, v.2: 1964-1983" (Fantasy-Takoma, 2004)

John Fahey "Americana Masters" (2004)

John Fahey "Americana Masters, v.2" (2004)

John Fahey "Americana Masters, v.3" (2004)


John Fahey "Guitar Guitar" (1969)

John Fahey "John Fahey In Concert" (1996)

John Fahey "Three Guitar Tutorial Videos" (1996)

John Fahey "The Guitar Of John Fahey, v.1" (Grossman's Guitar Workshop, 2005)

John Fahey "The Guitar Of John Fahey, v.2" (Grossman's Guitar Workshop, 2005)

John Fahey "John Fahey In Concert And Interviews: 1969 & 1996" (Grossman's Guitar Workshop, 2004)

John Fahey "Christmas Songs And Holiday Melodies" (Grossman's Guitar Workshop, 2005)


"How Bluegrass Music Destroyed My Life" by John Fahey & Damien Rogers (ed.)
(Drag City, 2000)

"Fingerstyle & Slide Guitar In Open Tunings" by John Fahey
(Mel Bay/Grossman's Guitar Workshop, 2002)

"American Primitive Guitar" by John Fahey
(Mel Bay/Grossman's Guitar Workshop, 2002)



Various Artists "I AM THE RESURRECTION: A TRIBUTE TO JOHN FAHEY" (Vanguard, 2006)

Various Artists "FRIENDS OF FAHEY TRIBUTE" (Slackertone, 2006)



  • Fahey's home page keeps the torch buring, and has several moving tributes, written by several former acolytes and friends. There's also a nice

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