Podcast and Playlist: The Strange, Troubled and Brilliant John Fahey

[column size=one_half position=first ]John Fahey was an American folk guitarist who lived from 1939 to 2001. He was an eccentric and troubled man who seemed to funnel those problems and challenges into his music.

The best of Fahey combined his virtuosity with a sense of the foreboding and strangeness that made the technical quality of the music secondary to the big picture, which to many begins and ends with his eccentricities.

Fahey is credited with bringing many styles to folk and expanding the genre. Some of it obviously is brilliant and much of it is strange, especially as he got older and his problems worse. Non experts – most of us – likely are unsure how to make heads or tails out of much of it.

TDMB Discusses John Fahey with Author Richie Unterberger:

The record label Fahey founded was named after his birthplace of Tacoma Park, a Maryland suburb of Washington, DC. The most  famous Tacoma artist was the brilliant – and far more conventional and less troubled – Leo Kottke.

Fahey’s career is well documented at AllMusic – Richie Unterberger, who I had a chance to talk with last week, wrote the exceptional profile – and Wikipedia. A discography is at johnfahey.com.

Fahey battled diabetes, Epstein-Barr disease and alcoholism. At the end, Fahey — who was divorced three times — was living in flea bag hotels in Salem, Oregon and pawning his guitars to pay the bills. He died there after sextuple bypass surgery.

[/column][column size=one_half position=last]Richie Unterberger has written eight books, including profiles of The Velvet Underground, The Who, a two-volume study of the merger of folks and rock in the 1960s and a study of great overlooked rock acts.

  1. Steamboat Gwine Round Da Bend 3:45
  2. Sea of Love 3:02
  3. Television Interview, 1978 4:40
  4. In Christ There is No East or West 2:39
  5. Candy Man 3:54

The podcast is here and also at Simplecast. I added a playlist of John Fahey music for those who those unfamiliar with him. The middle selection is Fahey’s comments to critic Alan Bangs about the importance of rhythm in his music and the influence that Kottke had on him. It’s interesting both for what he says about the topic and to get a sense of what he sounded like.


Wikipedia and AllMusic were used in the preparation of this post. The intro and end music on the podcast is “How Green Was My Valley?” [/column]

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