Music: The Magic of John Fahey
by Bob Schwartz
Music is transportation. And as many vehicles as have been built by masters and magicians of acoustic or electric guitar, none has built a more magical one than John Fahey.
One of acoustic music’s true innovators and eccentrics, John Fahey was a crucial figure in expanding the boundaries of the acoustic guitar over the last few decades. His music was so eclectic that it’s arguable whether he should be defined as a “folk” artist. In a career that saw him issue several dozen albums, he drew from blues, Native American music, Indian ragas, experimental dissonance, and pop. …The more meditative aspects of his work foreshadowed new age music, yet Fahey played with a fierce imagination and versatility that outshone any of the guitarists in that category. His idiosyncrasy may have limited him to a cult following, but it also ensured that his work continues to sound fresh. …
Fahey’s early albums for Takoma in the mid-’60s laid out much of the territory he would explore. His instrumentals, filtering numerous genres of music into his own style, evoked haunting and open spaces. At times they could be soothing and plaintive; at other times they were disquieting, even dissonant. The more experimental aspects of his material even foreshadowed psychedelia in their lengthy improvisations (some cuts lasted as long as 20 minutes), use of Indian modes, unpredictable stylistic shifts, and overall eerie strangeness. His persona as a weirdo of sorts was amplified by his bizarre and lengthy song titles and liner notes. He also employed odd guitar tunings that continue to exert an overlooked influence on contemporary musicians to this day.
Never once have I not been transported the moment I hear Fahey’s fingers dancing impossibly on those strings. His music is proof of the alchemy of heart mind body soul that is the essence and power of music. With someone so gifted, we are literally better for having heard even just one song.