Lovely footage of “American primitive” guitar master and Takoma records boss John Fahey.
By 1969, guitarist John Fahey had released ten solo albums, founded the brilliant folk-blues label Takoma, studied ethnomusicology at UCLA, written a dissertation on foundational blues guitarist Charley Patton, tracked down Delta blues player Bukka White for his first new recordings in decades, and become a leading figure of the so-called “American primitive” guitar movement.
Through Takoma, Fahey helped discover and put to record early recordings by guitarists Robbie Basho, Leo Kottke, and Bola Sete – and even brought new age pianist George Winston Winston into the public eye.
A brilliant self-taught player, music theorist and historian whose life was pocked with addictions, health issues and onstage unreliability – he often bailed on concerts with little advance notice – Fahey is a touchstone figure in the instrumental guitar world whose influence can be heard in contemporary guitarists including William Tyler, Yasmin Williams, James Elkington, Marisa Anderson, and Nathan Salsburg.
Seated next to guitar teacher Laura Weber for her “Guitar, Guitar” TV show in ‘69, a noticeably woozy and carefree Fahey offers illuminating techniques that help illuminate why his work is so singular – even as it reveals his overall IDGAF style of interacting in public. It’s also hilarious: Fahey discusses the genesis of his song “The Death of the Clayton Peacock,” describing the title as inspired by a roadkill peacock that festered on the side of the road for a few days before “somebody cut its tail off.” When Weber mentions that she saw him in concert performing with a tape machine, he replies with surprise. “Me? It wasn’t me. That’s Sandy Bull, probably.”
He then adds, “I want to do that someday, but I’d have to get foot pedals and tape recorders and amplifiers.” He then shakes his head and says, “And I’d have to have somebody to carry them around.”
Watch the 30-minute show here.
And if you’ve never seen this 15-minute clip of Fahey playing Hawaiian guitar, prepare to have your circuits rewired.