A Too Brief John Fahey Bio

Brilliantly rationally irrational Fahey.
John Fahey is a human incarnation of Winston Churchill's famous quote about Russia: "It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma."

Fahey was an eccentric esoteric genius. Although he had a philosophy and religion degree from American University, he progressively became obsessed with early Delta blues music. He bounced around his home town of Takoma, Maryland until he decided to continue his philosophy studies at University of California, Berkeley.

Fahey loathed the local Berkeley music scene. Especially the Pete Seeger inspired folk revivalists.

This eventually resulted in Fahey moving to Los Angeles, to join UCLA's master degree program in folklore. His master's thesis on the early Delta blues innovator Charley Patton is still considered to be one of the classic research sources for early blues scholarship.

While Fahey was working on his masters thesis, he began playing acoustic guitar and writing his own versions of early blues music and old time music. Since he knew he would not be able to sign with a commercial record label, he founded and launched the first known "alternative music label," Takoma Records, named after his home town.

His music became the first known alternative (alt) music. He was a prolific recording artist, producing nearly 40 albums of mostly original solo acoustic guitar music. His influence on solo guitar music was so dominating that the entire genre of solo acoustic guitar is sometimes referred to as "Fahey style" music.

Fahey's Tacoma Records had its ups and downs. Fahey was not interested in being a businessman, and the label barely survived in its later years. Fahey ended up living in his car in Salem, Oregon.

Several successful "alt rock" bands of the 1990's and early 2000's had secretly been influenced by Fahey's recordings. These bands included Sonic Youth and Wilco. When they found out Fahey had fallen on hard times, they contacted him and worked with him to rebuild his music career. His comeback was successful, and he developed a new audience of alt rock fans.

Fahey was never concerned with his health. His poor diet, hard drinking and lack of exercise finally caught up with him. In 2001, in Salem, Oregon, John Fahey died in surgery during a sextuple coronary bypass. Six days before his 62nd birthday,

RIP if you can, Fahey. But I'll bet you're up to something somewhere. Wherever you are.


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