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John Fahey
The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death,  Takoma/Fantasy CD TAKCD-6504-2, 1965/1997

 Finger-picking lessons

This sort of record appeals to fingerstyle guitarists. They are a close-knit bunch of furry individualists, people who take their history and technique very seriously. Stefan Grossman, Bob Brozman, etc., have done a lot to popularize the style and make practitioners aware of the large body of work that was done by Mance Lipscomb, Mississippi John Hurt, the Rev. Gary Davis, and others in the first half of the century. There is a body of knowledge behind this kind of guitar playing, and Fahey bends and blends the history and influences into something uncommon and rare.

Fahey is really unique in the pantheon of fingerstyle guitar players. He loves alternate tunings and makes up his own picking patterns. The liner notes describe the tunings and his famous "backward" picking style. He plays slide with the guitar on his lap like a Hawaiian guitar, and he uses Indian-style tunings while he is doing it. He plays melodies that come from the hills and Delta, and he filters them through ragas and extended improvs that were part of the atmosphere when he recorded these songs (1965).

While the uninitiated might not hear all of that going on, this isn’t a record only for the historian or dedicated fingerstyle guitarist, although they’ll certainly welcome the reissue. (For a very modest shipping charge, they can even get a copy of the original hand-lettered booklet that accompanied the vinyl release.) There is a lopsided appeal to the way Fahey plays the melodies. A typical song sounds almost familiar and then twists onto an unexpected side road. Look at the titles: "On the Sunny Side of the Ocean," "101 is a Hard Road to Travel." He plays a simple parlor style that doesn’t ask much of the casual listener, but rewards those who stop by and linger long enough to listen. This would be a good record for someone who wants to know about John Fahey. It would be a great record for a young player who’s fascinated with the sounds you can get out of an acoustic guitar.– Gerry Lenocker

Copyright © 1998 Peppercorn Press. All rights reserved.