You might not have heard of John Fahey. If you’re lucky, you’ve heard his music. If you’re really a guitar geek, you’ve realized how revolutionary he is…
In fact, John Fahey is so revolutionary I’m dedicating a whole episode to him. There are few artists who have transformed the landscape of fingerpicking as John Fahey has.
In this episode of Acoustic Tuesday, I’m digging into the life of John Fahey, as well as 10 guitarists who have been heavily influenced by John Fahey.
If you want to get inspired, then this episode is for you. And, whether you’ve heard of John Fahey before or not, you’re going to love hearing about the storied life of one of my favorite guitarists of all time.
As always, you can watch Acoustic Tuesday at 10 am every Tuesday in these four places:
- Acoustic Life YouTube channel
- We Play Every Day Facebook Community
- Get show notes emailed directly to your inbox.
- Listen to audio-only below or in iTunes
This Week on Acoustic Tuesday
10 Guitarist Carrying-on John Fahey’s Legacy
John Fahey stressed fingerpicking in his playing. His musical genre, American primitive, was defined by pulsing picking patterns and harmonically rich melodies.
So, why would John Fahey love these artists? Because they are a continuation and preservation of his style of acoustic guitar playing.
If you’re ready to experience the vanguard of American primitive guitar in the last few years, you’re going to love this list.
10: Glenn Jones
From the alternate tunings to the dissonant melodies, Glenn Jones embodies American primitive guitar. If you want to see what this genre is about, be sure to listen to Glenn Jones.
If you want to know more about Glenn Jones or purchase one of his albums, be sure to visit his artist profile at Thrill Jockey.
9: Jack Rose
Jack Rose is an incredible guitarist. Not only does he embody the American primitive style, but he innovates and builds upon it.
I love Jack Rose’s ability to learn from previous artists. You see, Rose played with Glenn Jones…who in turn played with John Fahey!
If you want to learn more about Jack Rose, you can find information about him and his records at Thrill Jockey.
8: Nathan Bowles
Most of the time, we apply American primitive style to just guitarists. For Nathan Bowles, he took Fahey’s technique and sounds and applied it to the banjo.
For one of the most beautiful albums of banjo music I’ve ever heard, look no further than “Nansemond.” The note selection and the speed that he plays baffle me.
If you want to know more about Nathan Bowles, be sure to visit his website today.
7: Rob Noyes
To understand Rob Noyes, I need you to listen to his album “Feudal Spirit.”
A master of alternate thumb picking and an extremely rhythmic player, Rob Noyes is a must-listen.
His music is so rhythmic and train-like, it’s fitting to have the railroad tracks and engine on his album cover.
If you like Rob Noyes, be sure to check out his Bandcamp today.
6: Marisa Anderson
I first found out about Marisa Anderson on NPR. I was immediately struck by her expressive guitar playing.
And, yes…she plays electric guitar. However, her technique is absolutely rooted in the style of John Fahey. And, might I add, she has a hint of Joni Mitchell, too? I’ll let you decide.
If you want to learn more about Marisa Anderson or purchase some of her music, be sure to visit her website today.
5: Daniel Bachman
I’ve featured Daniel Bachman on Acoustic Tuesday before. I love Daniel because he does tons of experimental stuff but also reigns himself in at times.
No matter what he’s doing, Daniel Bachman has a huge sound that has a zen-like quality. To understand what I’m talking about, listen to his track “The Flower Tree.”
His attention to the bass notes and how hard he plucks them is awesome. The result is a remarkable drone effect that could hypnotize me!
To learn more about Daniel Bachman, be sure to check out his website today.
4: Nathan Salsburg
Thanks to fellow Acoustic Tuesday viewer who recommended Nathan Salsburg, I am digging his music.
As one of the more refined American primitive guitarists on this list, Nathan Salsburg has all the right elements AND a Celtic vibe.
There’s a sort of jaunty, lilting feel to this song that I absolutely love.
To hear more of Nathan Salsburg’s music, visit his website today!
3: Jan Morgenson
It took a lot of digging to find information about Jan Morogenson. Unique, haunting, and varied, Jan Morgenson has to be one of my favorites on this list.
In addition to having a haunting aesthetic, I am at a loss as to how to further describe his music!
Be sure to check out his website today.
2: Joost Dijkema
I think there are lots of things to say about Joost Dijkema, but one of the most intriguing things is his right-hand technique. Check it out…
Joost Dijkema’s playing is dense…thick…filled with fills. I love it all.
The thing about Joost is that he has a fingerpick on every single one of his fingers. The result? A five-finger roll that creates an insane cascade of notes in quick succession.
To learn more about Joost Dijkema, visit his website today.
1: Gwenifer Raymond
I remember getting coffee with Charlie Parr a few months ago, and he told me to listen to Gwenifer Raymond.
Now, as soon as I listened to her, I was shaken.
An artist who applies a tremendous amount of energy, Gwenifer Raymond tears it up. The speed, the note selection, and the dissonance are all harkening back to Fahey’s style.
If you want to learn more, visit Gwenifer Raymond’s website today.
Did I miss anyone? Let me know in the comments below!
John Fahey Resources
- https://amzn.to/38RKlLr – “Dance of Death: The Life of John Fahey, American Guitarist”
- https://amzn.to/37SbT25 – “How Bluegrass Music Destroyed My Life”
- https://amzn.to/2ux1QSs – “Vampire Vultures”
- https://amzn.to/2PBHj6D – John Fahey Paintings
- https://vimeo.com/150294804 – Watch John Fahey’s 1981 House Concert in Santa Monica
- https://youtu.be/YSh-YsyjpXk – Listen to John Fahey’s Rare Bacon & Day Seniorita Guitar
- https://www.arkneweraguitars.com/ – Check out New Era Guitars (Tony Klassen makes some first-class Fahey-esque instruments)
- https://youtu.be/CJ-_qd161iM – Leo Kottke publicly thanks John Fahey
- https://youtu.be/yW7FhNwJtDc – Listen to Frank Hovington, the man responsible for inspiring John Fahey to pick up the guitar
- https://youtu.be/3oifxIOc-To – Liste to Blind Willie Johnson’s “Praise God I’m Satisfied,” the song that got Fahey into the blues.
- https://amzn.to/39VNeuK – Buy “The Transcendental Waterfall” Box Set
Fact #1 – Bit By The Bug
John Fahey got bit by the guitar bug In 1952, after being impressed by guitarist Frank Hovington, whom he met while on a fishing trip, Fahey then purchased his first guitar for $17 from a Sears, Roebuck Catalog.
Fact #2 – Religious Conversion
Fahey was attracted to record-collecting. Fahey discovered his love of early blues upon hearing Blind Willie Johnson’s “Praise God I’m Satisfied” on a record-collecting trip to Baltimore with his friend and mentor, the musicologist Richard K. Spottswood. Much later, Fahey compared the experience to a religious conversion.
Fact #3 – The Birth of a Record Label
In 1959 Fahey recorded material that would become his first record for the Takoma label. Having no idea how to approach professional record companies and being convinced they would be uninterested, Fahey decided to issue his first album himself, using some cash saved from his gas station attendant job. Thus was born Takoma Records. One hundred copies of this first album were pressed. On one side of the sleeve was the name “John Fahey”; on the other, “Blind Joe Death”—a humorous nickname given to him by his fellow blues fans. He attempted to sell these albums himself. Some he gave away, some he snuck into thrift stores and blues sections of local record shops, and some he sent to folk music scholars, a few of whom were fooled into thinking that there really was a living old blues singer called Blind Joe Death. It took three years for Fahey to sell the remainder of the records.
Fact #4 – Masters With Some Canned Heat
Fahey received an M.A. in folklore in 1966. Fahey’s master’s thesis on the music of Charley Patton was later published by Studio Vista in 1970. He completed it with the musicological assistance of his friend Alan Wilson, who would go on to be in the band Canned Heat.
Fact #5 – Paying It Forward
In addition to his own creative output, Fahey expanded the Takoma label, discovering fellow guitarists Leo Kottke, Robbie Basho, Bola Sete and Peter Lang. Kottke’s debut release on the label, 6- and 12-String Guitar, ultimately proved to be the most successful of the crop, selling more than 500,000 copies.
Fact #6 – Rising From The Ashes
After the death of his father in 1995, Fahey used his inheritance to form another label, Revenant Records, to focus on reissuing obscure recordings of early blues, old-time music, and anything else that took his fancy.The label’s most famous release would prove to be Screamin’ and Hollerin’ the Blues: The Worlds of Charley Patton, a seven-disc retrospective of Charley Patton and his contemporaries. It won three Grammy awards in 2003.
Fact #7 – Award Winner
Fahey, for his part, won a Grammy in 1997 for his contributions to the liner notes of Revenant’s Anthology of American Folk Music, Vol. 4.
Fact #8 – New Inspiration
Fahey began to channel a new outlet for experimentation which included his return to painting; a hobby he abandoned when he took up the guitar. He painted on found poster board and discarded spiral notebook paper. His painting studio floated from motel bed to motel bed and eventually ended up on the bed of his rental home in Salem, OR; occasionally painting with anti-freeze in the garage. He worked with tempera, acrylic, spray paint, and magic marker.
Fact #9 – Vintage Guitars of Obscurity
Guitar #1 – John Fahey was not known to play fancy instruments. He tended to pick up inexpensive guitars and then pawn them when he needed cash. During his heyday in the late ’60s and early ’70s, Fahey was partial to a 1930s Gibson Recording King with a sunburst top and a bell-like tone. He used it to record some of his most enduring albums, including America, Of Rivers and Religion, After the Ball, and Fare Forward Voyagers.
Guitar #2 – The Bacon and Day banjo company made a few guitars they called Senorita. No one seems to know how many of them were made. This was maybe during the 1940s. The Senoritas were a bit different. They had one that was quite elaborate with stones and inlays and color and one that was plainer. They were bigger than a parlor size but not as big as a dreadnaught size.
Fact #10 – Gone But Not Forgotten
In February 2001, six days before his 62nd birthday, Fahey died at Salem Hospital after undergoing a sextuple coronary bypass. In 2006, no fewer than four Fahey tribute albums were released as a testament to his reputation as a “giant of 20th century American music”.
Thanks for the real nice list of players of the primitive style.
This guy should be right up there with them — Jake Xerxes Fussell — http://www.jakexerxesfussell.com/
Read his bio, give him a listen, then see him live when you can.
He is stellar writer, performer (saw him last year in Richmond, VA) and bearer of old American sounds.
An ethnomusicologist in the Ry Cooder sense, but with his own unique voice (quite literally and figuratively!).
Have you heard John’s Christmas album?
Tony you need to listen to Gabriella Quefido. Her playing is awesome and an inspiration to me.
Correct spelling Gabriella Quevedo. I suggested this talented young lady several times while I was a TAC member. Maybe someday she will get her feature. Her style is so crisp and clean.
Other than John Fahey I’ve never heard of any of today’s featured players. This was an eye opening and inspirational show. My only regret is recognizing that there are hundreds (or thousands) of guitar geek artists out there now and in the past that we’ve never heard. Thank you!
Great stuff Tony I’m not yet a subscriber, I have been traveling too much to pull the trigger but I’m 65 and first heard of Fahey when I was a college DJ in 1972 and played something from “my feet are smiling” by Leo Kottke, which lead to buying my first Fahey album. I’d been playing guitar for two years but that set me on a course of love with American primitive. I love any and all acoustic style guitar, Fahey was a little tough to listen to because he became so bizarre and dissonant but he certainly deserves his accolades as the person who coalesced the entire American primitive movement.
I think you were basically talking about 10 new or current guitarists because obviously you did not list guys like Peter lang and kottke. To me, Kottke is the all-time guitar God and I’ve been fortunate enough to see him at least six times, as far back as the early 70s. But after almost a 30 year hiatus I started playing guitar again and I’ve switched from classical to steel string, my goal is to be able to play Kottke’s watermelon and drumroll…desperate Man blues, by Fahey.
By the way, I hope you’re well familiar with this but if you want to see an absolutely religious moment on YouTube, search for Leo Kottke, Chet Atkins and doc Watson playing “last steam engine train”. It looks like they connected in a hotel room after a concert, and it was totally spontaneous. Just the collection of talent and sheer joy was inspirational.
Oh, and by the way don’t know if you heard this one but I was fortunate to see Chet Atkins years ago in Wilmington Delaware, and he told a story about how he was on a cruise and one evening took his guitar up on deck to a secluded area and was just playing by himself. He said after a while a crowd gathered and when he was done they all drifted off and one guy walked up to him and said ”you’re good…you’re really good …you’re no Chet Atkins but you’re really good!”
Cheers. Good podcast.
Leo Kottke’s 6 & 12 String Guitar came out in 1969, not 1974
I agree. I thought so because when I was in college in 1972 it had already been out for several years
When you were in Milwaukee did you get to go see Leo Kottke’s guitar collection that they have up for sale? https://www.milwaukeeguitarcollective.com/
Hi Tony, great inspiring informative show. Nice to hear about family reunion, especially getting “unshafted” from elevator. If my partner was stuck with me in one of those, well, hell would be preferable at that point. Primitive guitar is alive and well!
Here’s a profound quote from John Fayhe I thought deserved to be seen by all acoustic guitar geeks. I couldn’t say it any better.
“There is something about guitars—maybe something magical—when played right which evokes past, mysterious, barely conscious sentiments, both individual and universal. The road to the unconscious past.
Guitar is a caller. It brings forth emotions you didn’t know you had. It’s a very personal instrument.”
I would encourage you to investigate Dick Rosmini, who was a brilliant finger-picker back in the early 1960s. Unfortunately, not much information appears to available about and he never got the kudos he justly deserves.
My favorite song of his is at https://bit.ly/LBDrosmini and the best website I could find dedicated to him is at
http://www.wirz.de/music/rosmifrm.htm . So if you have the interest, I’d love to hear your impression of him.
Thanks for your John Fahey posting who was another inspiration that got me started on acoustic picking way back when.
Marisa Anderson: I want to listen to her forever…I want to play like her…I want to be her!
And she is an excellent live performer…connects well with the audience and tells some fascinating stories.
Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop has a 2 vol DVD of John Fahey teaching some of his songs. Readers might be interested. I have a song or 2 on Sopdify which may qualify for being influenced by Mr Fahey One is called Willows by Ken Millroy Check it out.
Thanks Tony for al the great music tips! Can’t stop listning to them🤪 Bosse from Sweden
Great music, does any one know if they are using alternate tunings?
Where is the link to the video that John Fahey had a religious experience with? I don’t see it on the page!
Since this was a John Fahey featured show, I thought sure you’d mention the documentary about him “In Search of Blind Joe Death”. You included the documentary on a previous episode of Acoustic Life although I don’t remember which one. It was a very informative and interesting video which I would recommend to any John Fahey fan. Other than this omission, it was a great show.
Tony! No Jalan Crossland outta Tensleep, WY? Figured a Bozeman boy such as yourself would be aware of his exquisite playing; wild open tunings, etc. Check him out. I think you’ll like his style! Cheers!
have you listened to Charlie Schmidt ?.
Charlie Schmidt was not only a contemporary of the American primitive master John Fahey, but he so perfectly emulated his mentor that a batch of Schmidt’s early recordings were once mistaken for the work of Fahey himself by his record label, critics, and collectors.
I just want to say thank you for your work on this site! I have learned quite a bit, and I have been introduced to some music I do not think I would have come across otherwise. I am way too broke to subscribe now; but as soon as I get a couple of bills eliminated, I will and I look forward to subscribing. You’ve been an inspiration to me. Because of an accident several years ago, I will never be able to play as well as I want to: there is too much nerve damage, but I am trying and I do see a little progress from time to time. It is frustrating because I was doing so well until the accident. Now, I do not have the fine motor skills, and control of my muscles, needed to play many things that I have hoped to play. I was starting to learn some finger style songs before the accident. I am using a Seagull S6 and S12. The S6 has a wider than usual nut, and string spacing, making it easier to finger pick. Both guitars have solid cedar tops, which move rather easily, so they sound great for finger style playing. The S12 shimmers with the lightest of touch. It sounds truly beautiful: more than I would ever expect from an inexpensive guitar. I am NOT giving up, but it has become more challenging since the accident.
Thank You, again for the great information and the great music! I am truly thankful for learning about the artists that I would probably not have known about, if it were not for your website. I look forward to the time that I will be able to contribute, and participate, more.
If you get to find or borrow one, try the Proulx guitars I believe he has a website. I purchased one tailer made for me and it blows a Martin away. Many professionals are looking for them. They are made in Iroquois Falls in Northern Ontario Canada
by Mario Proulx. I think you will be impressed
Thanks. Love your shoe.
Tony I hope you got to watch Brad Paisley and Vince Gill last night at the Grand Ole Opry.
Thanks very much for all the information–it’s good to know that such an important figure as Fahey will be long remembered.
BTW, it’s something like “YOHST DY-ke-ma”. 🙂
Hi Tony, just got around to listening to this episode of AT. Love it. I want to clarify one thing. In the comment section someone talked about Riversong Guitars in Kamloops, BC, Canada. You said you had something in the works with them but referenced RainSong Guitars. RainSong builds a very different guitar then Riversong. Was it just a slip of the toungue or what. I just spent some time on Riversong’s website and they are doing some amazing different things in building their guitars. I really hope it is Riversong that you will be reviewing. They are only about 3-4 hours from where I live.
Was there an awareness on John Fahey’s part of Joseph Spence? I just struck me that there are shades of Joseph Spence in Fahey’s playing. Maybe just coincidence.