Tuesday, November 26, 2013

about John Fahey

The Guardian has an article about the American guitarist John Fahey. Read it here. John's best music is so radical that I somewhat disagree with characterizing him as a blues player. He would hate the term "New Age," but he invented a New Age in steel-string guitar playing. I like the term someone came up with - "American Primitive Guitar." If one tunes to an open tuning (such as G, Keith Richard's favorite tuning - DGDGBD), and then fingerpicks Travis Style (alternating thumb on the bass and use of the first two fingers) - it's hard to go somewhere John did not go first.
I bought "Dance of Death and other Plantation Favorites" sometime around 1965 just because the cover and title were so unusual and the store clerk spoke highly of the music. I instantly fell under the spell! One of my friends who I turned onto the music was named Steve Clark.
Fast forward to 1972. My son was born in November and the three of us went to Los
Angeles to visit Steve, only his name was now Tiramal. I might be misspelling it, but that's
phonetically correct. Tiramal was the director of the LA Integral Yoga Institute, Swami Satchidananda's ashram. Tiramal invited my wife, son, and I to live there in a beautiful old mansion that was
the Institute. So we started getting up at 4 am for meditation, then Hatha Yoga. Steve, I
mean Tiramal, told me, "You'll never believe who I'm giving private yoga lessons to." He
said that one day he got a phone call from a man who told him he was at the end of his
rope. He was depressed and drinking too much. He called the Institute with the remote
hope that there was help there. The caller was John Fahey. Tiramal had been going to John's house for a few weeks. One night he told me that John  might come that night for Kirtan (sacred chanting). I had never seen a photograph of  John, but when I walked into the room and saw this man in rolled-up blue jeans I knew who he was!
I started visiting John's house. I just hung around his house a few times talking. One day I asked him how often he changed strings. He answered,
"Everytime I play" Wow, I said, can I have your old strings? "Why, they're dead." That shut
me up.  Another time he picked up a guitar, fingered an A chord in standard tuning and
stretched his little finger up to the fifth fret on the high E string. He looked at me with
rather arched eyebrows. I thought the unspoken message was- do you know this move?
I felt funny that he was showing me such a simple thing and didn't know at all how to
Well, you can see that I wasn't a close pal, but that every single moment with him was
special for me if not for him.
I'll end this post with day at the Yoga Institute John told me that his guitar was
upstairs and I could play it. I went up. It was tuned DADGAD, a tuning often used in Celtic guitar playing. I'd played in DADF#AD of  course but this DADGAD was new to me. Of course I instantly recognized the sound from some of John's pieces. I was wrapped up in this special moment when John walked in and  lay down on the floor. I kept playing not daring to look at John. When I stopped I looked over and heard the gentle sleeping snore of my hero.

No comments:

Post a Comment