John Fahey was a student of mythology and a master trickster throughout his life. At the outset of his recording career, Fahey shape-shifted into the legendary Blind Joe Death. His first album for his Takoma Records label is co-credited to said Blind Joe Death and John Fahey.
Fahey fabricated that mythic persona from the rich tapestry of lives lived by blues musicians he admired…including the real life Blind Willie Johnson and Blind Blake. Fahey’s use of the Blind Joe Death persona was part gag and part tribute – Fahey never shied from the irony of his own biography. He was, after all, a white suburbanite who was widely considered a master of the blues and inventor of “American primitive guitar”.
Fahey was fascinated and profoundly moved, but irreverent, about the mythical, folkloric ‘weird old America’ - to use Greil Marcus’ term - of the American south, particularly, the Mississippi Delta where some of his earliest musical heroes first recorded in the 1920s and 30s.
As a graduate student at UCLA and emerging guitarist based in southern California, Fahey travelled through the south in search of old 78rpm records and elderly musicians. Fahey’s encounter with the legendary Skip James is brilliantly re-counted in his chronicle of that quest in How Bluegrass Destroyed My Life.
At every occasion Fahey paid tribute to the awesome power of some of the earliest blues recordings. In 1983, Fahey recalled that his first hearing of Blind Willie Johnson’s Praise God I’m Satisfied was tantamount to a conversion experience.
Fahey used his liner notes and essays to develop a rich mythical universe. He even constructed a theological hierarchy topped by the Great Koonaklaster, a being Fahey said emerged while he knocked about with his suburban buddies as a schoolboy.
A great lover of nature, Fahey was always concerned with turtles. Turtles, animals that appear in spiritual systems throughout human history, were repeatedly invoked by Fahey in song titles, album graphics and his essays. Similarly, railways, forests, rivers and skulls permeate and reverberate in Fahey’s work. In Search of Blind Joe Death: The Saga of John Fahey will do visual and artistic justice to the rich panorama of Americana and the universe encompassed in John Fahey’s mind.