In Search of Blind Joe Death: The Saga of John Fahey

Stoked to finally track down this documentary, first clocked on Kickstarter a few years back; the brilliant story about a unique and oft-forgotten hero John Fahey. The crew behind In Search Of Blind Joe Death: The Saga Of John Fahey have done an amazing job in telling a full story, keeping the larger impact of his work as an element balanced out with one character’s individual journey through music creation.

With a finger-picking style of his own that was labelled as “American-Primitive” by others, John Fahey is probably best remembered as a blues composer on the various guitar shapes. Fahey never cared about brands or makes, but approached the six-strings as a complete performance piece in it’s own accord. Shrouded in mystery and with a punk-rock attitude towards DIY, he cut his own records from the beginning, with a belief that no label let alone collector would want them. Putting them out through his newly created Takoma Recordings label in the 50s, Fahey was one of the original and most influential indie label owners setting up during the era.

This blues & folk focused part of In Search Of Blind Joe Death… was a really enjoyable watch in it’s own accord. Great music and storytelling appreciated added to by the fact that it was interspersed by readings from the Fahey penned book How Bluegrass Destroyed My Life.

Using a number of lesser music biopics as reference, this is the stage where some of them would end; a natural composer, guitar pioneer and player who shuns the spotlight gets a bit of background info. But Tamarack Productions had an interesting character as their subject for this documentary. John Fahey was also a lifelong record digger and collector, rinsing thrift shops even after his career was seen to be over and he was living in a one room motel. King of the record collectors Joe Bussard of Desperate Man Blues (among other fame) even pops up in the documentary to weigh in on the man from a collector’s point of view. Taking it past the point of musical influence and collecting led Fahey to tracking down a ‘forgotten’ Skip James in hospital after his recording days were presumed over, releasing the blues legend once more on Takoma.

John Fahey never stopped his exploration through music either, and the back part of In Search Of Blind Joe Death… looks at his increasing apathy towards the industry and specifically his own work, even as his older recordings gained more popularity than ever. As a musician Fahey slowly moved in to the electronic avant-garde world, almost becoming a musique concrete figure, now working with the likes of Thurston Moore in place of old blues legends like Bukka White. Without even realising it, John Fahey was an early adopter of the American noise scene, keeping little relevance to his early work and sliding in to a new skin made up of industrial and gothic undertones.

Journalists, embedded music fans and historians look at this as John Fahey expressing his darker side of alcoholism and an abusive childhood, but in his typical manner Fahey just explains that screaming in to a microphone and creating unstructured chaos is just “a lot of fun.” A nice throwback to a previous quote in the film from Chris Funk of The Decemberists, who referred to an earlier stage in his career as “original punk rock” and “art for art’s sake.”

There’s a full live performance below from 1997, if you’ve got the time it’s worth checking out.

Big ups everyone involved in this project. We try not to give too much away on docos that are must-see, but there’s just too many highlights in this one. Tamarack have done an amazing job off of one of the cheaper Kickstarter projects we’ve seen too.

Check below for the press release, link to the production company and the trailer for the documentary.

via Tamarack Productions
Tamarack Productions is proud to release a feature documentary about the tremendously influential composer, guitarist, author and provocateur John Fahey (1939-2001).

Fahey is known as “the father of American Primitive Guitar.” Some think of him as a foundational figure in American folk music. Fahey himself, however, insisted “I am not a volk, how can I be a volk? I’m from the suburbs.” All jesting aside, Fahey, as both musician and musicologist, made a fundamental contribution to the global understanding of classical American musics such as Delta blues, Appalachian bluegrass and New Orleans jazz.

Fahey’s own music stretches the boundaries of past musical traditions, creating a complex musical dialogue primarily with his steel stringed solo guitar. Fahey transcended his essential Delta influences combining bluegrass, Brazilian, classical, Indian, New Orleans, musique concrète, and gothic industrial ambience.

Participants in the film include Pete Townshend, Joey Burns of Calexico, Chris Funk of The Decemberists and many of Fahey’s closest collaborators and friends, including renowned radio personality Barry Hansen aka Dr. Demento.

Trailer: In Search of Blind Joe Death – The Saga of John Fahey from JohnFaheyFilm on Vimeo.