In 1965, John Fahey released “The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death,” an album of guitar solos. “Blind Joe Death” was a sardonic pseudonym that Fahey sometimes utilized; today, his transfiguration, and canonization, continues apace. Fahey’s fusion of blues and country finger-picking with Eastern and classical influences served as a model for a generation of guitarists; several of the most notable of them — Robbie Basho, Peter Lang, Leo Kottke — recorded for Takoma Records, Fahey’s own label.
Near the end of his life, after a long battle with alcoholism, chronic fatigue syndrome and impoverishment, a renewed Fahey lit a fire under another generation of musicians. Some of these disciples pay homage on “I Am the Resurrection: A Tribute to John Fahey,” to be issued Tuesday (Feb. 14)) by Vanguard, eight days short of the fifth anniversary of Fahey’s death.
The album’s co-executive producer, Vanguard manager of marketing and A&R development Stephen Brower, recalls the puissant impact of Fahey’s music. “I came to John Fahey late in the game,” Brower says. “I was completely disarmed and undone by it — I didn’t really know what to make of it.” Brower thought that Vanguard, which released two of Fahey’s finest late-’60s albums, would be the ideal label to mount a tribute. “I sent out blind e-mails to people like [guitarists] Devendra Banhart, M. Ward and Glenn Jones, and 90% of the people quickly got back. M. Ward said, ‘I want to be involved, but not just as a musician.'”
Ward ultimately executive produced the collection with Brower and penned liner notes to the reissue of the Vanguard album “The Yellow Princess,” due the same day as the tribute. On “I Am the Resurrection,” only one player, Peter Case, contributes a solo acoustic performance in the Fahey manner. Many of the tracks are full-band, electric interpretations of Fahey’s compositions, with such acts as Ward, Banhart, Sufjan Stevens, Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth, Howe Gelb of Giant Sand and Pelt (which includes guitarist Jack Rose, possibly Fahey’s most gifted admirer) plumbing the guitarist’s repertoire. What’s the source of Fahey’s abiding appeal? “There’s a visceral, emotional something in the music,” Brower says. “People return to it over and over again.”