100 Greatest Guitarists: David Fricke's Picks

John Fahey
Michael Ochs Archive/Getty35/100

35. John Fahey

John Fahey created a new, enduring vocabulary for acoustic solo guitar — connecting the roots and branches of folk and blues to Indian raga and the advanced harmonies of modern composers such as Charles Ives and Béla Bartók — on an extraordinary run of albums in the 1960s, released on his own Takoma label. Fahey knew American pioneer song in academic detail; he wrote his UCLA master's thesis on blues-man Charley Patton. Fahey was also a precise fingerpicker addicted to the mystery of the blues as well as the music, a passion reflected in apocryphal album titles such as The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death, from 1967. Fahey endured illness and poverty in the 1990s, but re-emerged to a new wave of acclaim from bands such as Sonic Youth. He continued touring and recording — often on electric guitar — until his death in 2001.

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