John Fahey was the maverick genius of the acoustic guitar, but that’s only part of it. As another classic reissue appears, Kris Needs tries to unravel the Great Koonaklaster’s complex story and nightmare discography.

John Fahey is to the steel-string acoustic guitar what Chuck Berry was to rock’n’roll, what the Sex Pistols and The Clash were to punk and what Robert Johnson was to the blues,” said a 1992 CMJ New Music Report. The phrase ‘cult figure’ could have been invented for Fahey, who lobbed early bombs in America’s quiet revolution and was antifolk before the term existed.

Creatively, he was up there with other one-off maverick geniuses like Buckley and Beefheart, while his influence parallels Hendrix in the way he changed people’s thinking about the guitar. Fahey just didn’t say it so loudly, as he threw together wildly diverse musical strains from a world that time seemed to be forgetting, often inventing new ones in the process. Like Hendrix, Fahey appeared in a 60s starburst, then fought to realise his creative visions, while battling personal problems and retro-clamouring audiences, before death brought iconic status. “Perhaps Van Gogh would’ve sounded like this had he been given a guitar instead of a palette,” said one sleevenote.

Fahey’s labyrinthine catalogue spans nearly 50 years and is a maze of aliases, re-recordings, reissues and limited pressings. The quintessential record collectors’ nightmare, so complicated that a group of devotees set up the International …

by Kris Needs
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