John Fahey 10-Pack
John Fahey was the founder of his self-described style, christened American-Primitive Guitar. His sound and influence on the next generations are unmistakable. He became one of the most influential instrumental guitarists from the time he entered the music scene in the late 1950s. He played in many open tunings, generally with fairly simple chord shapes but complex picking patterns, and heavily inspired the next generation of players, most notably Leo Kottke, Jorma Kaukonen, and yours truly, among others. This package presents a variety of pieces, including some in Alternate Tunings, and many different textures and moods.
Lesson 1: Horses - Guitar Lesson
Horses is a fingerpicking instrumental by John Fahey from his 1973 album After The Ball. It is a great example of his ‘American Primitive’ style of guitar playing, using basic melodies and progressions to create compelling pieces. It is played in Open C Tuning (C-G-C-G-C-E) and uses one of his signature licks, the triplet roll.
Lesson 2: Give Me Cornbread When I’m Hungry
John Fahey was once of the most influential American guitarists from the time he entered the music scene in the late 1950s. He played in many open tunings, generally with fairly simple chord shapes but complex picking patterns, and heavily inspired the next generation of players, notably Leo Kottke, among others. In this lesson we look at Give Me Cornbread When I’m Hungry. It is played in Open G and features a few sections revolving around different chords in the key of G. The main point of this lesson is to take some of his ideas and change them around, really improvising and recreating the song every time you play it.
Lesson 3: In Christ There Is No East Or West - John Fahey Project - Guitar Lesson
Here is another 'Progressive' Lesson. We are building a fingerpicking arrangement of the old hymn In Christ There Is No East Or West, hopefully coming up with something similar to what John Fahey did on his first album, Blind Joe Death. We start with just the melody and chord progression, and the mission is to put them together in a simple, block chord style. The first two segments just define the Project and then go over the chart. By the time we are done we will take a specific look at most of the way Fahey played it over the years. This includes the simple, block chord version as well as the faster ragtime section that follows.
Part 3: An Example- This segment of In Christ There Is No East Or West shows a couple examples of playing through the melody with what I call ‘block chords’, just hitting the chord on beats 1 and 3 (half notes) of the measure. There is also a hint or two on moving forward into quarter notes in the bass.
Part 4: Double-Time- Now we head into the Double Time phase of this Project. We will be playing the bass notes as quarter notes, starting with a review of the melody and then playing it strictly in time with the bass notes. Then continuing with moving some melody notes off the beats and on to the ‘ands’ before or after the beat.
Part 5: Syncopation- At this point the song should be taking on its final shape and sound. We have syncopated some of the melody notes and this segment shows an example or two of where we are. The next phase is to dress it up with some filler notes and passing bass notes.
Part 6: Fills And Runs- We have added an attachment that shows how to play the syncopated version and this segment starts with a Play Through of that. That is followed by some examples of adding filler notes between melody notes, and a couple ways of connection the C and Am chords. The song should now be taking on a sound of its own, and played somewhat differently each time.
Part 7: John Fahey’s Version- We are now going to take a detailed look at the way John Fahey played In Christ There Is No East Or West on his first album, now available as The Legend Of Blind Joe Death. In this segment I play through the Intro and Section A as close to John’s version as possible (for me at least). There is also a little Show & Tell section looking at his early albums.
Part 8: The Intro And Single-Time Sections- This segment is a close-up breakdown of the first part of Fahey’s arrangement, Section A. It includes some hints on John’s techniques, particularly the 3-string roll, or quick arpeggio that you here in many of his tunes.
Part 9: In this segment we take a detailed look at John’s Double-Time Version. This segment starts with a short play through of that, and then we come in closer for a look at the specific moves and techniques needed to sound like Fahey. One of John’s most distinctive sounds is the triplet roll, which is covered here as well.
Part 10: At this point you should be able to play In Christ There Is No East Or West with a lot of variations every time through. This closing segment is just me playing it for fun after finishing the lesson.
Lesson 4: The Last Steam Engine Train - Guitar Lesson
The Last Steam Engine Train has been a popular, and challenging instrumental piece for guitar players for nearly 50 years now. John Fahey wrote it and recorded it in the early 1960s for his album The Dance Of Death And Other Plantation Favorites. A few years later it was rearranged and covered by Leo Kottke for his Greenhouse album. This lesson goes over Fahey’s version, paying particular attention to creating your own variations. There is also an attachment included with text taken from the tab book ‘The Best Of John Fahey’, that gives us a bit of insight into this important, if not eccentric and possibly troubled, individual who added a great deal to our musical universe.
Lesson 5: Poor Boy Long Ways From Home - Guitar Lesson
Poor Boy Long Ways From Home is a classic John Fahey tune from his earliest days, his first album Blind Joe Death, originally released in 1959. He recorded a few versions over the next few years and this lesson looks at a bit of a composite arrangement with particular attention to creating and adding your own variations. It is done in Open D Tuning (D-A-D-F#-A-D).
Lesson 6: Take A Look At That Baby
John Fahey was the founder of his self-described style, christened American-Primitive Guitar. His sound and influence on the next generations are unmistakable. Take A Look At That Baby is one of his earliest pieces, recorded for his second album, Death Chants, Breakdowns and Military Waltzes. It is a simple, ragtime progression in the key of C and not too difficult until you work on speeding it up. It uses the basic alternating bass technique but also really needs the left hand thumb wrap (fretting the 6th string with your left thumb) to be done most accurately.
Lesson 7: Steamboat Gwine 'Round De Bend
John Fahey played a few of his songs on the Hawaiian Lap Steel Guitar, a Kona Style 3 to be precise, in Open G Tuning. Steamboat Gwine 'Round De Bend was the opening tune on his 1972 album Of Rivers And Religions.
This lesson is done on my Kona from 1920 but can be done on any acoustic guitar on your lap. It is possible to do it bottleneck but there are times when you to have the lower strings played with the steel and the first string open. It would not be difficult to modify the melody a little to facilitate that. However, I do recommend giving the lap approach a try.
Lesson 8: Spanish Two-Step
Spanish Two-Step is a tune John Fahey kept in his live repertoire for his entire career. He altered the title a few times over the years, also calling it Hawaiian Two-Step, on After The Ball, and Tasmanian Two-Step on Live In Tasmania.
It is in Open G Tuning and includes the very unusual left-hand technique of raking all the strings with the index finger. It should bring a smile to your face when listening to it, and an even bigger one as you work on playing it.
Lesson 9: St. Louis Blues
St. Louis Blues, written by W.C. Handy in 1914 has been arranged and recorded by some of the most famous musicians of the last 100 years, including Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Glenn Miller, Bennie Goodman, Ella Fitzgerald, and most notably for our purposes, John Fahey.
Fahey recorded the tune multiple times with a lot of improvisation and variations. This lesson is based on his 1967 recording of Volume 1: Blind Joe Death. It can now be found on the 1996 reissue The Legend Of Blind Joe Death, which included 2 different recordings of essentially the same tunes.
The song is unusual for Blues because it has multiple sections, more like a Ragtime piece. Some of them follow the traditional 12-Bar progression but there is a 16-Bar chorus, originally done with a habanero, or tango rhythm.
This lesson presents Fahey's take on St. Louis Blues as accurately as possible, but encourages the player to make it their own. The last segment shows Neil improvising an arrangement.
Lesson 10: Poor Boy
Poor Boy is a basic blues tune that John Fahey adapted from the playing of Bukka White. It is in Open D Tuning and Fahey played this using a lap steel approach. This means his normal dreadnought guitar but on his lap with a steel tone bar, similar to the way he played his Kona Hawaiian guitar, which he usually kept in Open G. This lesson is based on the way he played it on his album The Transfiguration Of Blind Joe Death.
First we take a look at playing it using standard bottleneck technique but then address the lap steel approach as well. You do not need a solid tone bar for this, your bottleneck will do fine, you just have to work on holding it comfortably with your thumb, index, and middle fingers.