John Fahey Albums Ranked

John Aloysius Fahey (February 28, 1939 – February 22, 2001) was an American fingerstyle guitarist and composer who played the steel-string acoustic guitar as a solo instrument. His style has been enormously influential and has been described as the foundation of the genre of American primitive guitar, a term borrowed from painting and referring mainly to the self-taught nature of the music and its minimalist style. Fahey borrowed from the folk and blues traditions in American roots music, having compiled many forgotten early recordings in these genres. He would later incorporate 20th-century classical, Portuguese, Brazilian, and Indian influences into his work. Fahey spent many of his later years in poverty and poor health, but enjoyed a minor career resurgence in the late 1990s, with a turn towards the avant-garde. He also created a series of abstract paintings in his final years. Fahey died in 2001 from complications from heart surgery. In 2003, he was ranked 35th on Rolling Stone magazine’s “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time” list. Here are all of John Fahey’s albums ranked.

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10. Volume 6: Days Have Gone By, 1967

John Fahey – Volume 6 / Days Have Gone By (2015, 180 Gram, Vinyl) - Discogs

“Excellent for solitary, wee hours listening, where you’re not sure if that distant rumble of thunder came from out your window or out your speaker. Love the guitar, love the lo-fi recording, love the atmospheric noises of trains and creatures and thunderstorms. If you like that sort of ambiance, check out Songs From the Black Mountain Music Project. While not on the same level of excellence as Fahey’s work, you’ll feel at home listening to it (or, in another room of the same home).”

9. The Yellow Princess, 1968

John Fahey – The Yellow Princess (2010, Vinyl) - Discogs

“More sublime acoustic guitar playing from Fahey, which kind of goes without saying. But here you also have instances of Fahey backed with a band (including members of spirit ) and some avant-garde found sound collages such as “singing bridge of Memphis Tennessee”. The high point for me is the sprawling “Irish setter” though, which is pretty awesome.”

8. America, 1971

John Fahey – America (2009, Vinyl) - Discogs

“The opening track perfectly encapsulates the beauty of a slightly-detuned guitar. Equal parts methodical and carefree. The second track is an unsettling jaunt through insanity that evokes the image of a disfigured old man, tired and drunk, dancing alone at an older western saloon. The third is an 18-minute epic that spans the full emotional spectrum of the genre. At some points John ruminates on angular chords almost in an improvisational way, at other points a theme emerges as the ball starts rolling down the hill, and at its most meditative we’re lying in the wheat field, staring up at the sky with an empty head.”

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7. Requia, 1967


“Fahey’s best album. I’d been led to believe that the sound collage was difficult listening, but it’s actually remarkably pleasant and accessible as far as tape music goes, replacing the often aggressive cutting and splicing with a thick atmosphere that goes a long way towards putting forward the vibe of the blues. Fahey’s playing is better than ever as well- it all works to create a perfect record. Massive stuff.”

6. The Great Santa Barbara Oil Slick, 2004

John Fahey: The Great Santa Barbara Oil Slick Album Review | Pitchfork

“This album is the perfect, and I really mean perfect, balance between simplicity and grandeur. And the fact that it is live, helps emphasizing that unique aspect of how humane this feels and yet humanly impossible. A man with an acoustic guitar, he introduces every tune with stutter and even forgets some of the names, gets some others mixed up. He incarnates the image of a simple man but isn’t afraid to show the utter sublimity and beauty of the music being played. It’s sublime like the galaxy and outer space and simply beautiful like humanity and nature”

5. The Dance Of Death & Other Plantation Favorites, 1965

John Fahey - Dance Of Death & Other Plantation Favorites - Music

“While not the best introduction to Fahey, this is an amazing work of his that should be listened to. “On the Banks of the Owchita” is an example of him already exploring international music and “What the Sun Said” is possibly the finest example of folk-sound collage.”

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4. Death Chants, Break Downs & Military Waltzes, 1964

FAHEY, JOHN - Death Chants Breakdowns & Military Waltzes - Music

“The mood here is relaxed and contented, not restless and uneasy as in so many of John Fahey’s later recordings. The atmospheric lo-fi production gives the feeling of listening to the guitarist rehearse in the next room over.”

3. Blind Joe Death, 1959

John Peel Archive: John Fahey - Blind Joe Death

“An incredible array of finger picking from Mr. Fahey, and even though this cd contains the remains of his first ever album it still has many of his best known pieces. As an added bonus this also contains versions from Fahey’s late ’60s remake of this album for one shining tribute to the one and only Blind Joe Death.”

2. The Transfiguration Of Blind Joe Death, 1965

John Fahey - The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death - Music

“Tremendously atmospheric acoustic earthy folk-blues – unaccompanied and enthralling. I stood on a tall bridge over a fast river when I first heard this – and saw the fading light dancing on the busy water and it all got astoundingly serious. I get the feeling I’ll be listening to this album for the rest of my life.”

1. Fare Forward Voyagers (Soldier’s Choice), 1973

John Fahey – Fare Forward Voyagers (Soldier's Choice) (2007, CD) - Discogs

“This is rich solo guitar music that does not really belong to any tradition. It opens up a world that is dangerous and wild, but at the same time, beautiful and majestic. A world with a promise for great things. Now is that world inside or outside? Can’t say, but I am sure that this great American music will surprise those who think that American music is just country and blues (and hip-hop).”