Guitarist John Fahey’s concept of Christmas music was a little different from the norm.
The New Possibility: John Fahey’s Guitar Soli Christmas Album, the acoustic guitarist’s visionary 1968 set, was a scintillating collection of solo steel-string adaptations of beloved traditional Yuletide melodies (“Joy to the World,” “We Three Kings of Orient Are,” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”). It reportedly sold more than 100,000 copies on Fahey’s own Takoma label, tabbing it as his best-selling album, and inspired several more memorable holiday sets from the guitarist: Christmas With John Fahey Vol. II (1975, also on Takoma), Christmas Guitar Volume One (1982, on the Varrick label), and Popular Songs of Christmas & New Year’s, a duet collection with fellow guitarist Terry Robb (1983, on Varrick).
Born February 28, 1939 in Washington, D.C., Fahey was brought up from age six in suburban Takoma Park, Maryland (inspiring the name of his future label). Blending country, bluegrass, and blues into a groundbreaking guitar technique that also incorporated classical influences (a hybrid later termed American Primitivism), Fahey first recorded in 1958 and released his debut album (which introduced his alter ego of Blind Joe Death) the next year on his fledgling Takoma imprint. Only 100 copies were pressed initially. In 1963, Fahey and fellow record collector ED Denson tracked down pre-war blues legend Bukka White, recording him anew for Takoma and relaunching White’s career. Fahey released his own Takoma encore set, Death Chants Breakdowns and Military Waltzes, during this same period.
While not releasing all of his subsequent albums on Takoma, Fahey continued to record prolifically for the label that he founded into the early 1980s. He weathered a bout with ill health and lived in poverty for a time, but made a heartwarming comeback during the ‘90s. Fahey died February 22, 2001 following a coronary bypass operation.
The concept of playing holiday classics on acoustic steel-string guitar was unheard of until Fahey explored the tantalizing possibility. Christmas Guitar Soli With John Fahey collects the best of his Yuletide performances on one warmly inspiring collection.