“John Fahey was an American fingerstyle guitarist and composer who pioneered the steel-string acoustic guitar as a solo instrument. His style has been greatly influential and has been described as the foundation of American Primitivism, 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 classical, Portuguese, Brazilian, and Indian music into his œuvre.”
Fahey began collecting records from a young age, coming across artists such as Blind Blake, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Charlie Patton. He also shared a vested interest in contemporary classical artists like Charles Ives and Bela Bartok. In his words:
"I had a big background in classical music [via recordings] … I started trying to
compose. I was playing the guitar but I heard an orchestra in my head. So, I
was really composing for full orchestra… I was trying to put together some
dissonant music … but played in the fingerpicking pattern which I still use
[prewar folk and blues]. So I was trying to put those two things together into a
coherent musical language which people would understand”
"The New Age people call it Folk; the Folk people call it New Age, but it is really neither. It’s transitional. The style is derived from the country blues and string band music of the ’20s and ’30s, however much of the music is contemporary. Fahey referred to it as ‘American Primitive’ after the ‘French Primitive’ painters, meaning untutored."
Fahey recorded and self-released his album Blind Joe Death on Takoma Records in 1959. Pressing only 100 copies “using money he earned pumping gas at a local station and a loan of $300 from an Episcopal minister”. This year the album was deemed by the Library of Congress to be “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important” and added to the United States National Recording Registry.