Turtle sex, chiropractic death, and peyote under the pillow: a year-by-year account of American primitive guitar
July 13, 2006 7:32 PM   Subscribe

...Record collectors are typically thought of as irascible loners, but in the Washington of the ’50s and early ’60s, there existed a group of scruffy young blues and folk fans who could’ve given the Illuminati a run for their all-seeing eyes. They thought of themselves as the guardians of a tradition the rest of the world had either forgotten or misinterpreted. They adopted fake names. They invented strange mythologies. They hatched plans to bring their favorite historical figures back from the dead--or at least back from the commercial oblivion to which the music biz had consigned them. But most of all, they inspired admiration and awe. Though they never used the term themselves, this bunch of vintage-78 obsessives was known by others as the East Coast Blues Mafia.
The Thong Club
via FaheyGuitarPlayers

posted by y2karl (20 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Previously on MetaFilter: John Fahey - American Primitive Guitar

And there were videos of him playing The Death Of the Clayton Peacock and Poor Boy on YouTube to which I thought to link--along with the requisite tabs from JohnFahey.com --but as they were from a Vastapol concert video of him, they got yanked 'cause of copyright. Ah, well... You snooze, you lose, and avoid moral quandaries in the process.
posted by y2karl at 7:40 PM on July 13, 2006

I love Fahey and all, but man-oh-man has this been a bad summer for City Paper lead stories....
posted by peeedro at 7:52 PM on July 13, 2006

I am surprised Al Wilson or Henry Vestine did not get mentions in the article as they were. to the best of my knowledge, members in long standing of the East Coast Blues Mafia as well. But, then again, American Primitive Guitar is the focus.
posted by y2karl at 8:00 PM on July 13, 2006

Oh, and Bill Barth was another member as well.
See also Confessions of a Psychedelic Carpetbagger
posted by y2karl at 8:05 PM on July 13, 2006

very interesting
posted by caddis at 10:11 PM on July 13, 2006

78 record collectors are very sociopathic types - Robert Crumb has drawn a lot of amazing stuff based on his experience with collectors. I don't know what it is about gramophone collecting that brings out such extreme behavior. Once, a member of my band started going out with a 78 collector - a guy who had worked in the Library of Congress - who began coveting my small collection of 78s (klezmer stuff collected around east Euope.) Pretty soon they were actually plotting a sneaky break-in of my flat to steal off my records. When I pointed out that this kind of behavior was not only illegal but supremely weird and sick, their response was that they only wanted to liberate the old records for others to hear (on their private cassette only label, of course.)

Oh. One band member replaced. Much happier now.

Fahey was an amazing talent, but also a major train wreck. When he played London (Albert Hall, I believe) in the early 90's as part of his "rediscovery" he came out on stage, played half a song, and then announced to the audience that he had to go to the bathroom, and walked off for twenty minutes.
posted by zaelic at 1:22 AM on July 14, 2006

What a fascinating, disjointed, poetic tale. Here is the NPR item mentioned towards the end. Thanks, y2karl.
posted by persona non grata at 1:35 AM on July 14, 2006


Vanguard Records releases I Am the Resurrection: A Tribute to John Fahey. Though Pelt is one of the contributors, Rose thinks that the disc “is a real piece of crap. I don’t see what Sufjan Stevens, Devendra Banhart, Currituck Co., or M. Ward have to do with his legacy.” The tribute, he says, “should have featured artists who are “inquisitive about music…not the rehashed mid-’70s soft rock and whiny singer-songwriters that seem to dominate the current musical landscape.”
posted by Jeff_Larson at 5:05 AM on July 14, 2006

In 1959, Fahey went to the Frederick, Md., home of Joe Bussard, another collector who ran his own label, Fonotone. There, singing and playing into a single microphone, he recorded some tracks under the bluesy pseudonym of Blind Thomas. Bussard recalls that the session “was recorded between 2 and 4 a.m.—it took him that time to get a little loose, get the booze in him.
posted by wheelieman at 5:25 AM on July 14, 2006

So, 60's American Blues avant-garde coterie?
posted by mrmojoflying at 5:41 AM on July 14, 2006

Interesting that this group included Fahey, Wilson, & Vestine, three men who I always thought had a much lighter and nuanced touch with the blues than their west coast and Brit contemporaries.
posted by jonmc at 6:09 AM on July 14, 2006

Wow. What a story. I have an LP of Blind Joe Death and knew the bare bones of Fahey's story (probably thanks to the earlier Fahey post), but... I had no idea. So much weirdness in there (and stray name-checks like Ezra Pound, of all people); I particularly liked this:
Director Michelangelo Antonioni flies Fahey to Rome to record some music for a love scene in his film Zabriskie Point. Fed up with the “orgy scenes” and Antonioni’s anti-Americanism, Fahey punches the filmmaker, knocking him out.
Thanks, y2karl!
posted by languagehat at 6:31 AM on July 14, 2006

At leat this lot were, as they say, about the music, man. I've seen Northern Soul collectors drop serious cash (hundreds, thousands) on 7"s without having heard the songs, and, quite possibly, with no intention of playing them - that's when collecting music gets nutty, when it's about the rare object over the music.
posted by jack_mo at 6:34 AM on July 14, 2006

(of course, it's also nice that many of these vinyl junkies are transferring a lot of these treasures to digital formats so that financially challenged record loons like me get to hear the rare treasures through completely legal means)
posted by jonmc at 6:36 AM on July 14, 2006

Great post, I love this sort of thing.
posted by Falconetti at 7:30 AM on July 14, 2006

When I was looking for for the source of those YouTube video clips of Fahey in concert in 1969, I came across American Primitive--or is that post-American Primitive ?-- guitarist Nick Schillace's master's thesis on John Fahey.
posted by y2karl at 8:30 AM on July 14, 2006

78 record collectors are very sociopathic types

Uh, I think your scientific sampling may be a little small for such a generalization. I personally know at least two counterexamples (myself not included) who are no more sociopathic than... say... you.
posted by soyjoy at 9:00 AM on July 14, 2006

If you got the 78 (and cylinder) jones in a digital era, you can always go to WFMU for the Antique Phonograph Music Program. Actually played on old phonographs with the mic down in the horn. Pure geekery audio bliss.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 10:58 AM on July 14, 2006

From The Persecutions & Resurrections of Blind Joe Death(revised), here's a bit more on John Fahey and Michaelangelo Antonioni:
...Still, he is plagued with something called Restless Leg Disorder, which causes long periods of involuntary muscle contractions, as well as the persistent chronic insomnia that made him one of the first people to receive a prescription for Quaaludes when they were introduced in the '60's. Fahey had just begun to take his Quaaludes when the Italian director, Michaelangelo Antonioni, flew him over to Rome to record music for the soundtrack of Zabriskie Point.

Antonioni's conceptual sequel to Blow-Up is an Italian leftist's goofball cinematic view of late '60s American counterculture. It features a long sequence with nude couples making love in the desert, for which Antonioni wanted Fahey to do the music. When Fahey arrived in Rome, Antonioni showed him the segment in a screening room. "Antonioni says, 'What I want you to do is to compose some music that will go along with the porno scene.' I kept saying, 'Yes, sir.' Then he starts this, 'Now, John. This is young love. Young love.' I mean, that's young love? All these bodies? 'Young love. But John, it's in the desert, where's there's death. But it's young love.' He kept going, 'Young Love/Death' faster and faster. I was sure I was talking to a madman. I'm still sure I was.

"So I experimented. I had instrumentalists come in and told them just to play whatever they felt like. They had to pretend to understand what I was talking about, especially if Antonioni came in the room. That was fun. They were very cooperative. I came up with some sections of music that sounded more like death than young love. It was actually pretty ominous. I played it for Michaelangelo and he thought it was great. So he took me out to dinner at this really fancy restaurant and started telling me how horrible the United States was. We were drinking a lot of wine and I don't remember which one of us started cussing. It started real fast and ended in a fistfight. You have no idea how much that guy hates the United States. What a jerk. I did like 20-25 minutes, but they only used about two minutes. Somebody's driving along in the car and the announcer says, 'And now some John Fahey.' And that's it -- young love and death."
And here, from Chapter 3 of Nick Shillace's master's thesis linked above, here's John Fahey on Al Wilson:
He [Wilson] came to see me. I had two records out at the time, so he asked me for a guitar lesson, right ? So he comes over to my house and he's got books, you know, everything I'd written and transcribed and he can play everything except for a few short passages the he wanted to make sure he had right. The guy blew my mind, you know, he knew so much about music.
posted by y2karl at 1:14 PM on July 14, 2006

Illustrated Takoma Records Discography including album cover gallery from Stefan Wirz's American Music.
posted by y2karl at 7:23 AM on July 15, 2006

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