Sonic Gems: John Fahey – The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death

In 1965, American finger stylist guitar player John Fahey composed and released The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death.  This was his fifth album and the first released by a company outside of his own.   In the turbulent underpinnings of his music you will find trace elements of blues, folk and ragtime.  When you add his complex tunings and blended voicings, it’s easy to see how this unique guitarist laid the foundation of what is now seen as American primitive guitar.

As time went on, he added elements from multiple other genres as well – classical, Portuguese, Brazilian, and Indian traditions.  His music was exquisitely and explicitly Avant-Garde.  Yet, his music remains accessible to both the trained and untrained ear so much so that he is considered within the top 100 greatest guitar players of all time.  His was a lifetime of transfiguring multiple forms in simply amazing ways.

It is due to this that The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death an album based on an illusory muse who the story told is ‘taught’ Fahey to play is the classic that it simply is.  Although partially recorded on a simple but decent home recorder, this album came to receive a laudatory reception.  There in the painstaking sense of time and place located somewhere in the dark acid ridden night of his soul was a return to both front porch and humble prairie.  The highlight is said to be On the Sunny Side of the Ocean.  This is a rustic sort of roughly hewn edges turned into a guitar lover’s masterpiece.

Jaw dropping blends of country, ragtime, flamenco, Indian classical music and that something more that is uniquely John Fahey bring about a whimsical dignity of melody mixed with dissonance.  Arguably, this shouldn’t work.  And yet.. it does.


Although not for everyone, I would rate this a clear 9 out of a scale of 10.  But, I will also say that it brings back a lot of memories of a Coast Guardsman that I had the pleasure of learning a lot of fingerstyle guitar from when I was kid in Hawai’i.  I don’t know whatever came of Keith Todd, but, I owe him a debt of gratitude that I will never be able to repay.  He was like a big brother than I never had and we would spend hours while he played the likes of John Fahey and Leo Koetke perhaps better than they themselves. And that my friends.. is what memories are made of.  A Coastie who spent his days serving his country and his nights playing tunes while having the patience to put up with a wannabe rock n roller.  God bless you, Keith Todd, wherever you may be. Mahalo for the inspiration and care that only a transfigured big brother that I never had could be.

Enjoy this one you all!

About alohapromisesforever

Writer, poet, musician, surfer, father of two princesses.
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