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).
All four of those brilliant albums are generously represented on Fantasy's newly compiled Christmas Guitar Soli With John Fahey, a 14-song compilation of highlights from Fahey's Yuletide catalog. Scheduled for October 29 CD release, the collection provides a lovely soundtrack for the upcoming holiday season and boasts newly created cover art by Tom Weller, who designed the artwork for many of Fahey's original Takoma albums, that's done in the style of those classic sets. In addition, Fantasy will reissue The New Possibility: John Fahey's Guitar Soli Christmas Album in its original vinyl LP form.
The new CD's first five selections (the three mentioned above, plus "Auld Lang Syne" and a medley of "Hark, The Herald Angels Sing" and "O, Come All Ye Faithful") hail from the classic '68 set. "Oh Holy Night," "Carol of the Bells" (a duet with guitarist Richard Ruskin), and a medley of "Oh, Tannenbaum," "Angels We Have Heard on High," and "Jingle Bells" are taken from his 1975 follow-up LP. Moving over to the Varrick imprint, Fahey recorded "The First Noel," "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear," and "Silent Night, Holy Night" for Christmas Guitar Volume One, while "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," "The Christmas Song," and a medley of "Deck the Halls With Boughs of Holly" and "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" hail from the duet album with Robb. The compilation's 14 selections summarize Fahey's long-term commitment to finger-picking timeless Christmas melodies on his acoustic axe.
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.