Now we are some years into the twenty-first century, John Fahey's guitar playing continues to have a reputation that he did not enjoy for most of his life. His route was not the same as most other musicians and was characterised by a slow-burn beginning, a reasonably prolific middle and a less-than-perfect ending when he was dogged by ill-health and personal problems. There is a wealth of his album work to discover in the Ace catalogue and for many the best starting point would be this album which illustrates the development of his early work. We use the word 'development' advisedly, as the material here is not one album, but actually an amalgamation of three issues of some of the same material spanning the years 1959 to 1967. It is a complicated story that is unpicked carefully in Glenn Jones' extensive explanatory notes and is quickly complicated by the addition of the original album issue notes that Fahey put together with no little mischievous intent. The musical content from the three separate album issues shows Fahey's fast development in his playing abilities and has been wisely chosen and intermixed to bring the best experience to the listener.
Born in 1939, John Fahey was a record collector who linked, at around age twenty, with some like-minded friends to unearth and trade vintage blues, hillbilly, gospel and jazz 78s. Together they soaked up not just the recorded music, but also radio exposure, articles and the assorted ephemera so valued by the hardcore collector. As part of the group there was an amateur record label called Fonotone, and it was here that Fahey's very first recordings emerged in 1958 pressed up in tiny quantities, with some using the pseudonym of Blind Thomas. The following year John used his own savings to press 100 copies of his first full album, with one side under his own name and the other under the somewhat unlikely new moniker of Blind Joe Death, purporting to be a rarely seen elderly blues player. Several people were taken in, though more saw through the ruse. Over the next three years Fahey sold, gave away, or secreted copies of the record in thrift store bins for oddball collectors to discover amongst the earlier fifties throw-outs. The record, which was one of the very first guitar instrumental albums became a slow burn, a very slow burn, but as Fahey later recalled, "I was not in a hurry. I didn't bother people at existing record companies. They wouldn't understand." He was correct in this assessment as he sent one to Sam Charters at Vanguard who tossed it aside after one playing, although he did eventually make the album “Requia” with John in 1967.
Fahey remained optimistic, " I thought..I knew..that some of my songs were great. Sooner or later my stuff would get in the right hands and I would have a career." He was right, as the mix of original material and numbers like ‘St. Louis Blues’ and ‘John Henry’ is still regarded by many as his finest work.