In Search of Blind Joe Death

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edited from http://www.theglobeandmail.com:

“As a young man, he was in the Mississippi Delta looking for Skip James and Bukka White, and then, later, people went to Oregon looking for him. And there he was.”

Greil Marcus’s old, weird America had a second generation, one of its children being John Fahey, the “original American primitive,” and an untutored, finger-style adventurer on the steel-stringed acoustic guitar.

He is the subject of In Search of Blind Joe Death: The Saga of John Fahey, a new documentary by James Cullingham.

As a musicologist, Fahey tracked down folk-blues pioneers Bukka White and Skip James, and helped revive their careers during the great American folk-blues boom in the 1960s. His essays on those sojourns into the Mississippi Delta were thoroughly journalistic, if somewhat fanciful.

In 1964, as one of the inaugural graduates of the University of California’s folklore curriculum, Fahey‘s master’s thesis was on the great country-blues artist Charlie Patton. In his own (mostly instrumental) music, he took the forms of Patton and others and developed his own melodies while introducing resonant syncopation, Eastern meditativeness and, later, found sounds.

What’s fascinating about Fahey is that he himself became the same source of intrigue as his folk-blues heroes. After a successful career of recording and touring, he wound up homeless in the 1990s in the Pacific Northwest. “As a young man, he was in the Mississippi Delta looking for James and White,” says Cullingham. “And then, later, people went to Oregon looking for him. And there he was.”

 

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