1965: John Fahey - The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death

John Fahey and his guitar

“I pretty much set John up and let him play. He was all by himself for most of it. I wasn’t even around for many of the takes. I set him up and let him play. He sat there with a dog at his feet.” – Barry Hansen (a.k.a. Dr. Demento)

That quote seems to sum up the flawlessness of John Fahey’s fourth album, The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death. Anything beyond the setup of just a microphone and a guitar during these 15 tracks would seem entirely superfluous. The directness of the recording evokes a psalm-like power while also sounding (and being for that matter) effortlessly tossed off, something casually played while sitting on the porch. No matter how incredibly complex the finger picked guitar playing gets — and it does — the record never sounds like anything less than one of the warmest sets ever put to tape.

Of all the albums I truly love, Blind Joe Death always finds a place near the very top, in spite of its modest components. Though the album is completely instrumental, Fahey manages to evoke an overwhelming amount of character and personality through his guitar. From the quaint yet complex opener “Beautiful Linda Getchell” to the devotional “Saint Patrick’s Hymn” the entire album finds Fahey’s voice shining loudly through his playing. On paper an album that is literally just 15 tracks of guitar instrumentals could become bland or boring at some point, yet on tracks like “Brenda’s Blues” and “Oringa-Moraga” I still find new crevices of texture and rhythm. The album has an unprecedented staying power.

The man is heard only once on Blind Joe Death; on the fabulous “Poor Boy,” in what may now be the most famous moment on the album: the piece begins only to be interrupted by that damned barking dog; Fahey stops playing on the perfect note to draw out tension and shushes the dog. The song begins again uninterrupted. It is moments like this, these gentle tarnishes that when put next to tracks of such awe inspiring technical brilliance (the jaw-dropping “On the Sunny Side of the Ocean”) help generate the mystery and love for Fahey’s early records. There is a directness on this album that was never quite reached again. It was a time before other instruments were added or the various avant-garde recordings, back when all John Fahey needed was a guitar, a tape recorder, and a quiet room.


There’s a lot of good music out there, and it’s not all being released this year. With DeLorean, we aim to rediscover overlooked artists and genres, to listen to music historically and contextually, to underscore the fluidity of music. While we will cover reissues here, our focus will be on music that’s not being pushed by a PR firm.

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