Next year, Chicago Review Press will publish Dance of Death: The Life Of John Fahey–American Guitarist, the first definitive biography of D.C.-born American Primitive guitarist John Fahey. Steve Lowenthal, founder of Swingset magazine and Plastic Records, is writing the book for publication in June 2014.
While it’s the first proper biography of the late guitar master, Dance of Death is far from the first account of Fahey’s life. Before his death following heart surgery in 2001, Fahey enjoyed moderate commercial success from the 1960s to the 1980s, earning an income from tours and his record label, Takoma Records. But he didn’t have much of a business sensibility, and he sold the label to Chrysalis in the 1970s. As Fahey grew older, his health suffered and he struggled with alcoholism; he lost his home, divorced his third wife, and began living in motel rooms, occasionally resorting to pawning his guitar to pay the rent. But a 1994 Spin magazine profile by Byron Coley renewed interest in Fahey, and he became a popular subject of analysis in the music media—-though he chafed at some critics’ mischaracterizations of his music as folk, or any associations between him and the hippie movement, which he openly detested.
Fahey also wrote some of his own books: the posthumously published Vampire Vultures and a collection of essays, How Bluegrass Destroyed My Life. Last year brought the release of a Fahey biopic, In Search of Blind Joe Death: The Saga of John Fahey. In 2011, Dust-to-Digital released a box set of Fahey’s early recordings, Your Past Comes Back to Haunt You (The Fonotone Years 1958-1965); another box set, The Transcendental Waterfall: Guitar Excursions 1962-1967, followed in 2012.
Lowenthal declined to offer details until closer to the book’s publication date, but he writes in an email that the work is five years in the making.