A cousin of mine snorted coke with John Fahey back when he booked the Maryland guitar picker to play at his college. They did a line off Fahey’s guitar. That’s my Fahey story.
The archival experts at Dust-to-Digital have been collecting Fahey stories and unreleased recordings for years now. According to the label’s founder Lance Ledbetter, it may be releasing its long-awaited Fahey box in August.
This is big news for Fahey diehards. Ledbetter says the set will span five CDs and include a massive booklet containing dozens of unreleased photographs. The set has been years in the making; its production has been as complex and dramatic as Fahey’s approach to an old-timey spiritual.
“We’ve been going on it for about almost four years, three years, over three years,” Ledbetter says from his Dust-to-Digital headquarters in Atlanta. “Last year, we merged our project with Revenant Records [the label Fahey started]. We’re going to do it as a joint production.”
The Fahey set comprises his earliest work—-recordings he made before ’63, ’64. Some were recorded on 78 acetate in renown Maryland collector Joe Bussard‘s basement. [If you haven’t read our cover story on Bussard, please do]. Ledbetter has been working with Bussard and the Fahey estate on the set [the guitarist died in 2001]. He has also been working with Glenn Jones, a one-time collaborator with the late guitarist, and Malcolm Kirton, a Fahey scholar based in England.
“It’s really a group effort,” Ledbetter explains. “Malcolm’s really the one who is combining everything, merging everything into a document. There’s sort of a network of Fahey scholars that are working on this. There’s one researcher in Italy, one in Australia…These men have known each other for decades.”
Ledbetter says he does not regret the amount of time he’s put into the Fahey box:
“To me what John Fahey represents is a little bit like what Harry Smith represents to old music. The old-time records that were made in the 20s and 30s, everyone sees Harry Smith as this gateway. For me, and for a lot of people, John Fahey is in that same category….When he first started making these records, he was a teenager….At the same time, from a music historian standpoint, knowing what John Fahey became just to hear him working it out on these recordings, especially the early ones, you learn a lot where his mind was… and the later material is right there with some of his great work. It’s John where he’s been playing for four, five hours everyday.”
Ledbetter says the set shows how Fahey developed as a guitar player. “From a musical historian standpoint, people need to hear it,” he adds, “to understand what drove John in the beginning.”
To get you pumped about the box set, please read our own account of Fahey’s early years.