In May of 1970, when I started learning how to play the guitar, I had no idea that an acoustic guitar, if played in a certain style, could, on it’s own, sing a song.
I discovered that this was possible thanks to John Fahey.
John Fahey (Feb.28, 1939 – Feb.22, 2001) was a fingerstyle, acoustic, steel-string guitar player. From his first album – 1959’s Blind Joe Death – and on through the other 35 studio and live albums released during his lifetime, John Fahey pioneered, popularized and perpetuated a genre of music he referred to as “American Primitive Guitar.”
In 1968, he released an album entitled The New Possibility: John Fahey’s Guitar Soli Christmas Album. There had never been an album of holiday music played in the American, Country Blues-based fingerpicking style on an acoustic, steel-stringed guitar before this one.
In later years, Fahey recounted what gave him the idea to make such a record.
“I was in the back of a record store in July and I saw all these cartons of Bing Crosby’s White Christmas albums. The clerk said it always sells out.”
In the liner notes on the original LP jacket, Fahey gives credit to 20th Century German-American theologian and Christian existentialist philosopher Paul Tillich for referring to the birth of Jesus Christ as “The New Possibility.”
“The birth of this New Possibility,” Fahey wrote, “has nothing to do with Christmas trees, presents, Santa Claus, and little to do with superstitious thoughts regarding virgin births, astrologers, bodily ascensions of virgins, etc. The New Possibility is rather the gift of reconciliation between God and man.”
Regarding the music on the album, Fahey’s liner notes explained: “The songs are, wherever possible, syncopated, not because I feel that syncopation or ‘swinging the carols’ is more in keeping ‘with the times,’ but simply because I prefer to play them the way I do.”
Even though, as Fahey told an interviewer in 1979: “There are more mistakes on this album than on any of the other 17 albums I’ve recorded,” The New Possibility proved to be one of his best selling albums.
I don’t remember when I bought my copy, but the very first time I listened to it, The New Possibility opened my eyes and ears wide. It has proved to be one of the most personally influential albums I own and one of my favorite acoustic guitar records, at Christmas and any time of the year.
Here, thanks to the depth and wonder of Youtube, is a taste.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and the best of everything in 2012 to you and yours.
Good music doesn’t get old.