Sunday, March 28, 2010

John Fahey: In Christ There Is No East Or West

Although a name not generally known by the majority of Americans, John Fahey (AKA Blind Joe Death) was a guitar instrumentalist from Takoma Park, Maryland and founder of Takoma Records. John recorded his first album in 1959 as a series of 78s that he gave away, sneaked into used record bins at Goodwill, and placed into the blues section of record stores. Although he personally received no money from the sales at Goodwill and the record stores, he did this in an effort to get his name out among the public.

After completing his Bachelor’s degree in philosophy and religion at American University, he traveled west and studied philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley. Disillusioned with the program, he later transferred to UCLA where he finished a Master’s degree in folklore. His thesis on American blues legend Charley Patton was later published.

During his time in Los Angeles, he began re-recording his 1959 album and in 1967, he re-released “Volume 1: Blind Joe Death” which included a mixture of the 1959 originals and 1964 re-recordings of his debut album. Although never to reach popular acclaim, Rolling Stone placed him at #35 on the list of the top 100 guitarists of all time. Fahey died in 2001 of complications from a sextuple bypass operation. This occurred six days before what would have been his 62nd birthday.

His instrumental of the Episcopal hymn, “In Christ There Is No East or West,” uses the American arrangement that was adapted from an African American spiritual by Harry Thacker Burleigh. Burleigh was one of the founding members of ASCAP and was elected to its board of directors in 1941. The English version of the song utilized “St. Peter” – a 1836 tune composted by Alexander Reinagle. William Dunkerley penned the lyrics in 1908. As noted in the video, Fahey plays this song in standard tuning.

In Christ there is no East or West,
in him no South or North,
but one great fellowship of love
throughout the whole wide earth.

In him shall true hearts everywhere
their high communion find,
his service is the golden cord
close-binding all mankind.

Join hands, disciples of the faith,
whate'er your race may be!
Who serves my Father as a son
is surely kin to me.

In Christ now meet both East and West,
in him meet South and North,
all Christly souls are one in him,
throughout the whole wide earth.

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