But Jones makes the song his own with circular, meditative playing, as well as with the textural accents of drummer Chris Corsano. “If people say there’s still a lot of Fahey in there, well, yes, it’s undeniable,” he admits. “I’m proud to be an apple that’s fallen off that tree. But I think that there’s enough in what I do that’s my own that I don’t need to apologize for anything.”
That’s certainly in keeping with the spirit of Fahey, a cantankerous soul who rarely said sorry with his music. “For John, there was no shying away from anything no matter how dark or negative it was,” Jones recalls. “He’d say, ‘People think blues is about sadness. It’s not about sadness, it’s about anger.’ He expressed anger in his music, and dread and fear and bitterness, but also joy and exultation.”
(Courtesy of Dust-to-Digital) - Cover art for the John Fahey box set \"Your Past Comes Back to Haunt You (The Fonotone Years 1958-1965)\" (Courtesy of Dust-to-Digital)
Jones doesn’t always detect that kind of honesty in new adherents to the Takoma School. “A lot of the players today have absorbed Fahey’s style and inspiration, but I think some are missing an important element in what he does, and that’s the emotional element,” he says. “They’ve got the ‘how’ part of playing down, but I don’t feel they’re coming to grips with the ‘why’ of playing.”
Jones will explore some of those hows and whys during his Takoma Park appearances. The visit offers him a chance to spread the gospel of Fahey in a place where he wishes more people were believers. “I hope someday, in some minor way perhaps, he’ll be celebrated [in Takoma Park] and seen as a cultural touchstone for the town,” he says. “I’m not saying there has to be a big statue in the middle of the town square, but it would be nice if he’d be recognized.”
Even if Takoma Park doesn’t often celebrate John Fahey, he often thought about Takoma Park — even decades after living there. Jones recalls a tape Fahey played for him in the ’90s, in which a low drone that producer Jim O’Rourke added under Fahey’s guitar playing got him extremely excited. When Jones asked why, he replied, “It sounds like the Takoma Park railroad plow in winter, clearing the snow off the tracks. I’ve been looking for that sound my whole life!”
Masters is a freelance writer.