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Voice of the Turtle

I’m sitting here at work listening to the 4 Men with Beards reissue of John Fahey’s Legendary 1968 album Voice of the Turtle and it reminded me of the time I was fortunate to see him play live at the Empty Bottle here in Chicago. This was 2000/2001 or so and Fahey had been scheduled to play the Bottle in the summer or fall but he had to postpone due to health problems. The show was rescheduled for later that winter and I’m not sure if the show was poorly advertised or if it was because it was so goddamned cold but there was barely anybody there, maybe 30 or 40 people tops. Fahey was there with his wife and I remember that he was wearing a giant white t-shirt that appeared to be covered with food stains from multiple meals. I was excited when I noticed a lone acoustic guitar on the stage because at that time and for the few years previous he had been making electric guitar records and touring in that style. Fahey trudged up the stairs onto the stage and starting plucking away at his strings and tuning his guitar in a way that sounded pretty random and kind of bad to be honest. After about 15 minutes of listening to him minutely tweaking the tuning, it started to become quite clear that he had just been warming up and now he was ready to go. Surrounding his guitar with his hulking frame, he was now on a roll, attacking the instrument with a deftness that didn’t seem possible for such a big man. He could still play incredibly fast and he did for some time, seemingly improvising the whole time. I don’t remember him really ever stopping, he just played and played for 45 minutes or so. I had a few too many beers and I seem to remember spending the last 15 minutes or so of Fahey’s set drunkenly chatting with Don Cab drummer Damon Che about Fahey’s amazing playing instead of just paying attention, something I felt rather guilty about (and still do) when I found out about his passing just a few short months later. It still seems strange to me that so few people were there to see the legendary guitarist, who knows why that was, but I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to see one of John Fahey’s last ever live concerts.

– Matt Jencik (new buyer)