American Primitive guitarist Mark Fosson has passed away following a battle with cancer. The news was announced by his most recent label, Drag City. “All our dealings with Mark were sweet — his communications with the label were grateful and generous, and we were delighted to spend time with him in August of 2017 when he came to Chicago to play at the Million Tongues Festival,” reads a post on the Drag City website.
“Mark had already been ill, but he carried himself cheerfully, laughing easily and playing like an absolute master,” the post continues. “We’ve lost a wonderful man, and our condolences go to all those others who will miss him as well. The music he made won’t be missed, however — it remains with us, carved into time and the internet, and will continue to shine light on this world. Go ahead on, Mark – we won’t soon forget you.”
Fosson grew up in Kentucky, where he began playing guitar and banjo at an early age. He started writing songs as a teenager, and in 1976, he sent a demo to Takoma Records, the influential label founded by legendary fingerstyle guitarist John Fahey. Impressed, Fahey signed Fosson immediately and brought him out to Los Angeles to record a full album, but soon after he arrived, Takoma went bankrupt and the label folded.
Although the album didn’t end up coming out, Fahey retained ownership of the master recordings. He stayed on the West Coast, where he met songwriter Edward Tree and formed the alt-country group the Bum Steers. Over the next few decades, he worked on a number of film soundtracks and found some success collaborating with singer-songwriter Lisa O’Kane.
In 2006, the Takoma recordings finally saw the light of day when Fosson’s niece found the tapes collecting dust in his garage and sent them to Drag City, who ended up releasing them as The Lost Takoma Sessions. His career was revitalized, and that same year, Fosson released an album of full-band Americana called Jesus On A Greyhound.
Six years later, the original demos that caught Fahey’s attention were released by Tompkins Square Records under the name Digging In The Dust. Fosson continued playing and went on to release two more solo guitar albums, 2015’s kY and last year’s Solo Guitar. Revisit some of his work below.