Over the past three decades, Bill Fay was, as he refers to it now, “deleted.” His albums went out-of-print; his music was forgotten by the very few who knew it in the first place, and his legacy seemed destined for the 25-cent bargain bin.
It’s a good narrative, and it’s mostly true. One group, though, never forgot Fay. Like-minded musicians twenty years his junior carried the torch throughout his absence with covers and shout-outs. Jeff Tweedy and Wilco led the pack, covering “Be Not so Fearful” in concert regularly over the years, even once dragging the reclusive Fay himself onstage. Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus titled a song “Bill Fay” (though he later changed it to “Share the Red”).
Thanks in part to his continued champions, Fay returns today with his first album in 30 years (not the widely-reported 40, as he clarified to SPIN). The recognition and acclaim that eluded him in his prime arrived in full force, with cultural institutions like NPR Weekend Edition and The Guardian hailing his return like a long-lost icon.
To celebrate Fay’s return, we put together a set of covers from those folks who championed Fay in the dark years leading up to his surprising second wind.
MP3: Okkervil River – Plan D (Bill Fay cover)
Last year, Okkervil River put out a free Golden Opportunities EP tackling outsider/forgotten songwriters. Their version of “Plan D” layers organ, sax, and distortion among this heavenly spiritual.
MP3: Current 93 – Time of the Last Persecution (Bill Fay cover)
British “apocalyptic folk” trio Current 93 opened their live album And When Rome Falls with this fan-favorite cover. The title track of a 1971 album, “Time of the Last Persecution” goes from gentle folk-rock to dark cabaret.
MP3: Mason Brothers – I Hear You Calling (Bill Fay cover)
Tracing their lineage to 1970s British folk, the Virginia-based Mason Brothers make a crowd-pleasing ballad from “I Hear You Calling.”
MP3: Jim O’Rourke – Pictures of Adolf Again (Bill Fay cover)
Having covered both the Spice Girls and Burt Bacharach (a full album’s worth), Jim O’Rourke finds his covers all over the map. For a similar left-of-center experimenter though, Bill Fay may be more a kindred soul that most.