The first "folk" guitarist I got really into was John Fahey and his curious Takoma albums. Fahey's music combined blues, country, classical, avant-garde and finger-pickin' roots styles and other international folk musics all together. From dissonant to haunting, country blues to modal epics, it covered a lot worth hearing. Takoma was his label, started with money saved from his gas-pumping gig and it went on to be a very influential independent label, releasing many classics not only by Fahey, but also records by Bukka White, Robbie Basho, Leo Kottke, Canned Heat, Charlie Nothing, Bola Sete, George Winston and others.
He was from Washington DC (and it's Takoma Park suburb) and started learning piano from his mother. Bill Monroe's music was inspirational to him, as was Blind Willie Johnson's. He picked up guitar at 13 and started collecting 78s of country, blues & bluegrass. He was also digging into contemporary classical. In '58 he cut some sides as Blind Thomas. He put out his first self-produced Takoma album, Blind Joe Death, in '59. He released several albums of far-reaching quality and diversity of styles for Takoma and Vanguard. In the late '60s he started experimenting with tape samples and ambient sounds. He also collaborated with the Red Krayola in '67. He continued recording and running Takoma through the '70s. Health, as well as personal problems really brought him down. By the time the '90s blew in, he was on the streets of Oregon and in deep poverty.
A resurgence of interest in his work came and he played to a new generation of fans. He recovered enough to collaborate with noise artists and do some touring. He played with Cul de Sac and spent a lot of time writing & painting. Although he sold Takoma in the late '70s he later founded Revenant in '95, which released material by Charley Patton, Dock Boggs, Cecil Taylor, Derek Bailey and others. He passed in winter 2001, myself hearing about it from that of a newspaper in a Boston supermarket at midnight. His X-mas albums are still perennially popular and he is considered the father of the American Primitive style of guitar.
Dr Demento said that Fahey "was the first to demonstrate that the finger-picking techniques of traditional country and blues steel-string guitar could be used to express a world of non-traditional musical ideas."
Listen to this early classic by the man, 1965's The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death:
The very first Fahey album I ever had was The Yellow Princess. A great album all the way through, I always got a little chuckle out of this diddie:
The man in action:
And if you are like me, then you also want to hear him and Terry Robb in duo playing Clapton's "Layla":