There are plenty of performers who rock critics describe by using the label “primitive,” but few if any can hold a candle to the greatest American rock primitive Jad Fair.
With his wildly influential band Half Japanese or as a solo performer, Fair has constructed a prolific and extremely interesting career. He writes and records songs that display an uncomplicated emotional directness, unselfconscious (almost hokey) charm and warmth, and a genial simplicity that is beyond words. Fair’s later recordings are certainly more accessible — in some ways resembling those of another great American primitive, Jonathan Richman — but his stock-in-trade is still the ability to compose and play music without conventional command of an instrument. Although he has “played” guitar since the mid-’70s, Fair, according to past and present members of Half Japanese, still can’t name a chord, plays riffs almost by accident, never tunes his instrument, and wouldn’t have it any other way. Soon after Half Japanese released their legendary triple-LP debut 1/2 Gentlemen/Not Beasts in 1980, Fair began his concurrent solo career with Everybody Knew…But Me. He’s sporadically released fully solo efforts, including 1989’s Greater Expectations and 2011’s His Name Itself Is Music, but much of his discography outside of his main band consists of collaborations with the likes of Daniel Johnston, Yo La Tengo, R. Stevie Moore, and countless others. In addition to his work as a musician, Fair is also a visual artist who works in paint, digital graphics, and most notably paper cuttings; his art graces the cover of most of Half Japanese’s albums and nearly all his solo efforts, and he’s created artwork for recordings by the Residents, Dorothy Wiggin, and the National Jazz Trio of Scotland.