Even before he began recording his solo guitar music, Tinh Mahoney had led an eventful life. He was born in the seacoast town of Phan Thiet, Vietnam, and saw his share of misery in the "American War." His mother, a propaganda officer for the South Vietnamese government, married an American official, and at war's end the family moved to Islamabad, Pakistan, then to Manila, Philippines, before Tinh -- he uses only the single name, which is pronounced "Dun" -- settled in Independence, Oregon.
To hear Tinh tell it, his life truly changed the day he met legendary acoustic guitarist John Fahey at Willamette University. The two formed a close friendship, and the "American primitive" steel-string master encouraged Tinh to record a CD of impressions of his homeland, My Vietnamese Suite (1986), which Fahey produced. Tinh, in turn, produced Fahey's I Remember Blind Joe Death, a follow-up to the guitarist's legendary Takoma recordings of the '60s. Fahey died in 2001, but his musical mentoring is evident in Tinh's evocative East Wind Records release, Acoustic Rain, on which Tinh pays complex autobiographical tribute to Vietnam and the soldiers who fought there, as well as to his late friend. "I recreate feelings that I have," Tinh said recently from his Oregon home. "I just want to tell the story. Acoustic Rain is really the second part of My Vietnamese Suite, and it's more in your face." Tinh posed for the cover photo in an army helmet, clutching a guitar. "I got the idea for the photo from my song 'Home/Auld Lang Syne,' " said Tinh. "The soldier needs his music. It's the only thing that keeps him sane."
When he isn't touring or recording, Tinh runs a landscaping business from his 27-acre farm, where he's planted tropical fruit trees to remind him of his boyhood. He went back for a visit five years ago ("Vietnam really needs some paint"), but now talks about the war years mostly at his college gigs, for students who don't know much history. "I want to open that little window in their ears." Tinh performs at La Peña (3105 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, 510-849-2568), Thursday, June 13 at 7:30 p.m.
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