An Introduction

When I started posting here, it was merely with the intention of putting up pictures of the various labels used on Fahey albums, particularly those released through his own Takoma label, to help date copies, identify earliest pressings and provide a chronological perspective on John's work. But already there's a broadening of objectives with the offer of other material that will be of interest to enthusiasts rather than 'collectors'. It means that the blog title is a little outdated now, but I've got used to it so it's staying!

I must give the International Fahey Committee (henceforth the IFC) an acknowledgement here, with their very comprehensive and well researched information on the website. It is by far the best Fahey site, and I have put up a couple of links to them on the right. At one point, they hypothesize a discussion in a pub where people debate different theories as to the finer points of Fahey's records, and my posts here will simply be intended to be part of that general ongoing discussion (and with the odd pint or two as well, hopefully). My particular thanks to Paul, Malcolm and David who have given both encouragement and material for posting here. And also to Glenn Jones who has put considerable time into producing some wonderful photographs, and to everyone who have donated material, all of whom are listed for contributions in the sidebar.

Since there is a little confusion, I should make clear that when I say 'Takoma' I am referring to the independent US label that existed from 1959 to 1978; not to companies that reissued material nor those that held any foreign rights to Takoma recordings. Chrysalis and Allegiance pressings are identified as such, unless the record concerned was given its original release by them.

To keep things fairly straightforward, recent posts are now shown in sequence below. You'll find older articles, downloads, and the label posts through the links on the right.

The downloads posted here are of material that is not in commercial circulation, and there seems no obvious likelihood that it will become so. It is not clear who now holds the copyright for John's unreleased work. I hope that people will buy legitimate releases where John's work remains available (and much of it does, of course), and that someone will take on the task of releasing all the other surviving recordings. If you own the rights to any material here, and wish it to be taken down, please email me and I shall of course be happy to do so.

Unless authorship is clearly attributed to others, the written content of this blog is my own work. I am quite happy for this to be quoted elsewhere, providing that I receive an acknowledgement and a link back to the appropriate post.

What's New Here...

I'm afraid that ill-health has come between me and this blog for a while but hopefully normal service has now resumed. Particular apologies to everyone who has emailed me, I will be working through my inbox in the next day or two.

I have just posted the 1967 mono recording of Blind Joe Death which I think will be a revelation for anyone who has not heard it before (I've now corrected the faulty link for the download) and also the sleeve notes from the 1967 sleeves for those first three records.

Please feel free to comment on the various posts, other opinions are always welcome.


The Andy Kershaw Session

This post follows on from comments left on my recent posting of the mono BJD.

In 1987 Fahey recorded a session for the BBC Radio 1 Andy Kershaw programme, performing St Patrick's Hymn, The Sunny Side of the Ocean, Spanish Two-Step, Dance of Death, and Nightmare / Summertime. The commenter Joe pointed out that Delta-Slider had posted the first four of these for download in excellent quality, presumably originating from the session tape since they lack any radio chat. Joe was hoping I'd be able to come up with the final track to a similar standard; sadly I couldn't. But Joe has kindly provided off-air recordings of the session for those who enjoy Kershaw's ramblings or want that fifth tune.

Delta-Slider's post and download is essential. The off-air recordings can be downloaded here. Thanks, Joe.


Volumes 1 - 3: the 1967 sleeve notes

When Takoma reissued Fahey's first three albums in sleeves designed by Tom Weller in April 1967, the records acquired new sleeve notes, somewhat briefer than those for the original pamphlets. They form an amusing exchange of views between 'Sir Joshua Reynolds' and 'Jack Banister'.

Volume 1:

I have been asked to contribute some explanation of the contests of this recording so that the casual pursuer may have some advance preparation for the initial ex­posure, a task for which I am hardly equal. However, the publishers have prevailed upon me, saying that they would accept notes from no other, and consequently I have agreed, rather than allow the recording to go, as it were, naked, into the world.

This recording is Mr. Fahey's initial public statement, somewhat revised in 1964 to repair some defects that he and the publisher felt had crept in to the original during the feverous preparation for issuance during the hot summer of 1959. Those who possess the original will doubtless be interested to compare the versions to see which parts the composer felt suitable for change after a five year period. Par­ticularly of interest in this respect is the Transcendental Waterfall.

For those that are totally unfamiliar with Mr. Fahey's work, I hasten to add that, like all of his publicly available works, in this recording subsists the better part of an hour of the performances of this remarkable performer and composer. His own compositions will be found mingled with those of others particularly those others who also worked the fertile vein of music known to us today as the American style of acoustic guitar. The style generally, and Mr. Fahey's particularly sensitive rendering specificly, is noted for its slow unveiling of great depths of beauty.

Sir Joshua Reynolds

Volume 2:

It is time that criticism of Fahey's work was taken from the hands of the shelter­ed academics, with their ideal theories about his hodology, the epistemological value of his work, and indeed the nature of his inspiration. What matters is the music itself, and not the abstract structures that may be constructed upon it.

Anyone who has heard John's playing in the clubs of Berkeley & Boston knows how far removed John himself is from these controversies, as he sits alone on the stage pondering the next piece to play, bursting into hour long improvisations upon the themes he has embodied in his work. And who could forget the side of Fahey which is seldom written about, the man who talks with his audience about peacocks and intergration, the relative merits of alcohol and lsd, the man who can hold you spell­bound with tales of steamboat races, where is this man in the pratter of the Joshua Reynolds of this world.

Just take this record and play it, forgetting the theoretic trash, and listen to the pouring forth of John's soul as he recalls the familiar scenes of his childhood, the legends of the Downfall of the Adelphi Rolling Grist Mill which the older Fishermen of Heliotrope still spin late in the evenings, leaning back on their porches, and witheredly pulling on their pipes.

Jack Banister

Volume 3:

The weeds of the self-named common man school of criticism has reared its head among the flowers of criticism, and I take this opportunity to reply to the re­marks of one Mr. Banister lest he prevent the listener from access to the steps of wisdom. While it is true that much of the debate among the Iess informed as to the validity of classifying Mr. Fahey's work with those of the American folk artists from whom he has drawn so much inspiration, has obscured the equally engaging point that he is one of the few artists who have managed to transmute, thru the heat of his artistic forge, the beauties of a lost age into a contemporary idiom thus mak­ing available to the modern consciousness the revelations which were the common knowledge of man before the recent and unfortunate technologising of our culture; it is also true that without a knowledge of the roots of mans art the transmission of culture breaks down. Let those who would disparage academic discussion recall that is what separates us from the yawling tribes of aboriginal savages who still inhabit portions of the globe.
Sir Joshua Reynolds

When I think of the years that it takes the timorous to break thru the structures of the dry scholars who sit in their ivyed buildings comparing the portraits of the dead, I weep for mankind. The greatest glory John has is that he is not afraid to leave the bonds of tradition burst behind him in the dust. We cannot forever hide in the truths of the past seeking to endlessly polish our repetitions of the discoveries of other men, particularly those discoveries tossed off in an afternoon intended for the moment and accidentally frozen forever by recordings. Let us be inspired by the courage of the innovators of the past, so that we may live in. the present, and create the future.
John has been one of the first composers of his generation to take advantage of the modern ear for chords and melodies, not to mention the fact that his perform­ances are being recorded on the loose flexible tape used in the industry today rather than the brittle waxen disk common 30 years ago. Creative use of the technology surrounding and liberating us is all that separates us from those yawling tribes of withered aboriginies who sit high in concrete trees passing dried banana shins among themselves and commenting upon their wisdom in saving these relics.
Jack Banister

Blind Joe Death. Volume 1 the 1967 monaural recording

I promised this some time ago and finally here it is - the 1967 mono version of the Blind Joe Death album. The CD issue of this album used a damaged tape (or maybe it was just poor mastering, but there's audible distortion on the left channel) of the later stereo mix which did the recording no justice whatever, but here (with apologies for surface noise) is the original, 'newly recorded in magnificent mono'.

I've already posted the equivalent recording of Death Chants, where I give a rather blunter assessment of Fahey's use of stereo.

(Note: the troublesome link for the download has now been corrected)


Guitar Volume 4

The 1966 release:

Second sleeve,1968:

Third sleeve, circa 1972:

Fourth sleeve, circa 1975:

The earliest sleeve design for Volume 4 had a discography on the back which updated those in the notes that came with the Dance of Death album (the text for the discography can be found in my previous post, although it is easily legible on the photo here). This design did not last long, it had one obvious drawback in that it is very difficult to identify the track listings without a careful reading. So the sleeve was quickly changed and the discography was swapped for a map. The credits and track details are carried forward without alteration. The very plain 'Takoma' name on the front of the sleeve is replaced Tom Weller's new 'T' logo. The record has also acquired a title The Great San Bernadino Birthday Party and other Excursions although this never appears on the record labels.

The front colour of all early sleeves is a deep bronze, with a matt finish. Around 1972 this was changed to a glossy orange. The picture here shows the sleeves either side of the switch to help in showing the difference:

All these covers had been manufactured with a single pasted slick over a black sleeve (hence the black borders). But around 1975 Takoma switched to a conventional construction, as in the final example photographed above. It's worth noting that the credits are entirely unchanged, including the offer of buying the album by mail directly from Takoma (using the long-abandoned Berkeley box no.) for $5. This was the only Fahey album where this information had not been removed by then.

After Takoma passed into the hands of Chrysalis, the album was re-issued, and that sleeve carried the 'dragon' logo used on the sleeves of that era.


Guitar Vol. 4 - the early discographical liner notes

When Dance of Death was released in 1965, the notes that came with it included an extensive discography / sessionography covering the period up to the Summer 1964 sessions with Bill Barth at the Adelphi studios. In January 1966 it was updated, but when Guitar Volume 4 appeared later that year the rear of the sleeve had a far more extensive update, although this was quickly removed (and replaced with a map). So here are the notes from the rear liner of that earliest sleeve (typos reproduced 'as is'):

DISCOGRAPHY OF JOHN FAHEY: Summer 1964 ­- June I, 1966

23. Early June, 1965. Topanga, California. John Fa­hey - gtr, Mayne Smith - bjo ( -2), Mark Levine - 2nd gtr ( -3), unk kazoo.

Train -2, 3
Television Song
Long Journey Home -2, 3
How Long
Willie Moore
House Carpenter
Texas & Pacific Blues -2, 3, 4
Bicycle Built for Two
Untitled Piece in E Modal
I Sing A Song of the Saints of God
The Portland Cement Fac­tory at Monolith, Calif­ornia.

This session was cut for Delta, an L. A. label which never made any records. The following titles were used by Riverboat for its lp The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death which was issued in an edition of 50 copies with hand-lettered labels and no jackets late in 1965. No further pressings have been made. (June 1966)

Come Back Baby
St. Patrick's Hymn
Brenda's Blues
Beautiful Linda Getchell -2
How Green Was My Valley
101 is a Hard Road to Tra­vel
The Death of Clayton Peacock

24. Late July, 1965. MIT, Cambridge, Mass. John Fahey - gtr.

I Am the Ressurection
On the Sunny Side of the Ocean
Bicycle Built for Two
Old Southern Medeley

Takoma C 1008: Add Mysterious Al Wilson – veena
Sail Away Ladies
Unissued: John Fahey - gtr, veena; N.S.Dusty - gtr. -2

Western Medley -2
Durgan Park
The Bitter Lemon

Certain songs recorded at the Topanga session were also recorded at this session and then destroyed.

25. 3 weeks preceeding Aug. 26, 1965. NYC. Elektra unissued instructional album illustrating various styles of blues guitar. William Barth is present on some of these sides.

Title (Artist)
Smoketown Strut (Sylvester Weaver)
(Steel) Guitar Rag ( " )
Squabblin' Blues (Barefoot Bill from Ala.)
Police Sargent Blues (Robert Timothy Wilkins)
Church Bell Blues (Luke Jordan)
99 Year Blues (Julius Daniels)
It Won't Be Long (Frank Stokes)
Memphis Woman ( " )
Nobody's Business ( " )
Nobody's Dirty Business (Mississippi John Hurt)
Stack-O-Lee 11 ( " )
Old Country Rock (William Moore)
Big Road Blues (Tommy Johnson)
Down the Dirt Road Blues (Charlie Patton)
Maggie Campbell Blues (Tommy Johnson)
A Rag Blues (Walter Hawkins)
Snatch It and Grab It ( " )
And various other songs illustrating various other art­ists.

In addition John cut a number of pieces of his own ma­terial for audition purposes. He reports that today (June 3, 1966) he has not been paid for these, nor have the tapes been returned. The titles follow: Mysterious Al Wilson present on veena -1

On the Banks of the Owchita -1
Sail Away Ladies -1
The Revolt of the Brontasauraus
Delta Serenade
Green Green

26. Nov. 26, 1965. Jabberwock Coffeehouse, Berke­ly, Calif. Recorded in concert for Takoma records.

How Long
On the Banks of the Owchita
The Dance of the Inhabitants
Variations on Eck Robertson
The Revolt of the Dyke Brigade
Durgan Park
The Death of the Clayton Peacock
I am the Resurection
The Great San Bernardino Birthday Party
When the Springtime Comes Again
Some Summer Day, part 1
Southern Medeley
101 is a Hard Road toTravel
Some Summer Day, part 2
Willie Moore

add: ED Denson, harmonica
Le Vieux Soulard Et Sa Femme
I Woke Up One Morning in May

27. Nov. 28, 1965: Arhoolie Studios, Berkeley, Calif.
Takoma C 1008: The Great San Bernardino Birthday Party

Joe Kirby Blues
Variations on Eck Robertson
Jim Lee Blues
Loch Lohman
Willie Moore
Untitled Epic

Add: ED Denson, harmonica
One Day in May
Le Vieux Soulard Et Sa Femme
Maryland My Maryland
The Bear Went Over the Mountain

28. Sierra Sound Laboratories. Berkeley, Calif. Ear­ly 1966.
Takoma C 1008:
Oh Come Oh Come Emanuael
Knott's Berry Farm Molly

29. Takoma Studios, Berkeley, Calif. April 8, 1966. Takoma unissued:

Lo the Rose Ever Blooms
Jim Lee Blues
In the Garden
The- Revolt of the Dyke Brigade
Television Rag
The Portland Cement Factory at Monolith California
A Rag


The Great San Bernardino Birthday Party (Berkeley, Nov. -Dec. 1965: John Fahey, guitar)
Knott's Berry Farm Molly (Berkeley, early 1966, John Fahey, guitar)
Will the Circle Be Unbroken (Washington, May 1962: John Fahey, guitar; Flea, organ)
Guitar Excursion Into the Unknown (Berkeley, Summer 1963: John Fahey, guitar)
900 Miles (Washington D.C., c July 11, 1962: John Fa­hey, guitar; Nancy McLean, flute)
Sail Away Ladies (Cambridge, Mass., July 1965 :Mysterious Al Wilson, veena)
Oh Come Oh Come Emanuael (Berkeley, early 1966)


Artists: John Fahey, Nancy McLean, Flea, Mysteri­ous Al Wilson
Production: John Fahey, ED Denson
Editorial Assistant: Barry Hansen
Guitar on certain cuts, supplied by Pat Sullivan
Cover Design: David Goines
Recording: John Fahey, Chris Strachwitz, ED Denson, Sierra Sound Laboratories

B 1001: Bukka White: Mississippi Blues, Vol 1.
C 1002: John Fahey / Blind Joe Death, Vol 1.
C 1003: John Fahey Vol 2. Death Chants, Break­downs & Military Waltzes
C 1004: John Fahey Vol 2. Dance of Death & Other Plantation Favorites.
C 1005: Robbie Basho Vol 2. Seal of the Blue Lotus
C 1006: Contemporary Guitar Vol 1 - 1966 . John Fahey, Max Ochs, Harry Taussig, Robbie Basho.
C 1007: Robbie Basho Vol 2: The Grail & the Lotus
C 1008: John Fahey Vo14: The Great San Bernard­ino Birthday Party.
B 1009: J. B. Smith: Ever Since I Have Been a Man Full Grown

.Takoma Records, at your local superior store or $5 by mail: Box 2233, Berkeley, California 94703 zip.


Andy Beta: Looking for Blind Joe Death

Earthly appetites: The brilliant and curious career of steel-string demigod John Fahey

What do you think about the Mormons?"

This abrupt religious inquiry came at me in the summer of 1999, in a warbling voice from one of my few then living musical idols, guitarist John Fahey. He was seated across from me in the corner of a red-walled room at a restaurant called Mars in Austin, Texas. I told him I despised their non-caffeination and conspiratorial placement across the street from my high school in Arizona. Fahey smiled from behind his woolly, dirty-white beard, before continuing on about Gandhi's status as a military hero in India, how flat In a Silent Way sounds, his tour of Japan, all the while imploring our waitress to bring another pitcher of iced tea his way.

Coming to prominence in the early '60s, at the dawn of folk's re-emergence and the rise of the hippie counterculture, John Fahey revolutionized steel-string guitar playing by wedding the fingerpicked blues of Mississippi John Hurt to the structuring principles of classical composers like Sibelius and Brahms to craft something wholly American. Or as a 1959 article (included in the recent Fonotone box set) noted: "[Fahey] never fully grasped the meaning of Heidegger's angst until he heard it expressed in its supreme articulation on a 78 rpm record by Blind Willie Johnson." Ignoring the segregation of high and low culture, Fahey found something endemic to both, creating a body of work that hangs in the halls of American genius somewhere between Coltrane and Whitman.

Fahey passed from this world some five years ago during a septuple bypass, so it's funny now that these nascent recordings he made as Blind Thomas for Fonotone, the 78 rpm label of collector Joe Bussard (think Steve Buscemi's Ghost World character times a thousand), have come back to light alongside Vanguard's release of I Am the Resurrection. A tribute album featuring indie luminaries (Sufjan Stevens, Devendra Banhart, M. Ward) pays reverent homage to the man. And why not? Fahey, aside from his astounding music, set an example with one of the earliest independent, artist-run record labels, Takoma. He released the debut albums of Leo Kottke and George Winston. Fahey also rediscovered Skip James, the malevolent Depression-era master, traversing a brutally segregated Mississippi to find him in a hospital bed; it strangely presaged Fahey's own rediscovery in a Salem, Oregon, men's center in 1994 by Spin's Byron Coley.

Soused and spiteful at shows, misunderstood by an audience wanting peace, love, and his old songs, Fahey loathed both his hippie followers and his imitators. Will Ackerman and the whole New Age neutering of Fahey's guitar style that cropped up in his wake were anathema to him; his true progeny were the tetchy alternative noisemakers, like Sonic Youth and Wilco. The tribute makes this clear, recasting his iconoclastic solo pieces with winsome arrangements from its participants. And yet reverence to the song was never his own agenda, as Fahey often disavowed his past discography outright.

Studying folklore at UCLA alongside Barry Hansen (a/k/a Dr. Demento), Fahey wrote his master's thesis on Delta demigod Charley Patton, only to immediately go against the grain of stodgy academia, record-collector scum, and object reverence. He never looked back. Doctoring loquacious, ludicrous liner notes for his self-released work that tempered his arrogant self-mythologizing with hilarious self-effacement, he mocked the academic bluster of scholars and revivalists. He renames his Fonotone patron "Joseph Buzzard," records as Blind Joe Death, or else espouses his work as "expert" Elijah P. Lovejoy. Noise guitarist and writer Alan Licht noted that Fahey "did as much to take folk out of the hands of squares as his music did," and he suffered lightly those that pined for the past.

Perhaps like I'm doing now, recalling when I spent a week with Fahey seven years ago in Austin. Most of the time, I was content to sit at the lunch table as he and fellow folklorist Dave Polachek bandied their theories about Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music box set, discussing the implications of Fahey's own Revenant label getting the rights to release the fourth volume of that hallowed compilation. "Americans hate foreigners!" Fahey proclaimed out loud in the Mexican restaurant. "That was what Smith was secretly telling us. Just look at how many people get offed in those first four songs." He would then dump another clutch of Sweet'N Low into his tea, left unstirred among the ice.

When not canvassing for classical records, we'd be back in his motel room. My awe quickly turned to mild mortification at Fahey's ability to ingest anything and everything: a block of cheddar cheese unwrapped and munched like a candy bar; cold, greasy okra from the previous night; a squished french fry on the bed, suddenly remembered and swallowed. Amid the detritus of crumpled yen and girls' addresses in Osaka, finger paintings rendered on photo album sheets, New Age CDs called Music for Brain Waves, we auditioned the early master tapes of volume four of the Harry Smith collection. Fahey mused about how it reflected the Depression despite the set's upbeat ending. He declared "Last Fair Deal Gone Down" the best Robert Johnson song, and said the Carter Family sounded like they were dead, a zombie chorus. He would sprawl across his bed, enrapt in the ancient sounds, his giant white belly puffed out. Slowly, a guttural moan would be loosed from his depths, a half-drone, half-growl that drowned out the tape.

Other times, he would play his mixes: collages of Nazi rallies, Balinese gamelan, and recent Chicago blues licks with their verses and choruses mischievously lopped off, rearranging their 12- bar logic. Whether it was blue plate specials, convenience store crap, or world music, all went into his maw. Such devouring and consumption was what Fahey did throughout his career. His repertoire mashed Hammerstein with Dvorak, Christian hymns as well as Hindi chants, Dock Boggs and Duke Ellington. Classic albums like Requia and Days Have Gone By feature the same sort of aural collages he was still spinning 30 years on, as if no time had elapsed. Dislocation isn't too odd of a sensation, as critic Nat Hentoff recognized: "[Fahey's] music keeps stirring up old memories and all kinds of new anticipations."

I saw four concerts of his that week, but I can't recall a single tune. What lingers is Fahey's desire to dig beneath the veneer of the blues, philosophy, industrial noise, classical music, past names and labels, so as to unearth the collective unconscious of the tragic human condition that courses underneath the music. Songs were gateways to more profound, sometimes more horrific, truths. As his rambling online exegesis reveals: "When I play, I very quickly put myself into a light hypnotic trance and compose while playing. . . . I would go so far as to say that I am playing emotions and expressing them in a coherent public language called music."

In his later years, Fahey eschewed the acoustic steel-string altogether; he didn't even own a guitar, pawning it to make his rent. Due to the effects of Epstein-Barr syndrome and diabetes, his immaculate style slowed. Gone were the ornate five-finger rolls of a one-man orchestra as instead he swamped his tone in delay and reverb, stirring up fuliginous, phantasmal lines that slowly accrued in the air. "There's something about guitars," he wrote in How Bluegrass Destroyed My Life, a 2000 collection of his tales, noting that the guitar "evokes past, mysterious, barely conscious sentiments both individual and universal." At these shows, everyone in the audience would be mesmerized, drawn in by that slow spiral of sound and transported elsewhere. It was like the tornado in The Wizard of Oz, with shards of recognized melodies suddenly separated and reconfigured in the space-time continuum, moving counterclockwise while unlocking the subconscious, spinning like swastikas do.

I think now of the very first time I saw John perform, under a starry sky a year before our meeting at Mars. His shades affixed in the twilight, he spun out a lugubrious though transcendental waterfall of sound. Staring up into the firmament, I was startled by a melodic line suddenly remembered amid Fahey's hypnotic whorl. It was "O Holy Night," a Christmas carol played on that hot July evening. Dislocated in time, it was all the more relevant, its unsung words echoing my own thought: "The stars are brightly shining."

January 2006


The Mystery of the Turtle II: was it withdrawn?

One of the aspects of the Turtle saga that has supplied surprisingly fertile ground for research is the claim that the album was withdrawn early in its existence due to the cost of producing the wonderful but very lavish gatefold sleeve, which was then replaced by the fairly minimal single one. This is clearly incorrect, since the full gatefold remained available until circa 1977, but there may be an element of truth to it.

Adding to the mystery was this quote from Fahey in a 1969 interview with Melody Maker: "But there was one we had to withdraw because we were losing 30 cents on each one. It had photographs, a book, and a double cover. We didn't know how much it was going to cost but some of it was bad anyway." When I first saw that quote I assumed that Fahey was confused, since the only album that had been withdrawn so far as I was aware was the curious Early Sessions double LP. However, Fahey was astonishingly specific and was clearly referring to Turtle.

A further explanation became apparent recently however when I acquired a pressing of Turtle that dates from 1967, six months or more ahead of the album's release. It appears that no sleeve was printed up at that point, but here are the labels on the actual disc:

The most obvious thing worthy of comment here is that the track listings are exactly the same as those of the eventual sleeve, so no Bean Vine Blues #2, the Train is not 'little', and the question of whether the train 'could' or 'couldn't' isn't asked let alone answered. The record itself is the 11 track version, thus matching the information contained in the eventual sleeve's booklet.

This leaves one obvious conclusion, that the label listings on the 1968 release (specifically Bean Vine Blues #1 and #2) were deliberately intended to conceal the existence of the two different versions. Also the possibility (as yet unconfirmed)that the 'withdrawal' actually took place in 1967, well ahead of the album's eventual appearance.


Four Unique Fonotone LPs

These are labels for four 12" Fonotone LPs, produced as a set and almost certainly entirely unique. Here's the original owner's account of how he obtained them:

"I wrote to Joe Bussard Jr. in the early 1980s, and I asked him if he still had the early John Fahey recordings for sale. He wrote back that yes, he was still offering them on cassette. I wrote again and told him I really would rather have records, and he wrote that he could make me a set of 78 rpm acetate singles. But I didn't want 7" records, and I certainly didn't want anything that played at 78 rpm! I asked him if he could cut me 12" LPs at 33, and he refused to do it. I waited a year or so, and I wrote him again. By then he had the "Guitar Solo's" LP acetate available, and I bought one. It sounded great, which made me want the other tracks on 12" LP even more, so I asked him again. He told me he'd never custom made 12" discs to order for anyone EVER, because cutting full LPs by hand was a lot of trouble. I wrote him back right away and told him that I'd pay him whatever he asked, but I had to have LPs. I think it was another year before we closed the deal, but finally we agreed on a price and he sent the four LPs. He enclosed a note with them that said, "I can't believe how difficult it was to make these, I will never do this again for any amount of money!"

So, are these discs unique?

Oh, I have no doubt that they are. I chose the songs that I wanted from his master list and the order I wanted them in, and he cut the acetates. He custom made these LPs for me and told me flat out that he would never do it again for anybody!"


The Fonotone catalog

Pages from two Fonotone catalogs listing the Fahey material Joe Bussard had to offer at that point. Joe Bussard, as always at Fonotone, typed these with an elderly typewriter. The 10" and 12" Guitar Solo's - titles unknown are no longer available on the second list.



I must apologise for my relative silence here over the Summer although I have certainly not been ignoring the blog, rather giving my time to research. As a consequence I should shortly be posting both Mystery of the Turtle II and Blind Joe Death Transfigured III - they will contain a lot of additional information, particularly the post related to VOTT. I also have a biography of Riverboat Ralph nearing completion.

Due to internet access problems I am not in a position to add further downloads at present. Hopefully this will be resolved soon and normal service will resume. In the meantime, thanks for bearing with me.


Death Chants: the 1967 recordings.

When Fahey re-recorded his first two albums in 1967 it was because of dissatisfaction with various aspects of the recording quality with the earlier versions rather than any intention to release them in stereo, although the commercial realities of the record market meant that stereo mixes were made the following year.

One does not have to be a purist to recognise the inadequacies of the stereo versions with their absurdly exaggerated separation; on headphones they sound less like one exceptional guitar player than two decent ones engaged in some bizarre guitar playing equivalent of synchronised swimming. Possibly intentionally, they mock the audiophile pretensions of the record buyer only prepared to buy 'stereo'.

Those 1967 mono versions were of course withdrawn after scarcely a year, and have never been available since. Given that they sound so considerably superior to the stereo mixes, it is disappointing that Fantasy didn't elect to use the mono masters when they put out their CD reissue. It was not for nothing that those 1967 records had stickers boasting that they had been recorded in 'Magnificent Mono', so here are those 1967 mono recordings for Death Chants.

Note: The titles 'Spanish Dance' and 'Take a Look at That Baby' had their respective tunes swapped between the 1963 and 1967 releases. I have left the titles (and music) here as they appear on the record in the interests of historical truth; you can of course reverse the titles (and maybe the sequence) if you prefer. As with the later 1968 cover, the sleeve reverses the sides for the listings, and omits 'Take a Look at That Baby' entirely.


Mayne Smith

Mayne Smith, who contributed banjo and kazoo at Fahey's Delta sessions in 1965, has a new CD about to be released - Places I've Been: a Songmaker's Retrospective.

To mark the event, he is appearing at the Freight & Salvage in Berkeley, Friday June 20th. I get quite a few visitors from the Bay area, and you may well want to get tickets for what looks like a good night.

Blind Joe Death Transfigured II: L Mayne Smith

I like to think that one or two regular visitors here still have an interest in my Transfigured piece, even if it may appear to have stalled (it hasn’t, it just seems to have a mind of it’s own and keeps on growing). I have recently been in touch with Mayne Smith who of course played (as L Mayne Smith) at what are known as the ‘Delta’ sessions, and he has been very patient in answering all my questions. While his comments will obviously feed into my own analysis, I know that they will be of broader interest, so I’m posting them here largely ‘as is’.

Fahey and I and Barry Hansen, popularly known today as Doctor Demento to LA radio fans, used to hang out together occasionally. We were all students at the Folklore Center at UCLA.

Mark LeVine (on guitar) and I (on dobro) were part of a band we called, creatively, The Bluegrass Band, which also contained three members of the Dry City Scat Band, then recently dissolved. These others were Dick Hargreaves (bass), Richard Greene (fiddle, and soon to join Bill Monroe’s band) and David Lindley. This band performed once or twice at the Ashgrove in the summer of 1965; I have a photo of us on stage there. Then the band dissolved.

I do have vague memories of a recording session at Bob Riskin’s house. Bob was a person of some authority at McCabe’s Guitar shop in Santa Monica, and he had a cool place up in one of the canyons in the Santa Monica mountains --- it may have been Topanga. Riskin, I learned later, was the son of Fay Wray who played the pretty blonde befriended by the original King Kong. Bob also recorded a demo session for me around this time, playing a few of my own new compositions accompanied by Ry Cooder who was about 18 years old at the time. I may also mention that I had taken myself somewhat seriously as a banjo player (Seeger-style, then old-time two-finger and three-finger styles) before gravitating to the role of lead and tenor singer and flat-pick rhythm guitarist in the bluegrass pattern; In the year of 1965, my article “An Introduction to Bluegrass,” appeared in the Journal of American Folklore (vol. 78, 1965, 245-256) --- the first bona fide academic treatment of bluegrass music. The author credit was to L. Mayne Smith; my legal first name is Loyd, which I dropped entirely after I left academia a few years later.

Bob Riskin had a good reel-to-reel Ampex tape recorder (model 600?) that would record at 15 ips – a step or three up from my Wolensak. We played in a wide-open livingroom area with no acoustic padding or anything else to keep out dog-barking, etc. My mental image says it was dark outside. Although I knew that some tunes from the Riskin sessions were released on Fahey’s records, I don’t recall the specific music we played, except that I played the banjo with a flat pick in what I thought of as a simple early New Orleans style. I had forgotten about any use of kazoos, and that Mark LeVine was also involved.

I asked about Fahey’s description of the session in the Voice of the Turtle notes

There is some relation to my memories in what Fahey says about Topanga Canyon and Riskin. “Barrett Mansen” is clearly Barry Hansen. Barry identified himself to the world as a collector of obscure records – particularly 45 rpm rhythm and blues – and was emphatically not an entrepreneur or brewery owner. Mark’s interest in bluegrass does have a tinge of reality about it. The “lacy filigree” comment is wholly gratuitous, particularly in relation to the ultra-simple style I was playing on that session. LeVine and I, on the other hand, were deliberately studying how to play rhythmic back-up, and may deserve some credit for that.

I asked about the ‘Delta Haze Recording Company’, and any possible involvement of ED Denson

I have no memory of any talk about specific record labels. I don’t think I would remember if there had been any. I don’t think I knew that Fahey had anything to do with Ed Denson, and I’m not sure I knew anything of Denson at that time. Four or five years later, Mitch Greenhill and I were in a band called “Frontier,” which was managed for a while by Denson (who also, at the time, managed Country Joe and the Fish, and The Joy of Cooking); we were all centered about the SF Bay Area at that time.

After listening to ‘Texas and Pacific Blues’ and ‘Train’

The “Texas” cut is a blatant re-hash of the well-known blues, “Corrina, Corrina,” and if that’s me on lead kazoo, I hear nothing original in it. That does sound like me on the banjo, pretty much in the style I remember playing, at John’s request.

On learning that he had been given a composer credit for ‘Beautiful Linda Getchell’:

If I deserve any composer credit for “Getchell” I don’t remember the tune or my contribution to it.

After hearing "Getchell" and "Come Back Baby"

“Linda Getchall” immediately struck me as a variant of the fingerpicked waltz I knew as “Spanish Fandango.” The flat-picked banjo was probably me; it would have been easy for me to do, since I was thoroughly familiar with the tune. Incidentally, the banjo has a suspended-4th figure in it that reminds me that Fahey and I, on opposite sides of the USA, shared exposure to the hymnody of the Episcopal church, which is quite evident in his improvisations.

“Come Back Baby” has a similar rhythm banjo sound, so it may have been me. On the other hand, the single-string work up the neck is so good I have some doubts that it was me. But I may have been better back then than I recall, so if Fahey credited me I’ll take his word for it. The melody and modality of this blues tune was also familiar to me at the time. (“ . . . let’s talk it over one more time.”)

Obviously, my thanks to Mayne for patiently answering all my questions; this provides another picture of a session that still arouses a lot of interest. I was amused to see that barking dogs had obviously left some sort of impression even after all these years, since Mayne had never heard 'Transfiguration' so wouldn't have known about the dog's cameo on the record .


Voice of the Turtle: the earliest pressings

Since it settles quite a few debates, here are pictures of the original 1968 black & silver labelled copies of Voice of the Turtle; these show that both the eleven and twelve track pressings existed from the off. Neither of these is easy to find, although I suspect that serious collectors will want both.

Original 11 track pressing, side 1 has 5 tracks:

Original 12 track pressing, side 1 has 6 tracks:

For more discussion of the complex history of this album, or to add any comment, please see my earlier post, The Mystery of the Turtle. These pictures have been included in that post; I've put them here as well to highlight the update.

Please add any comment to the 'Mystery of the Turtle' post, rather than here.