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Those 1967 mono versions were of course withdrawn after scarcely a year, and have never been available since.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 .