The Labels - Designs and Dates

It is difficult to determine the precise date of a record from the label design it is carrying. There is not a great economy of scale when pressing records as the stampers have to be renewed once every 300 - 500 copies, but printing labels and sleeves offer massive gains from long print runs. Record companies therefore tend to stock up on labels for a particular record and keep using them when newer releases are appearing with labels of a later design. So that has to be born in mind, and it probably explains why there is such an overlap of designs with the Takoma output. What doesn't happen though is a new release appearing with an old design (unless this were to be done by deliberate intent). So it is possible to determine fairly accurately when a design comes into use. Major record companies print their labels in two stages: first the design and then the record details over the top. But Takoma, like most small labels, didn't do this; all their designs were printed in one single process, using one ink over coloured paper. This increased the necessity of carrying large stocks, and of old designs continuing to be used with the older releases.

There are three main label designs that Takoma use. The first is black with plain silver writing, the second is orange (with the 'T' design in purple), and the third is the label with two dragons. There are two main variants with the original black & silver label. The earlier one has two parallel lines across it and a glossy finish, and the later one lacks the lines and is matt. The last Fahey album to appear with the label with the two lines across is 'Days Have Gone By', and the last album with the unlined version is 'The New Possibility'.

The orange label last appears on 'America', the only Fahey album to have carried this design at release. Then comes the dragon label, which Barry Hansen tells me JF acquired from an old British Columbia '78 of some Indonesian music from around 1930. This comes in four main designs. The first is in black (well actually it's near black, with a slight hint of blue, but it appears black to the naked eye). The continuous outer gold ring is inside the edge of the label, so the label has a black outer rim, and the word 'STEREO' appears at the bottom of the label. This label is only found on records released before 1972, and is clearly the earliest variant. It is replaced with a label that has a more visible blue tone (it photographs up as bluer than it appears in real life) where the outer ring is a broken line - it is actually a stroboscopic ring, and will work correctly when you live where there's a 60 Hz electricity supply. 'STEREO' remains at the bottom of the label.

In 1973, changes to copyright law meant that Takoma started printing copyright information on their labels; they placed this at the bottom of the label and moved the 'STEREO' inscription up to the mid-right. The stroboscopic design was retained, and 'Fare Forward Voyagers' and the Takoma reissue of 'Transfiguration' were released with this design. Takoma then reverted to the original dragon design, but this time the gold outer ring is right at the rim of the label, there is a copyright notice at the bottom, and 'STEREO' is in the mid-right position.

No Fahey album was released from new with either of the first two Dragon designs. 'America' was released in 1971 with the orange label, and 'Fare Forward Voyagers' in 1973 with the second of the stroboscopic variants. So the life of the first dragon variant was a very short one indeed, essentially only in 1972, a year Takoma released only one record (and that was on a subsidiary label - Devi). Nevertheless, that first Dragon design is the most commonly seen, so either Takoma got offered a very special deal at the printers or they decided to stockpile records. The latter may in fact be the case, as there was a developing oil crisis at the time, and the price of raw vinyl was rising rapidly. But I can't be certain. I have only seen the final dragon design used on 'Days Have Gone By' 'Voice of the Turtle' and 'The New Possibility', of the 1960s albums.

I need to say a bit more about the very early label designs. Before the label with the two lines across became standard, Takoma used labels with no fixed design other than being black with silver lettering. For the Fahey collector, this involves only the first three albums (the ones that come in plain black-and-white sleeves). So allowing for label designs that were probably one-off for those very earliest albums, I have given the following dates to the various label designs:

Black and silver with parallel lines - up to 1967

Plain black & silver 1968

Orange & purple 1970

1st black & gold dragon 1972

1st blue & gold stroboscopic dragon 1973

2nd blue & gold stroboscopic dragon 1973

Final black & gold dragon 1975

(If you want to see these seven designs photographed in sequence, click here.)

The dates displayed with the labels in the posts below is either the date the record was released, or the date by which the label design was known to be in use, whichever is the later. It is not the date on which any particular record was pressed.

I am not a Takoma collector, only Fahey. If this is read by someone with details of other Takoma albums which make it possible to narrow down these dates, please get in touch.

John Fahey / Blind Joe Death

The original 1959 release:

Circa 1965:

The 1968 release:

Circa 1970:

Circa 1972 (monaural):

Circa 1972 (stereo):

Circa 1977:

Circa 2005 reissue of 1959 release:

For the photos of the labels for the original 1959 release, my thanks to Glenn Jones. The recent reissue of that version appeared in two pressings, one a basic pressing and the other on audiophile 180gm vinyl. Both are pressed from the same master and I can discern no difference in the (very good) sound. They are a wonderful opportunity to listen to a record that has never been available before, other than that rare and now absurdly valuable original pressing.

Five of the tracks from the 1959 sessions did not make it onto the later releases, nor the CD, but you can find these here as downloads, plus the full St Louis Blues, which was shortened for the 1964 release:

West Coast Blues

St Louis Blues

In Christ There Is No East or West

The Transcendental Waterfall

On Doing an Evil Deed Blues

I have to put in something of a caveat on the final track; it is almost certain that 'Desperate Man Blues' was not re-recorded for the '64 release. The track that I recorded has a sound that is very lacking in top end, but the performance itself does appear the same. However, the muddy sound here (compared to the '64) does not replicate on 'St Louis Blues', despite both being presumably recorded from the same source. Fahey was certainly capable of delivering performances that border on the identical when he was of a mind to; nevertheless I definitely favour the notion that the track was not re-recorded. But it's here anyway, so you can judge for yourself.

Desperate Man Blues

I am grateful to Paul Bryant for pointing out that 'The Transcendental Waterfall' on the 1967 recording of this album is not, despite the information on the CD liner notes, an edited version of the 1964 recording, but an entirely fresh performance. Here is a link to download the 1967 stereo recording:

The Transcendental Waterfall

Death Chants, Breakdowns, and Military Waltzes

The original 1963 release:

Circa 1965:

The 1968 release:

Circa 1970:

Circa 1972:

Circa 1973:

The 1972 'dragon' label came initially and very briefly claiming to be 'Monaural'; it wasn't of course. This appears to be the only dragon label that uses that moniker, despite many mono records remaining in the catalogue.

With the 1967 sleeve, the track listings for the two sides are reversed on the back. I suspect Takoma got a bit confused, meaning to do it on 'Dance of Death' instead (see my notes with the entry for that album). The track 'Take a Look at That Baby' is not listed on the cover at all. These mistakes were repeated on the 1968 cover.

Dance of Death & Other Plantation Favorites

The original 1965 release:

Circa 1965:

Circa 1970:

Circa 1972:

Later copies of this record are labelled as stereo but they aren't; regardless of labelling all pressings of this record were actually mono.

The original label design for this record is as far as I am aware unique, never used on any other Takoma release. The second design actually uses different typefaces on each side of the record (look at the centre of the 'O' in 'TAKOMA')! I have other copies that use one or the other, but never both together.

Matrices for this record are: 'SCORE: TAKOMA 4 FAHEY 3 - A' and 'SCORE: TAKOMA 4 FAHEY 3 - B'. And there's an interesting story here too; the gentleman who mastered the disc was so amused by his little joke in presenting the matrix numbers as a score that he put the 'A' and the 'B' on the wrong sides of the masters (or maybe he was told to?). This caused some chaos, with the labels being put on the wrong sides for some time. If you look at the labels above you will see that the Dragon label transfers the track listing between the sides and this puts the track listings on the label in line with what's on the vinyl (but now the opposite to what is printed on the sleeve!). The only copy I have seen that is correctly labelled and matches the sleeve listing is that very first pressing. It gets slightly more complicated in that there is a 'hidden' track at the end of 'Give Me Cornbread When I'm Hungry'. People tend to think that this bonus track is only to be found on rare early pressings, but it is actually on all US copies pressed between 1965 and 1979. But people who go looking for it, if the album is mislabelled, tend to play 'Worried Blues' believing it to be 'Cornbread', and then think that they don't have the bonus track. For confusion, it's not exactly in the 'Voice of the Turtle' class, but it can take some getting your head around. The tune that appears at the end of 'Cornbread' is called 'Country Blues'. I originally put up the beginning of 'Dance of Death' in error, and look rather foolish as a result, but here is the correct Country Blues as a download; it isn't on the CD. My thanks to Malcolm Kirton for being very patient in correcting me, and for elucidating the connection between 'Cornbread' and 'Country Blues',
which is that Dock Boggs' original 'Country Blues' includes the lines:
Give me cornbread when I'm hungry, good people, corn whiskey when I'm dry
Pretty women a-standing around me
Sweet heaven when I die

The Adelphi sessions which produced this album turned up many outtakes, and here is the first: Television Song

In 1967, the first three albums were repackaged. Volumes 1 & 2 were new recordings, but this one wasn't. It was retitled 'Volume 3: The Dance of Death and Other Plantation Favorites'.

GUITAR Volume 4

The original 1966 release:

Circa 1968:

Circa 1970:

Circa 1972:

Circa 1973:

Circa 1975:

Curious: the 1970 orange label has the track listing on side 1 all in upper-case, where side 2 is mixed-case.

There are three sleeve variations that I have seen for this album. All use a single coloured wrapper pasted round a black sleeve. The first two are brown/bronze, and the differences between them are that the second one has the Takoma 'T' logo in the upper right-hand corner of the front cover and that a map replaces the discography on the rear cover. The final sleeves are red. None bear any indication as to whether the record inside is likely to be labelled as mono or stereo.

The matrices for this record are 'TAKOMA C1008 A' and 'TAKOMA C1008 B'

(My thanks to Chris Ullsperger for giving me a prompt to correct my earlier entry here)