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.