One of the great acoustic guitar records of all time, no contest. Spellbinding tunes, great fingerpicking, mesmerising, emotional, never ever just pretty. That's the music, here's some history:
In 1959 the 19 year old egomaniac John Fahey decided to make an album of solo acoustic blues-based guitar pieces and, knowing that the world was just not interested in any such thing (why doesn't he sing?) didn't even bother to try to interest a real record company, so he borrowed 300 dollars and got 100 copies of his album pressed up all by himself. One side said JOHN FAHEY, the other side BLIND JOE DEATH, sort of implying that there were two guitarists, the other being an old blues guy. But that was just a little joke, there was only Fahey.
It took 3 years to sell the 100 records and then instead of re-pressing the album he figured he could play better, so in 1964 he rerecorded most of it. Then, in 1967, he did it all over again. So there are three versions. This marvellous release gives you most of 1964 and 1967. Why have two versions of the same album presented here? Why not just the latest and presumably best version? If you get to listen to it you'll hear why - it's all in the differences. With this release Fahey fans thought they'd died and gone to heaven.
on 23 November 2009
Four stars....the music deserves ten stars...but there are some "ifs&buts"!
Have read all the reviews and comments above with great interest and also with great joy...joy to find that Faheys music still after so many years can arise so much feelings...
And also that one commentor clearly pointed out that Fahey could not be regarded as a blues guitarist and thus not be compared with House, James and Hurt...so correct!
The cd in itself, or should I maybe better name it "the project" is a good example of what can be achieved with limited space in preserving and presenting this legendary Opus Magnum...
The music itself is not so very much to say about...a dozen and more reviewers have done so, and done it good, and I myself have been hooked for some good forty years by now...so what more to say about the music? It speaks for itself!
But I have a few critical remarks on discographical details, common knowledge to Fahey aficionados but perhaps of some interest to those who are newly arrived in Faheyverse.
This whole project is built around the legendary Blind Joe Death LP, recorded in St. Michaels and All Angels Church in Adelphi Maryland april 1959 with Pat Sullivan as
recording engineer (and not in the cellar studios of Joe Bussard as some reviewer suggested) and issued in 100 copies.
This LP has through the years achieved a mythical status!
It consisted of 11 titles divided by one certain Blind Joe Death on side A and one certain John Fahey on side B.
Blind Joe of course being the pseudonum for Fahey.
In retrospect it can be stated the the LP was regarded as incomprehensible even by blues and folk-music aficionados by that time.
Having in the meantime issued his second record Death Chants Breakdowns & Military Waltzes it was later decided for a reissue of Blind Joe Death. Much of this beacause there was building up an increasing interest on the East Coast and especially in the Boston area.
Five of the titles were re-recorded at Chris Strachwitz's Arhoolie Studio in Berkely in april 1964 and the LP was reissued with 10 titles in 1964. West Coast Blues from original track 1 side A was dropped.
And here begins "the Mystery"!
The Arhoolie session according to official Takoma discography claims re-recording of West Coast Blues, Uncloudy Day, Transcendental Waterfall, On Doing an Evil Deed Blues and In Christ There Is No East Or West.
Three of these were replacing the same titles of 1959 on the 1964 reissue, minus West Coast Blues, which was dropped although also this one was re-recorded. Also Uncloudy Day on the reissue was then1959 version, although recently re-recorded.
A long lived rumour claims that Desperate Man Blues was re-recorded and replacing the 1959 recording on the 1964 reissue. This rumour has been proven false by lack of any documentation whatsoever of re-recording and by careful aural examination of the different editions by renowned Fahey-scholars.
There is also among certain Fahey-scholars the opinion that on the 1964 reissue, the 1959 version of St. Louis Blues is cut down by circa 30 seconds. And some others claim that this is not the case!
Without direct access to the actual 1964 record it is hard to have an opinion on this...but... in fact there is actually in circulation one version of the 1959 recording of St Louis Blues which is in fact cut down by circa 35 seconds!(The opening verse is omitted.) Now whether this edit was made for the 1964 reissue or if it is of a later date with the help of computerized music editing programs is beyond my knowledge.
Due to Fahey had come into recognition nationwide it was further decided in 1967 to do a complete new re-reissue and thus all 10 titles from the 1964 version were re- and re-re-recorded (did You follow?) plus a new title recorded and inserted in the Canon: I'm Gonna Do All I Can For My Lord.
This 1968 issue survived regular new editions up until well into the seventies.
It was also licensed for issue 1969 in Europe with hilarious cover art and sleeve-notes by Pete Drummond.
That edition, today a much sought after collectors item, was issued by Transatlantic/Sonet and was in fake stereo! Otherwise completely on the same masters as the American issue.
And now time for the re-entry of the mystery-section!
Simultaneously with the 1968 issue it was decided to issue a double-LP set in a very limited edition for "collector and scholar purposes" of Blind Joe Death 1964 version and Death Chants original version, which became Takoma 1000 Early Sessions. This is of course today a prizeless collectors item and by the way not to be confused with the Fonotone project by the same name.
The Blind Joe Death section in this set is the 1964 version minus Transcendental Waterfall, which makes it a 9 titles record, but with some very interesting sleeve notes on the discographical details claiming that Desperate Man Blues here is the earlier mentioned 1963 non-existing re-recording from the Arhoolie session!
This still remains a mystery to be solved!
Finally in 2005 there was issued a limitided edition collectors replica of the 1959 vinyl LP.
To conclude: The Blind Joe Death Canon consists of 12 titles, of which West Coast Blues was omitted in 1964 and I'm Gonna Do All I Can For My Lord was inserted in 1968. Five titles were re-recorded in 1964 and all of them, except West Coast Blues, were re- or re-re-recorded in 1968 with the inclusion of the new recording of earlier mentioned I`m Gonna...Subsequently it can be said that contents the Canon were
recorded 27 times between 1959 and 1968....so there exist 27 different versions of titles to take into consideration when dealing with Blind Joe Death!
Blind Joe Death had four official issues in USA and one in Europe.
Generally one speaks only of three issues as the double LP Takoma 1000 was a very limited edition soon withdrawn from the Takoma catlogue and the European issue was on USA masters although in fake stereo and with different cover.
This cd consists of 21 of the aforementioned 27 recordings and notwithstanding explanations by the editors I can not see why such a prestigous and mucicological as well as historical important project as The Legend Of Blind Joe Death was not allowed to exhibit all 27 recordings in the Canon! In the end of course it all
comes down to financial considerations from the recording company. But I had been so much happier with a double cd beginning with the 1959 version followed by the 5 Arhoolie re-recordings and finally the 1968 version!
Further more on the title index on the back of the cd the title On Doing An Evil Deed Blues is misspelled/ misnamed On Doing All Evil Blues!
Further in Glenn Jones liner notes, aside from certain discrepancies that have been already dealt with, he
claims that the Transcendental Waterfall used in the 1968 issue is the 1964 version cut down by four minutes!
That is not the case! This composition was re-re-recorded in a shorter version for the 1968 issue, as can be clearly heard on aural comparision.
And for those who have the interest there is a similar story as this one concerning sleeve cover art and another just as intriguing concerning sleeve-notes!
But I will leave that for another occasion!
P.s. As anybody will discover when digging deeper into Faheys music.... some of the titles in the Canon were recorded again in the seventies and eighties on the America-session and Railroad-session and ideas from Transcendental Waterfall finally came back in his long epic compositions on America and Fare Forwards Voyagers....
Put Your past ahead of You.....