Blind Joe Death

1964 Liner Notes

When John and his friend and mentor Blind Joe first recorded for Takoma in 1959, neither of them was a stranger to folk recordings. Blind Joe had appreared on LC and Br, respected labels both, and with John had graced the halls and vaults of Fonotone. I regret going to press without the full discographical information on this subject, but I have been given to understand that certain Fonotone recordings are in the hands of the Folk phalanx of UCLA, and no doubt someone's thesis will decide to the satisfaction of the future which of the many Fahey & Death pseudonyms were used by this pioneering company.

The folk market being what it was in 1959, our Board of Directors decided to limit the first edition to 100 copies. These were quickly sold during the following years, fully justifying our shrewd Directors. Two copies were broken, but the owners of the other 98 made John and Joe - as Phil Spiro put it in Broadside of Boston - "living legends."

In 1963, John recorded his second LP, saddened that Death was not there to share in a triumph that was as much his as anyone's. The extent of that triumph may be seen in the fact that our Directors, without hesitation, issued (in part) the following statement in a June press conference:

"It is a measure not only of the tremendous gain in maturity, stature, and international reputation of Mr. Fahey, but of the vital and expanding folk market in this nation and across the seas, that we have, without president, decided to issue an initial pressing of 300 copies of DEATH CHANTS, BREAK DOWNS, & MILITARY WALTZES."
Once again John's record proved the Directos correct. In less than eight months the entire pressing was sold, and orders have been piling up since.

John's emergence into the public eye was in part responsible for this. He has played to standing audiences in the Washington, D.C. Unicorn; in the Jabberwock, the Blind Lemon, and the Cabale in Berkeley; and continuing this tour of the West Coast, he played a demand concert in San Diego and then he and Bill Barth were alone given the signal honor of an engraved hand-embossed in gold leaf invitation to play at the 1964 UCLA folk festival where they paralyzed the audience in the New Folks Concert.

Not only is John a "living legend" as a musician, he is the man to whom the folk music world owes, as Tom Hoskins said, "an unrepavable debt." In 1963 John, in collaboration with the Postal Authorities of the U.S. Government, rediscovered one of the most important blues singers of all time: Bukka White; and in 1964 he topped that by discovering the most important living blues singer, Skip James. It was on this trip that John, and his companion during the last few months of his life, Bill Barth, co-discoverer of Skip James, made their last public appearance, playing the ever popular Bitter Lemon in Memphis.

Shortly after John's disappearance in 1964, I was contacted by a Boston financier wishing to purchase a number of copies of John's first album. Encouraged by this, I tried to obtain the masters which had been in the possession of a "major." Evidently they had been destroyed. I then began the search for John, location him with some difficulty in Boise, Idaho, living in a converted bread truck which was parked on a hill outside of town. He was searching for Bertha Idaho, and thought that the studio had probably misspelled her name when the records were issued, as was the case with King Soloman Texas. John was troubled. Upon being asked why, he cast an irrevocably dissolute glance upon the bright city, and replied "No bread." John was flown to Berkeley in the Piedmont/Takoma private prop-jet and that very after noon he recorded for the unheard-of fee of $5000 (a considerable amount in the folk world - probably 100 times what Big Joe Williams gets, or half as much as Baez or Dylan). John again vanished and to get notes for this album I had to contact C.C. Petranick, in his tuba-patchery in Waco, Texas. Fortunately John and Barth had spent several evenings in Waco talking with the kindly old man, who was able to write down many previously unheard-of facts just prior to his recent death. Judging a tuba contest between two German marching bands, he was crushed to death when they collided. Our thanks to his widow for sending us the notes.

It will probably be helpful when you read these notes or listen to the music upon his record to keep in mind that Jean-Paul-Sartre said, thinking of the lessons he learned at the feet of big, bearded Edmund Husserl: "In English translation every given object posits a universe." Wallace Stevens showed the same thing poetically in his big one "The Jar" and the folks themselves have realized by frivolously casting aside onto logical fixity (e.g. "when is a door not? When it's in a poem by Wallace Stevens." -Stith-Thompson 36.005) that every object is essentially ambiguous. John's music, indeed his life, is a personal testament to the meaning of the intensely per sonal, bitter-sweet, biting, soul-stirring but above all human existence he led. We are all, in a sense alive, and it is because of this that John Fahey and Blind Joe Death have found an audience in the humble Lower East Side and the mansions of Venice. They live in the hearts of those that knew them and the minds of those that heard them.
- ED Denson

Dear Mr. Denson:
You ask for notes: the sun is shining but it's raining in my heart. Here is an ms found in Chester's desk the day after Deutsche Gesellschaft Gramophon Picnic and Parade.
Please excuse the coffe stains.

Fahey/Blind Joe Death Vol. 1

It was an ambivalent undetermined sort of day; the sun was shining and the mist was slowly falling, now up, now down. There in the midst of time, an ambivalent, indetermi- nate young man stepped irresolutely out of his unassuming young house and blinked his eyes in the soft wavering sun light.
"I feel unresolved," he said unresolvedly. "Perhaps someday I will find Blind Joe Death again and be able to finish up my thesis in ethnomusicology," he said chthonically.
So saying he wavered on in an aufheben sort of way toward the B and O Railroad tracks to try to discover Blind Joe Death the old blues guitar player, and perhaps also himself. Coming to the Chinese laundry next to the viaduct under the railway station he entered in and opened his mouth and inquired of the old boarded-up Cinnamon who ran the shop:
"Pardon me, have you seen an old Negro street musician by the name of Blind Joe Death?"
"Take your filthy fucking feminine component and suck out of here, muvva," the old mandarin replied in his quaint sing-song Cantonese dialectic.
"Ah," said the young man a little more resolutely, "the bourgeoisie reject me." Thus assured, he walked down the street under the viaduct, his aufheben quivering in the mist under the abandoned railroad station. Suddenly he stumbled over something which was more or less indetermi nate because of the fog. It was an old Negro sidewalk painter who made his living painting the portraits of the down trodden volk of Takoma Park on the sidewalks of that once great city.
"Pardon me," he said, "Have you seen an old Negro street musician by the name of Blind Joe Death?" his aufheben heaving.
"I don't pay any attention to color," said the old man sav agely. "I judge every man as an individual and not by any superficial standard such as race, color or creed. Why don't you fuck yourself with a file?"
"Ah," said the young man a little more resolutely, "the artists reject me." Now, yet surer of himself, he proceeded back through the viaduct toward the magic place where Carroll Avenue is majestically transubstantiated into Laurell Avenue. Stopping to inspect his aufheben, bruised when he tripped over the street artist, he saw a familiar form approaching from the mystic corner, Domenick Zurubian, his boyhood friend and idol! He stood stiffly waiting by the glass front of Youngblood's hardware store not daring to hope that Domenick Zurubian would rec ognize him; it was as well so, since Domenick Zurubian ignored him with a vaguely hostile glance, and began to pass by.
"Wait" he called to stop him, the words tore from his aufheben almost against his will. "Here is your pencil."
A light began to glow in Domenick Zurubian's oblique eyes (yes, those fascinating angled eyes, in the form of a horizon tal seven). "Don't I know you from somewhere?" "Yes, yes, the fourth form in the Takoma Military Academy!" "Well, damn if I can remember who you are," said Zurubian, with out embarrassment. "There were a couple of ambivalent indeterminate young men in that class." Zurubian left him by the glass front of Youngblood's hardware store with a lame excuse, and a smile, softly and resolutely, crisping his lip.
"Yes, then: I am an ambivalent indeterminate young man." His voice was a warm human bourgeois whisper, as he resolutely dissolved into the fog with the sound of drying wild flowers. "The wolves," he said, looking out the door before the stranger came in, "are gone now."

Resolutely he mounted the steps to the railroad tracks. There he found several old Negroes sitting on the tracks guzzling wine.
"Ah" he said to himself, "if they reject me too, it does not matter. I am now resolute."
"Pardon me" he said, "have any of you seen Blind Joe Death recently?"
"Yea verily" one of them replied. "I saw him two-three days ago meandering up towards pol' man Fahey's Cypress-tree and Galapagos Tortoise farm. You might find him up there. Then again you might not."
"Thank you very much," the young man replied, his aufheben severely pacified as he proceeded up the railroad tracks. As he was walking a train came screech ing down the tracks and ran over two or three of the Negroes.
"Ah," said the young man dissolutely, "The poor downtrodden volk of Takoma Park. They have no place to drink their wine in peace but the railroad tracks. Behold they are like the lilies of the field for they neither work nor travail, but they get run over by trains. Perhaps someday things will be different." Approaching a grove of cypress trees alongside the railroad tracks, which transubstantiated itself hodologically into a field of hay, where many large tortoises were grazing, the young man said to himself still resolutely, "Perhaps this is the farm of which the former citizen has spoken."

Emerging into the sun, he began to cross the gentle rolling hill of new mown hay when suddenly from out of nowhere a herd of wild dogs attacked him and tore his clothing and his limbs. Their teeth bit into his flesh. Screaming and bleeding he ran towards a farm house which he made out on a distant slope. Arriving there breathless he ran up the steps onto the porch. Throwing open the door he ran into the dwelling and slammed the door shut behind him. An old farmer who was seated in an oversized wicker basket jumped up at this and demanded of the resolute young man resolutely:
"What is this doggerel? Who do you think you are, running into my dwelling here in the midst of time?"
"Sir," he said, "I am beseiged by a herd of wild dogs. They have ripped and torn my clothes and I am bleeding profusely."
"I can see that you are bleeding and that your clothes are torn, but come look out the window. There are no dogs out there, and there never have been, not on my farm. What you saw was only some pages of old newspapers blowing in the wind. Come and see," said the old farmer. The young man turned towards the window and looking out of it he saw that there were indeed no dogs, now. Only old newspapers being tossed about on the sunny slopes of new moan hay. Strange though, they had the appearance as they blew to and fro of those very dogs which had just now attacked him.
"But," said the young man, "if that is true what did attack me and what drew all this blood?"
"I do not know," said the old man. "Perhaps in your haste you tripped and fell."
"Perhaps," said the young man. "The wolves," he said, looking out the window, "are gone now." As he turned to leave he asked the old farmer: "By the way, is this ol' man Fahey's Cypress-tree and Galapogos Tortoise farm?"
"Not any longer," said the old man. "I bought it from him many years ago, and it is now mine. Fahey moved to California or Caledonia or China or some place like that."
"Well," replied the young man, "perhaps you could tell me if you have seen an old Negro street musician named Blind Joe Death."
"Blind Joe?" he replied enigmatically, "He used to work for me in the cypress groves. But he left a few days ago. Said he was going to make records for somebody or other. Didn't even know he was a musician. Funny isn't it. Hope he does all right. He was a nice old guy."
Returning to his unassuming house, the young man now irresolute, attempted to open the door. It wouldn't open.
"Ah," he said, "perhaps it has happened again." He went to the back of his house and attempted to open a rear window. As the window gradually opened he was besieged with sheaves of falling grist.
"Ah," he said, "they have filled my dwelling with grist again while I was gone." This was a quite common occurrence in the indeterminate young man's life and the recurrence of it had left its mark on his aufheben.
"How long must I be in the prey of evil grist mongers?" he sighed to himself gently as his words floated in the evening breeze.
"Once again I shall have to call the used grist store, and ask them to come out and take this stuff off my hands. Tonight I shall have to sleep in the damp evening breeze. And still I have not found Blind Joe Death. I am indeed an unfulfilled indeterminate ambivalent young man." Later that evening he expired of an advanced case of previ ously undetected Heisenbergian Indeterminancy. Later and somewhat elliptically I met myself coming through the back door.
"The Wolves," he said looking out through the window before the stranger came in, "are gone now."

1. Discography of Blind Joe Death prior to the Takoma Sessions: Blind Joe Death (guitar) and Lemuel Forkworth (vocal-I), State Penitentiary, Raleigh, North Carolina, 1934. 268-B-1 When I Lie Down Last Night - 1

269-B In Trouble LC
Blind Joe Death (guitar) and Kid Bailey (vocal and guitar), Peabody Hotel, Memphis, c. Oct. 15, 1929. M-209/10 Mississippi Bottom Blues
Br 7114

M-211 Rowdy Blues ...

2. Discographical Musicological information re: Takoma 1, Blind Joe Death and John Fahey. Recorded at St. Michael's and All Angels' Church, Adelphi, Maryland, by Pat Sullivan, c. April 1959, and -1-recorded at the secret Berkeley studios of our benefactor.

St. Louis Blues (W.C. Handy) played by Blind Joe Death. Learned by Death in Memphis from W.C. Handy in whose band Death at one time played, previous to the great northern migration and the great crossing over.
Poor Boy a Lone Ways from Home (sic) learned by Death from an old Columbia record by Barbecue Bob (CO. 14246-D) which the Death household at one time possessed.
Uncloudy Day learned by Death in his youth at a primitive Baptist church in the Etruscan River Valley Delta Basin Region of Tunica County, Mississippi.
In Christ There Is No East nor West a hymn which was sung, in its world historical aspect, by Captain Marvel and the Mole Men during their heroic attempt to destroy the theological stranglehold of the 1920's.
Transcendental Waterfall originally intended to be a ballet which was to re-create in dance form an exciting and thrilling adventure Fahey once had, to be (so he told me) entitled and executed to wit:




Many years ago in the orient while John Fahey was learn ing the ancient martial art of Samurai sword fighting, Bill Barth was traveling through ancient Rustic Etrustica and there beside the waters of the Green River he met an ancient Haruspex named TIRESEUS whom he befriended and who taught him the ancient divinatory art of seeing into the future by observing lightning, natural prodigies, and by viewing the entrails of sacrificial victims-Haruspicy. Both, later when the advent of the downfall of the Adelphi Rolling Gristmill and the first foundation became apparent, decided to dedicate their lives to law and order enforcement. They had been relatively successful in their endeavors until several recent foils by EVIL DEVIL WOMAN.

It was in the old days before the flood during the first foundation. Civilization had been besieged for many years by EVIL DEVIL WOMAN and the EVIL GREEN HORDES FROM THE EAST. The question which all the guardians of right eousness and justice were asking was how long might man prevail against these bitter enemies of society. Could the demise of the first foundation be near at hand? When would the Transcendental Waterfall prophecy be fulfilled? In his secret mountain hideout Fahey was reading a newspaper article describing a recent robbery of a great quanity of being from a nearby band, committed by EVIL DEVIL WOMAN.
"Hark," said Fahey, "those crooks can't get away with their heinous plot to steal being from the world and transpose it somewhere else. Who do they they are anyway? Why should anyone have a monopoly on being?" Reading a little farther Fahey jumped up and said again addressing his faithful Jewish servant Barth, "Barth, Barth, twang your magic Haruspicy divining machine and see what our chances are." Barth faithfully and hebraically turned on the secret machine and looked into the view-scope.
"Boss," he said, "things don't look so bad as I thought. We'll get those crooks but good by the beard of Yahweh." (Music: 3rd movement beginning Gliere 3rd Symphony). Later, stand ing by the Atlantic Ocean somewhere near the ancient deserted city of Wacheprague, Fahey on his great Clydesdale horse, Kairos, said to his faithful Jewish servant Barth,
"Here they come Barth. We got here in the midst of time."
"Yes, Boss," said Barth. From out of the ocean slowly emerged gigantic GREEN BRONTOSAURUS. On its back sat majestically EVIL DEVIL WOMAN and CROKODILE MAN and GOS-HAWK MAN, and GRUFF THE MAGIC WAGON. There in their evility were ELEPHANT WOMAN and SHE WOLF and all the other EVIL DENSONS OF THE UNDERWORLD. "Great Glark," said Barth.
"Holy Gleeps," said Fahey.
"Relax Barth," said Fahey, "you don't understand big business. I'll do a number 725 kata all around 'em and that'll sure put those crooks in bitter Lemon Straits." At that Fahey with MAGIC SAMURAI SWORD ZEN BONG danced fiery magical circles all around EVIL DENSONS OF THE UNDERWORLD AND EVIL GREEN WHOARS FROM THE EAST, thrice. The evil ones were soon routed. EVIL DEVIL WOMAN fell into the sea clinging to SHE WOLF. ENIGMATIZING EPHEMERIZING CHIMERIZING EGLIOCLASTICAL RECALCITRATING MACHINE'S tubes exploded. EVIL DEVIL WOMAN and CROKODILE MAN and all the other evil ones were turned into brine.
"Zen bong gong fong," said ZEN BONG MAGIC SAMURAI SWORD.
"Yes," said Fahey, "it's all over now. We've made the world safe for Kledonomancy."
Barth: "Yes, now we can go home."
Fahey: "No, not yet. One more thing needs to be done. Barth, you must this day here in the midst of grime tell us of the future. Practice now that art you learned in ancient Etrustica. Read the entrials of the Brine here in the midst of slime and tell by extispicium what the future holds in store for law and order enforcement officers."
Barth: "Holy Scott Boss. It will be good for us but woe unto those crooks. For them the future will be terrible and hodological."

Desperate Man Blues follows roughly the theme of John Hardy and Sibelius' 7th Symphony.
Sun Gonna Shine in My Back Door Someday Blues originally written by Fahey in a fit of optimism which he later regretted. Said Fahey, "I used to make my money by railroading and steam, now I make my money driving a wagon and team."
On Doing an Evil Deed Blues originally composed by Fahey in remorse and guilt at having committed an evil deed.
Sligo River Blues this is an attempt to reconstruct an old song from three lines imperfectly remembered by an old peasant woman in the village of Balysodare, Sligo, who often sings them to herself. "Every hand is lunatic that travels on the Moon."

John Fahey went insane in 1964 and died shortly there after. He spoke to me in his last minutes on his dying bed and said: "Take down my old guitar and smash it against the wall so I can die easy." I did so and he passed away with a chthonic smile on his face.