Liner Notes to The Epiphany of Glenn Jones:

The Making of The Epiphany of Glenn Jones

I was introduced to the music of John Fahey in the early '70s by my high school art teacher, who played me "The River Medley" from the first of his two Reprise albums, Of Rivers and Religions. The first album I bought myself was Fahey's fourth for his Takoma label, The Great San Bernardino Birthday Party. It was, for me, one of those life-changing albums, important as only the right album at the right time is to a curious kid with a growing interest in esoteric music.

In high school, I'd discovered the requisite mind blowers: Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica,Stockhausen's Hymnen, the Stooges' Fun House. Later, I began corresponding with Harry Partch and Sun Ra and purchased records from them via mail. I began playing guitar after hearing Hendrix's Axis: Bold As Love. But the discovery of Fahey's music struck me more closely than did the others; among acoustic guitarists he quickly became my favorite. I bought every album by him I could find, and was soon enveloped in the esoteric world he invented in his liner notes. All very mysterious, obscure -- and very sexy.

At the time, I lived close enough to New York City to make it in whenever he appeared. Soon I was monkeying around with open tunings myself.

A few years later I moved to the Boston area, where Fahey has always had a large following and where he was playing fairly regularly at the time. I began corresponding with other devotees of "the Takoma school" (mainly in Europe) and was soon trading tapes of Fahey the way other kids traded tapes of Led Zeppelin. Bootleg guitar tablature soon followed.

I finally met John in the late '70s at one of his shows at Jonathan Swift's, in Cambridge's Harvard Square. Fahey was asking the audience to name the composer of a piece he'd just played. Amidst shouts of "Chet Atkins" ("What??! Hell, no!!") and "Barbecue Bob" ("Barbecue Bob? I like Barbecue Bob, but that's not even close.") I identified the piece as one by Brazilian guitarist Bola Sete. (Sete's Ocean - which Fahey had produced and issued on Takoma - may be the most perfect solo acoustic guitar album ever recorded.) Fahey asked me to come see him after the show; I'd won a date with my hero. We hung out and I discovered we shared other interests as well - Blind Willie Johnson and Skip James, the Stanley Brothers, the Third Symphony of Roy Harris. (At the same time I thought I was too smart, too self-aware, to let myself be caught up in anything as sordid as sycophantic groupie-ism. After all, I was very familiar with Fahey's Guitar Player article about his obsession with - who else? - Bola Sete. One of the essential Fahey tracts, it is John's account of his own battles with demon idolatry.)

In the early '90s our first drummer, Chris Guttmacher, and I formed Cul de Sac, a vehicle for my own experiments with open tunings and an attempt to wed fingerstyle guitar with other influences - middle eastern, electronic and trance music, etc. - set in a rock context. We covered Fahey's "Portland Cement Factory at Monolith California" on our debut album, ECIM. Subsequently, Fahey's influence on me (and thus Cul de Sac) would frequently be cited in articles and reviews of our records and shows.

In 1995, writer Byron Coley visited Fahey in Portland, Oregon for a feature he'd pitched to Spin. Career-wise and health-wise Fahey was not doing well. Though some of his Takoma albums had been reissued, the bulk were out-of-print and few had been reissued on CD. A divorce (his third) had left him with little. The fact that he wasn't gigging had dulled his playing. He was living in a "welfare motel" where drug deals and robberies were not uncommon. He supplemented his income by canvassing for records at thrift stores, which he resold to dealers (he's especially knowledgeable in the area of collectible classical LPs). When the money got too scarce he even pawned his guitars.

Coley's article, along with several pages devoted to him in Spin's Record Guide to Alternative Music, had the effect of kick-starting Fahey's flagging career. A potential audience unfamiliar with his work grew curious. Prompted by Coley, Geffen Record's Ray Farrell got approval to record demos for a proposed album which would feature John backed by some musicians he supposedly influenced: Thurston Lee from Sonic Youth, Beck, Cul de Sac and others.

No matter that Fahey was still suffering from Epstein-Barr, had been diagnosed with diabetes and was not playing especially well; the idea seized me. We'd pull it off somehow.

The proposed album had been budgeted only through the demo stages. If the demos passed muster with the honchos at Geffen, then the album would be given the nod for real. But Geffen didn't want to fly Fahey to the East Coast to record, preferring to wait until he was touring there to send him into the studio.
But no gigs were forthcoming. Finally, Manny Greenhill, Fahey's longtime manager, died. The project, as it had been originally conceived, withered on the vine.

Following the release of our China Gate album in mid-'96, Robin Amos was discussing "projects that might have been" with Thirsty Ear's Peter Gordon, and Fahey's name came up. A fan, Gordon was enthusiastic about the idea of a collaboration between Fahey and Cul de Sac and began negotiations with Fahey's new manager, Dean Blackwood.

At the same time, Fahey's decade long battle with Epstein-Barr had about run its course. John's creative energy and strength were returning. He'd begun experimenting with electric instruments and effects boxes, and was recording new sound collages (they'd always been a part of his earlier work, despite their unorthodoxy by "folk music" standards, even in the '60s); but now Fahey was incorporating harsher, more industrial noises into his sonic compositions.

Fahey's guitar playing was also changing. Stripped to its barest essentials, his playing was simpler, freer. He'd abandoned some of the aggressive double thumbing of his early records, but without sacrificing any of the actual aggression itself. Fahey recorded City of Refuge, his first new album of original material in several years.

And suddenly he was very much in the limelight. Gastr del Sol covered John's "Dry Bones in the Valley" for their album, Upgrade and Afterlife, which led to the band and Fahey touring together on the West Coast. Vestapol issued a video of Fahey recorded live in early '96 at the Freight & Salvage in Los Angeles. Fantasy, which had purchased the rights to the Takoma catalogue, began to reissue John's albums on CD, complete with their original notes and previously unissued and "lost" tracks. Britain's The Wire ran a lengthy interview with Fahey and Jim O'Rourke. The Table of the Elements label hired John to play its Yttrium Festival in Chicago in November of '96, where Fahey appeared alongside guitarists Loren MazzaCane Connors, O'Rourke and violinist Tony Conrad. Fahey recorded an album with O'Rouke producing. Articles and interviews began appearing everywhere. Perhaps most exciting was the birth of Fahey's first label since he'd lost Takoma decades ago: Revenant (headed by Fahey and Dean Blackwood).

I didn't like Fahey's new album as much as the records I'd grown up listening to. But I thought Cul de Sac could make an album with the hero of my imagination and of an imagined 1966 anyway; in short, with a John Fahey who didn't exist (and probably never existed, except in the temple I'd built for him in my mind.)

Following Fahey's Chicago appearance he flew to Cambridge to prepare for this album. Though I'd known him for years I had no idea what it would be like to work with John. Except for our drummer, Jon Proudman, the rest of Cul de Sac - Robin and Chris - were only slightly familiar with Fahey's work.

The affair got off to a rocky start. Fahey missed his connecting flight and landed in Boston several hours after his luggage. When he did appear he discovered he'd left all his medication in his Chicago hotel room and had to go to the emergency room of a Cambridge hospital to get his prescription filled. Fort Apache cancelled our reservation for the studio and booked someone else, which sent us scrambling for another place to record. Fahey received his contract and was in a stew over its terms which he bitterly complained about until Dean explained that everything was in order. Fahey would enthuse over the material I was presenting one day; the next day he hated it.

It's wrong to create heroes; it's not possible for them to fit the perverse folds of one's imagination.

For a week of rehearsal I struggled to teach Fahey some of our material, and learn some of his that I could teach to the band. This was a mistake. In trying to be Fahey's conduit to the band (and vice versa), I managed to piss off both the band and Fahey.

After a Boston photo shoot, we made our way to Warren, Rhode Island's Normandy Studios, the new site for the project. We had nine days to record and mix an album. But, after two days of recording basics, John, growing more and more impatient, rebelled. I discovered that he had no interest in making the kind of record I'd envisioned. He attacked the material, said it would be disastrous for his career to be associated with it, called us a "retro lounge act."

And while Cul de Sac might run through a song three or four times, Fahey rarely played a song more than once. He has little patience in striving for the perfect take. Accidents and serendipity delight him. (I can still see him stretched out on the floor of the studio control room listening to the playback of this album's final track, roaring with laughter.) For him, recording is an opportunity to be in touch with his inner self and his emotions.

So the album - as I'd tried to mold it - blew up in my face. Fahey refused to play most of what we'd rehearsed. The rest of the band, feeling good about the basics we'd laid down, was back in Boston at this point and had no idea what was going on.

I felt at sea - depressed and confused. I had grave doubts whether the project could continue; whether I could continue.

Making matters worse were our accommodations. The studio apartment where Cul de Sac and our producer were to live for the nine days of the sessions ran out of fuel just as the November weather turned suddenly bitterly cold and it began to snow. It being Thanksgiving week, we were told we couldn't expect any relief for at least a couple of days. Without heat (or hot water) we brought the studio space heaters up to the apartment to try to provide some warmth - and promptly blew out all the fuses in the place. Now we were without light as well. My bunk bed collapsed. I felt as though I was taking part in some hellish sensory-deprivation experiment.

Several days into the project I awoke, feeling grubby and dazed. My breath was visible on the frozen air. As the sun rose over the skeletal remains of a dead pigeon on the windowsill, I stared blearily into the bleak Warren streets and thought myself - and this project - accursed.

Meanwhile, Fahey (who was staying in a motel during the sessions) was arriving fresh at the studio each morning, nonplussed by what I viewed as a catastrophe. ("Sorry," said my hero.)

Then Peter at Thirsty Ear began calling. Having invested deeply in the project, he was now in a panic and demanded to know what was happening. What could I say? We didn't know.

Exhausted, I wondered what to do. I could quit the project (an attractive idea, given how I was feeling emotionally and physically), or I could just let go and see what happened. Our producer, Jon Williams, urged me to surrender. When I did I felt the greatest relief of my life. I stopped worrying. I tried to keep an open mind about what was happening, and I let it happen. I refused to take calls from anyone. From that point on my sole responsibility was to Cul de Sac, Fahey and our producer.

In scrapping what we'd started, the process of making a record together became part of the record itself. The sessions became more challenging. The mood of the music was often dark, mysterious - at times almost morbid. But, as we and Fahey got into it, the sessions became more spontaneous - more fun. (For "Gamelan Guitar" I recorded eight tracks of dried rice, lentils, pinto and fava beans being poured into different size bowls and onto the strings of four different guitars, each in its own variant open G tuning.)

The Epiphany of Glenn Jones isn't the album I envisioned. Likely it is a more interesting album than any of us (save Fahey perhaps) had imagined: braver, more honest, more personal and more a reflection of who and where we were at the time we made it. By Fahey's criteria, that counts for a lot. And while I haven't revised my opinion of City of Refuge, I now understand why John is so proud of that album - it is a snapshot of himself at the time he made it.

More importantly, the scales fell from my eyes about John Fahey. "Good!" said Fahey when I told him,"now maybe we can be better friends."

What put this album back on track?
Something very unusual occurred. Fahey had recorded a spoken word piece ("Beginning," not included here) which gave us an inkling as to how we might proceed. A faint flicker of hope - a sign - then Fahey hit the the thrift stores to shop for used records.
He returned excited. He hadn't bought any records. Instead he brought back with him one of the most extraordinary objects I've ever seen. I can't possibly describe it in a way that will do it justice. It was a monstrosity. Shaped like an art deco "S," with a hole in the middle and the top, it appeared to be made of some sort of glazed ceramic. Painted in pink, maroon, light blue and yellow stripes, each color was separated by a thin shaky gold line. (Obviously it was hand painted, but by what perverted, unsteady hand?) Fahey was beside himself. "Everything's going to be alright! I found it! It's...the Great Kooniklaster!"
Fahey reverently placed the Great Kooniklaster in front of the control room window and sent the assistant engineer on a hunt for lighting appropriate for its shrine. Once situated in its spotlit glory, Fahey insisted that we look at it as we recorded the album, that we worship it.
In retrospect, I can't help but wonder if Fahey meant to show that only by ceasing to worship false idols (John Fahey) could the project be allowed to proceed. And so he brought in a substitute - a true idol.
Was this the meaning of the Great Kooniklaster?
There is little more to say. The album stands. It was, for me, an ordeal to make. It still smarts to listen to it. But it feels like the right album at the right time. I'm very proud of it.

-- Glenn Jones - Cambridge, MA - June 1997

Post Script: Shortly after these sessions the Great Kooniklaster fell off the top of the refrigerator and shattered. It has served its purpose.

"Destroy yr idols" indeed.

{Notes courtesy Thirsty Ear Records}

The Great Kooniklaster
photo courtesy Glenn Jones

The Epiphany of Glenn Jones
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