The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death

Editor’s note: GW = George Winston, from his detailed sleeve notes to the cd reissue.

Beautiful Linda Getchell
From American and Spanish Fandango by R B Smith and S J Allgood. (Composer credit: Fahey/Smith)
GW: A beautiful melodic waltz, in standard tuning, key of C, co-composed with L. Mayne Smith who plays rhythm banjo on the piece. This is interesting because John rarely played with anyone on his early recordings. Note the nice C suspended fourth chord and distinctive picking pattern by John.
Orinda-Moraga
These are two small towns directly east of Berkeley, California. Fahey spotted the names conjoined on a freeway sign.
GW: This song is in open D major tuning (D-A-D-F#-A-D). John often uses a technique that he invented - a rapid roll where the thumb plays the sixth string, the index finger plays the third string, the middle finger plays the second string, and the thumb plays the fourth string. Orinda-Moraga is bluesy, dissonant, slightly ragaesque, and at times starkly impressionistic.
The only time Orinda has hit the headlines was some time in the 1990s : “The shooting was the second time this month that a dog-lover has been killed by his pet. Police officers in the California town of Orinda said last week that a Rhodesian ridgeback had accidentally run over its master by putting his parked car into gear as he walked in front of it.”
I Am The Resurrection
GW: Played on steel guitar, lap style, in a drone tuning John invented using all tonic and fifth notes (D-G-D-G-G-D). This song features another technique that John invented – a double strum using two different fingers going from the high strings to the low strings. This song is inspired in part by Hark from the Tomb by bluesman Jesse Fuller (GW).
On The Sunny Side Of The Ocean
JF in 1983: It’s kind of an abstract melody line. Yet you feel like there is a melody. It really is an implied melody.
GW: One of John’s truly classic compositions in open G major tuning (D-G-D-G-B-D). This song again has his signature rapid picking roll. It is beautiful and impressionistic, yet slightly bluesy and dissonant.
Title is Fahey’s play on the Hank Snow hit The Sunny Side of the Mountain.
Tell Her To Come Back Home
GW: This piece, in standard tuning, key of C, features another Fahey invention: backward picking where the third string is played on the first and third beats and the lower pitched fifth string, which is normally played on the first and third beats, is instead played on the second and fourth beats. The introduction is by John and the second part is by early country music pioneer, banjo player, and Grand Ole Opry star, Uncle Dave Macon. This song was also known as a square dance piece entitled Cindy.
My Station Will Be Changed After While
Mysteriously absent from the DDD notes.
GW: This improvised composition is in D 'modal' tuning (D-A-D-G-A-D), and the title is religious in nature. Again the backwards picking style is used.
Malcolm Kirton notes: This is a gospel song, recorded (among others) by Uncle Dave Macon. The song is credited on the label to Macon/Fahey. The piece under this title on "Transfiguration" is a medley of two songs: Willie Moore and (the second part) My Station Will Be Changed. Possibly this piece is the one listed in DDD 23 as Willie Moore. The melody of Willie Moore is the same one used for the well-known folk song Jesse James.
101 Is A Hard Road To Travel
The chorus of Uncle Dave Macon’s song goes “Oh pull off your overcoat and roll up your sleeves/ Oh Jordan is a Hard Road to Travel I believe”. According to Cohen & Seeger the tune is “traceable to a minstrel tune by Dan Emmett” and was parodied many times
GW: The first section is in standard tuning, key of C, capoed up two frets to the sound of the key of D. It is based on Jordan Is a Hard Road to Travel by Uncle Dave Macon. The second part, a Fahey composition, again featuring his rapid picking roll, is in open G major with no capo (GW).
How Green Was My Valley
GW: This bluesy piece is played in slide guitar, lap style, and is in open G major tuning.
Bicycle Built For Two
GW: Composed in 1892 by Harry Dacre, an Englishman. This turn-of-the-century standard is played in standard tuning, key of C, with the tonic C chord often played with the fifth note, G, in the bass. This was also common in the blues guitar tradition – the playing of the fifth (or the third) of the chord as the bass note while muting it with the side of the right hand.
Possibly Fahey was inspired to record this by hearing Merle Travis’s turbocharged fingerpicked version back in the 1950s.
The Death Of The Clayton Peacock
IFC staff member Paul Bryant writes: This is the first thing by Fahey I ever heard, on John Peel’s “Top Gear” show on BBC Radio One, way way back in 1969. It was pretty much the strangest thing I’d ever heard. It had the effect of slowing you right down to a dead stop. You had to hear it again.
JF in 1969 [on the Guitar Guitar TV show, released on video]: “I used to live in Mount Diablo and I’d ride into school every morning, and there was a lady who raised peacocks, and she had one peacock left.
JF in 1994 expanded a little: “A lady named Mrs DeJesus raised peacocks there, and they kept getting hit until there was only one left.”) Then it got run over one morning, and it laid in the street for two or three days, then somebody cut its tail off. I was very upset.” Interviewer: “And so you wrote a song about it.” JF: “Well, no, but it made a good title.”
Brenda’s Blues
GW: This is a beautiful and unique ragtime piece, in standard tuning, key of C, capoed up the third fret to sound in the key of E-flat. This song begins with a unique chord progression (given here in the key of C) with the IV 6 chord (F 6th), to the flat VI 7 chord (A-flat 7th with an E-flat in the bass), to the tonic I chord (C), to the VI 7 chord (A 7th), to the IV 6 chord (F 6th), to the V 7 (G7), to the I tonic chord (C)
Old Southern Medley
GW: This medley starts with Old Black Joe and progresses to Camptown Races, both by Stephen Foster. The third theme is Some of These Days I’ll Be Gone, by the great and most influential Mississippi Delta blues guitarist, singer, and composer, Charley Patton. Patton recorded this in November 1929. John adds a second part to the Patton theme, playing high thirds on the two highest pitched strings. The medley ends with Dixie, composed by Daniel Decatur Emmett in the mid-1800s. In open C major tuning (C-G-C-G-C-E).
Many people recorded medleys of Southern melodies. We cite Dad Massey, Ford Hanson, Len and Joe Higgins, Riley Puckett and Charley Poole.
Come Back Baby
GW: This traditional piece, in open D major tuning, uses the classic eight-bar blues chord progression (here D-D7-G-B-flat D-A-D-A). This is another duet with L. Mayne Smith playing blues licks on banjo answering John’s slide guitar phrases. This version was inspired by Country Paul who recorded for King Records in the 1950s.
This tune belongs to the How Long/Sitting on Top of the World family. Cf Snooks Eaglin’s version.
Poor Boy
GW: A classic Vestapol type piece by the late great Mississippi bluesman Booker T. (Bukka) Washington White, for which John composed the bridge. This song is in open D major tuning, a tuning often called “Vestapol,” especially by blues players.
Saint Patrick’s Hymn
Traditional Irish melody first published in 1885 .
GW: One of John’s many signatures is arranging hymns. Saint Patrick’s Hymn is an Anglican and Roman Catholic hymn for communion, attributed to Saint Patrick .

Note on Riverboat and the other June 1965 material

“Transfiguration” was issued before The Great San Bernardino Birthday Party (Volume 4) by Riverboat Records, and later reissued by Takoma, when it became Volume 5. The material was taken from sessions recorded in June 1965 listed in DDD 23 and 24. These sessions pose intractable problems. The IFC has laboured long and hard; brains have been cudgelled and brows mopped; virtual conferences engaging the expertise and insight of the world’s most renowned and feared Faheyologists have taken up entire on-line weekends and the end result is no more than the merest guesswork. Some of these titles were issued on Volume 5 - they of course present no problems. Two titles (Texas & Pacific Blues and Train) were issued as a Fonotone 78. But some were released by the capricious Fonotone label on curious 10” albums under the title John Fahey – The Early Years. The sleeve of that album bore no titles – which are they? Even Fahey or Bussard couldn’t say. Here’s what the original "Transfiguration" sleevenote had to say:

“With the failure of Mr. Fahey’s Galopagus Tortoise crop in 1956, he removed himself for a few years to the sunny gales and he hoped, for greener pastures, of Topanga Canyon, California, at a place called “Eagle’s Nest.” There at the home of Robert Riskin of McCabe’s Guitar Shop, and among the golden birds between the crumbling carpathe, under the resilient dome, over the gentile griff, Fahey recorded again for the Delta Haze Recording Company, whose owners were Mr. Barrett Mansen (illustration no. 10) and Mr. Mark Levine. The former, a brewery owner, capable and decisive manager and financer, and the latter who was well-endowed financially also, endeavored to cash in on the current Blue-Grass Phaze which was sweeping the nation. The latter was also a gifted and talented guitarist, and so a session was arranged in which various combinations of instruments and vocalists were used, but only three musicians were present – Levine on back-up guitar and second kazoom, L. Mayne Smith, whose graceful five-string banjo work has been described as “much like a lacy filigree,” and Fahey who played Hawaiian guitar, while Smith doubled by playing lead kazoom. The session, unrehearsed, was in some respects an example of communal creation. The main musical ideas, according to Fahey, whose testimony generally checks out, were his own, but as he stated, 'both Smith and Levine contributed a great deal during that session not merely in terms of competent backupmanship, but in terms of creativity'.

The tapes from this session were stolen by Mr. ED Denson, of Takoma Records, who, also a very shrewd and able businessman (“Mogul” might be a better term), according to his nature will stoop to any means to enhance his economic situation. Denson likewise wanted to cash in on the Blue-Grass Phaze as he had on the Delta Haze. And indeed he did. He sold some of the cuts to Mr. Ralph Riverboat of Boston, and these were issued on Riverboat RB 1, The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death. Despite what the RB notes state to the contrary, Mr. Fahey, assures us that the account we have given is accurate. Denson denies it.”

This account is from 1968, so even three years after these sessions memories were already clouded by the palpable air of dissention which hung in the air over Topanga Canyon.

At any rate, Denson appears to have gained possession over the session tapes and handed them over to the mysterious Ralph Doppmeyer aka Ralph Riverboat of Boston, whose selection became the classic Volume 5. The outtakes were, it appears, turned over to Joe Bussard, who issued various others on the 10 inchers, in a spirit redolent more of liberality than discographical exactitude.

The IFC therefore very tentatively identifies the following songs as the ones issued by Fonotone. We are quite sure we are incorrect.

1. St Patrick’s

2. New Mind Reader Blues (Note: actually a Buddy Boy Hawkins piece in open G – the provisional title comes from Jo Ann Kelly’s version of the Bertha Lee Patton tune, which Fahey accompanied with his Hawkins imitation.

3. House Carpenter

4. How Long

5. The Portland Cement Factory at Monolith, California

6. The Last Steam Engine Train

7. All Sing a Song of Christ’s Saints of God

8. Delta Serenade

9. Farewell, My Bluebell

10. Unknown title

11. Farewell, My Bluebell

12. 101 is a Hard Road to Travel/Russell Blaine Cooper

13. I Ride an Old Paint

14. I Ride an Old Paint #2

15. Unknown title

16. Western Medley

17. Unknown title

18. I Ride an Old Paint #3

19. Unknown title (with veena)

20. Variations on the Coo Coo

21. Texas and Pacific Blues

Titles Durgan Park and The Bitter Lemon occur in DDD but we don’t know what they are.

Note: Texas & Pacific Blues is by The John Fahey Shuffle band (same lineup as on Volume 5) but this time all three play kazoos. Their arrangement strongly resembles Bugle Call Blues by Cannon’s Jug Stompers, and Richland Woman Blues by Mississippi John Hurt. Revived in a more formal and frankly superior version on Of Rivers and Religion. The tune was recorded by King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band (and others) as Wa Wa Blues.

Note: Western Medley. A real mystery. DDD states this is by JF, guitar & veena, and N S Dusty, 1st & 2nd guitar. The pirated “Engineers’ Notes” (so-called – see The Voice of the Turtle) indicate that this was considered for release on VOT, but these notes give the players as “Double guitar Jane Chapman, backwards veena forwards veena by Fahey”. Fahey described his Al Wilson veena outing, Sail Away Ladies , which follows this in the session, as consisting of an hour of improvisation which was edited down. That description sounds more like Western Medley, which is clearly improvisational, and which in some way found its way onto the benighted Fonotone album.