The Legend of Blind Joe Death

Excerpts from Glenn Jones' notes for the reissue:

On Blind Joe Death 1

Of the record itself, one side was credited to John Fahey, the other to an obscure bluesman that Fahey had "discovered" named Blind Joe Death-or at least that was the album's intended conceit. In spite of the bluesman's rather unlikely name, and the fact that the guitarists on both sides of the record sounded remarkably similiar, at least one well-know folk scholar was taken in by the hoax. This was the first of many subterfuges perpetrated by Fahey, whose future liner notes (and those of aide de camp, Ed Denson), would be full of lies, in-jokes, obscure references, and absurdities, often written in a tone that mocked the texts of prominent blues scholars and folklorists of the day. Considering the fact that Fahey was then as wellknown as his invented blues counterpart, one wonders how many people outside Fahey's immediate circle of friends "got" the joke (or cared), or why he bothered to perpetrate such a deception in the first place. Though the deeper answers to that question must lie in the recesses of Fahey's noggin, the fact is that John has always done exactly what he wants and has sought to amuse himself first and foremost.

On the first reissue:


Rather than simply repressing the original "gas station" edition of the album, Fahey felt his playing had improved enough to warrant recording anew several tracks he was no longer satisfied with, which he did in April of 1964. Though the cover of the reissue would declare that Fahey had newly recorded five songs for the second edition ("On Doing an Evil Deed Blues," "In Christ There Is No East or West," "The Transcendental Waterfall," "Desperate Man Blues," and "Uncloudy Day"), a comparison of the tracks made in '59 and '64 reveals that "Uncloudy Day" is the same recording. "St. Louis Blues" was slightly edited from the 1959 original, eliminating the song's opening verse. Dropped altogether was Fahey's version of Blind Blake's "West Coast Blues." (John was never pleased with his recordings of the song. He later claimed he couldn't use the original version because the only surviving copy of the album had a bullet hole through the track!) To compensate for the missing song Fahey recorded a nearly 11-minute take of "The Transcendental Waterfall," expanding the length of the original version by some four minutes. This song is important as an early example of Fahey's stretching of musical form and harmony. His experimentation with noise and meaningful dissonance was still coming into focus. "'...Waterfall' was premature," notes John; "only now can I play that kind of stuff."

The second pressing--a 10-song, monophonic album--was issued late in 1964. The new edition maintained the Blind Joe Death charade. Only slightly more elaborately packaged than the first, the album came in a plain white cardboard sleeve with "John Fahey" printed on one side of its cover and "Blind Joe Death" on the other in large block type. Included with the new edition were liner notes by Denson and one "Chester C. Petranick." (Fahey chose as his alias the name of his high school guidance counselor.) Spoofing the sort of scholarly booklets that Folkways and other such labels included with their records. Fahey and Denson's colorfully concocted notes were a mix of manifesto and manifest nonsense.

The second reissue:

For several years major labels had been issuing records in both mono and stereo formats. By 1967 Takoma was doing well enough financially to justify the recording of Fahey's first and second albums for the burgeoning stereo market. Thus Vol.1: Blind Joe Death, as the record would be titled henceforth, was recorded for the third time and it is probably this release that most people are familiar with today.
For the new version Fahey recorded all but one song on the album. (The recording of "The Transcendental Waterfall" used on BJDIII was the one recorded for BJDII with about four minutes lopped off.) He recorded one new track for the reissue: "I'm Gonna Do All I Can for My Lord." His new take of the Episcopal hymn "In Christ There Is No East or West" would become the most well-known and oft-played song on the album. (I heard the song dozens of times throughout the early '70s as background music for the scriptural musings of the pious-voiced narrator of Thoughts for Tomorrow, metropolitan New York's nightly televised sermonette. This low budget bromide was the last thing beamed out to bleary-eyed insomniacs before the station shut down its transmitter in the wee hours of the morning.)

On the third reissue:

In preparing Blind Joe Death for reissue, it was decided to include all of the material on BJDII and BJDIII, including the long take of "The Transcendental Waterfall" (omitting the edited version used on the stereo recording). "West Coast Blues," the track which had only previously appeared on the "gas station" edition, seems not to have survived its bullet wounds, but a later take was discovered (from sessions recorded in August 1964) which has never been issued before. This release also contains the original liner notes that came with BJDII. These will be new to many.

-Glenn Jones
Cambridge, Massachusetts, February 1996