Friday, April 18, 2014

blind joe death

John Aloysius Fahey recorded and released his debut album independently and pioneered American primitive guitar with the timeless transcendence of this folkloric fusion of country, bluegrass, and classical forms.  Fahey grew up in the Washington D.C. suburb of Takoma Park, Maryland and developed a passion for music after hearing Jimmie Rodgers' "Blue Yodel No. 7".  He ordered a guitar for seventeen dollars from the Sears-Roebuck catalogue and began collecting records and learning to play them.  Blind Willie Johnson's "Praise God I'm Satisfied" awakened an enduring love of the blues.  

Fahey would recount:    "I was listening at first just to country western and then the radio station we listened to to hear country western, in Washington D.C, changed it’s format and started playing nothing but Bluegrass. So then I got very interested in Bluegrass. Early Bluegrass is my favorite kind of music, not too many people know that. But I couldn’t learn to play it because you had to play so fast, you know? So I learned a few country western songs, I bought a chord book, and right away I started writing my own stuff, which nobody else did that, I don’t know why. I had a big background in listening to classical music and I started trying to compose, like I was playing the guitar but I heard an orchestra in my head. So I was really composing for full orchestra and of course I didn’t know enough chords or harmonies yet but I came up with some interesting stuff ... On the one hand, the more I played the guitar the more I began to really love the guitar and to love virtually any kind of music that anybody played well on guitar. In the music I was composing I was trying to express my emotions, my so called negative emotions, which were depression, anger and so forth. Like Stan Kenton did. He got away with it. I ‘ve always admired him for that. I listened to Stan Kenton a lot then and I still do. And I was trying to put together some distant music, I was thinking mainly of Bartok as a model, but played in this finger picking pattern, which I still use. So I was trying to put those things together into a coherent musical language which people would understand and it worked pretty good. Everybody else was just trying to copy folk musicians, I wasn’t trying to do that. I was using them as teachers for technique but I was never trying to be a folk. How can I be a folk? I’m from the suburbs, you know ... The other thing in composition is opening up the unconscious...When I play, I very quickly put myself into a light hypnotic trance and compose while playing, drawing directly from the emotions ... Well when I made my first record I thought it would be a good joke to have me on one side, have the label say John Fahey on one side, and this guy Blind Joe Death on the other side. The reason it said 'blind' is because a lot of the people I learned from were on old 78 RPM records and a lot of them were blind, and their names were Blind Willie Johnson, Blind Boy Fuller, Blind Joe Taggart, on and on, a whole bunch of them were blind. So me and a guy named Greg Eldridge we were sitting around drinking a beer one night and I was trying to find a catchy name for the other guy and he was helping me and he finally said 'Blind Joe Death', and I said 'um, That’s it!' Also I was thinking, when ever you print the word 'Death' people look at it and I was thinking of record sales already even though I was only going to have a hundred copies pressed ... I thought I'd be wasting my time to go to commercial record companies and make demos for them, because don't forget, I was doing what I was doing and nobody understood what I was doing ... The whole point was to use the word 'death'.  I was fascinated by death and I wanted to die. I probably could have told you that at the time, but I wasn't being that honest. Blind Joe Death was my death instinct. He was also all the Negroes in the slums who were suffering. He was the incarnation, not only of my death wish, but of all the aggressive instincts in me.  Initially he was everything that had to do with life and death that a person in our society is not supposed to feel. You're not meant to feel miserable in American society, you're supposed to keep the smile up. With Blind Joe Death I was secretly throwing hatred and death back in the faces of those people who told me I was bad and sinful because I had these feelings."  
'Blind Joe Death' was recorded at  St. Michael's and All Angels Church in Adelphi, Maryland.  Fahey spent three years disseminating copies of his self-made record, giving some to friends, sending some to music scholars, selling them from the trunk of his car, and even going so far as to put them in the stacks at local record shops.  The simple steel string guitar music was avante-garde as well as traditional, drawing from his developing interest in folklore and psychology.  Fahey would later create Takoma Records, on which 'Blind Joe Death' would be re-released several years later with some of the songs re-recorded.

'In Search of Blind Joe Death:  The Saga of John Fahey'

"West Coast Blues" (Blind Blake)

"St. Louis Blues" (W. C. Handy)

"I'm a Poor Boy a Long Ways from Home" (Barbecue Bob)

"Uncloudy Day" (Josiah Kelley Alwood)

"John Henry" (Traditional)

"In Christ There Is no East or West" (Episcopal Church Hymn)

"The Transcendental Waterfall" (Fahey)

"Desperate Man Blues" (arranged by Fahey)

"Sun Gonna Shine in My Back Door Someday Blues" (arranged by Fahey)

"Sligo River Blues" (Fahey)

"On Doing an Evil Deed Blues" (Fahey)

'Blind Joe Death'

full album

Side one
"West Coast Blues" (Blind Blake) – 3:13
"St. Louis Blues" (W. C. Handy) – 5:28
"I'm a Poor Boy a Long Ways from Home" (Barbecue Bob) – 3:12
"Uncloudy Day" (Josiah Kelley Alwood) – 3:24
"John Henry" (Traditional) – 3:21
"In Christ There Is no East or West" (Episcopal Church Hymn) – 2:42
Side two
"The Transcendental Waterfall" (Fahey) – 6:36
"Desperate Man Blues" (arranged by Fahey) – 4:06
"Sun Gonna Shine in My Back Door Someday Blues" (arranged by Fahey) – 3:34
"Sligo River Blues" (Fahey) – 3:05
"On Doing an Evil Deed Blues" (Fahey) – 4:40

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