The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #116930 Message #3038580
Posted By: gene-peace
23-Nov-10 - 07:40 AM
Thread Name: John Fahey Docufilm: In Search of Blind Joe Death
Subject: RE: John Fahey Docu due out in Feb 2009
As promised, part three of this saga-
But first, a couple more Fahey "Myth/Urban Legend" bustings, and the underlying truths thereof, if any:
Let's begin from the absolute beginnings (no, not John's boyhood photos), John's first record and the incredible mythology surrounding it.
I find it absolutely beyond belief, that to this very day, there are both fans and reviewers alike that REALLY believe that there was an old "blind" Negro guitar player that shuffled around Takoma Park, and who was John's mentor....the image of John sitting at the feet of his mentor(who sat in a rocking chair on a Takoma Park Porch) learning Mr. Death's blues playing secrets, is `a beautiful image but is, of course, a total flight of fancy! THERE WAS NO (singular) BLIND JOE DEATH! Get it?! Again, there was NO old "blind" shuffling Negro guitar player mentor of John's in Takoma Park!!!
Now it is true that John did, in fact, have many, many Negro guitar playing mentors (both blind & sightful) in the Maryland/DC area, but they all resided on the record shelves of 78 collectors such as Spottswood & Bussard, etc. :-)
Oh, befor I forget, let me shove this in here because it should have been included in my earlier interviewee lists: R. Crumb!
Crumb's personal involvement with Fahey covers "both" coasts and a time frame that overlaps both the mid & later years! Hopefully the Tamarack crew caught & interviewed him during one of his (oft extended) stateside visits, if not, then they really blew an opportunity of interviewing him in FRANCE, where he officially lives or lived! He's a shy guy, but if approached with the proper decorum, he could shed/share some very intimate insights & anecdotes about John, hopefully he was interviewed!
John's first lp: the 100 copy John Fahey/Blind Joe Death "vanity" pressing (circa 58/59/60, the date depending on who you want to believe, I'm a 59'r myself)-
John was (and has been called) many things: egotistical, egocentric, Schizoid, rude, abusive, etc. but "Stupid" he was never called! The reality, and another (unsung) area of his genius was his basic understanding of the idea of "self promotion" as well as an understanding of the darker side of the human spirit. (Note his obsession with the works of HP Lovecraft for example).
Contrary (again) to what the "history changers" and myth inventors would have you believe, John Fahey was NOT the first musician to form an INDY label; he was amongst tens of thousands of other musicians & poets and comedians, etc. (in the late 50s) to produce, at there own expense "vanity recordings" which is exactly what John's first LP was, A VANITY RECORDING that took him over 4 years to sell off(last original copy sold in late 62/early 63). Please to remember, of course, that John had very few friends, and no fans at all since he didn't publicly perform in those early days- but again to his genius, John DID produce the FIRST double sided LP, meaning that BOTH sides of the LP JACKET were the front cover; One side entitled "John Fahey" & the other side entitled "Blind Joe Death"!(Both genius & pragmatic)
The cost of such a venture was relatively inexpensive for the actual pressing & parts, including a one-color label as long as you supplied an edited, leadered tape for both sides, without any Heavy bass (note) sections, and preferably 20 minutes or less per side. A rough guestimate, including the shipping might be as much/little as $250 delivered but without any Jackets. (That amounts to $2.50 apiece, based upon roughly .50 per pressing, $30 for one time label setup and printing, $100 for studio mastering & lacquer costs, $50 for a one-time strike-off "Metal" Father stamper. (plus shipping).
Then comes/came the (to this day) expensive part, the packaging!
(I wish I could make this shorter but there just isn't any help for it..hopefully this will put much of it to rest once and for all.... sure you're right Gene!)
Anyway, John knew that putting together camera ready Artwork, to then send to printers for web/offset/duplicater plate burning, and then printing 250 or so fronts & backs, and then have then sent to a fabricator, etc, etc. would cost him, after all was said & done, almost as much as the entire production, meaning another $2.50 per LP!
Well, as I said, John was anything but stupid....he chose instead to purchase "stock" prefabricated blank white jackets for about .10 apiece, and then had them over or "sur" printed IN TAKOMA PARK on an old fashioned "Letter Press", not "hot type", but actually hand set type with wood block and lead spacers, etc. Sounds simple, but given the irregular and non-dependable nature of prefabricated jackets, there was much jamming and potential damage to the type on BOTH the first and second passes. But, it was nonetheless, the least expensive way to go. So including the Jackets, shipping and printing, John's 100 vanity LPs probably cost him over $3.50 apiece. We learn several things from the above:
First, John understood all of the above from the git, so to maximize his potential sales he put out two LPs for the price of one, meaning that should he ever actually get the LP into a store (which he did on consignment), the LP could/would be placed in TWO DIFFERENT BINS, one under "Fahey", and the other side under either "Blind", or "Death"!!
(Pure Genius)! It took more then 6 years for the "Big Industry Boys" to use to great effect, John's merchandising idea (with the advent of gatefolds, etc, think Hendrix). Second, John used the word "Death" on this first LP, because he knew (again) that if his LP ever got into a record store bin, The word "DEATH" in bold letters would give even the most casual browser "PAUSE" and probably cause them to actually pull the record and examine it! (ANY RETAILER WILL TELL YOU THAT PUTTING HANDS ON IS 90% OF GETTING A SALE!)! This genius idea Fahey & Denson used two more times to GREAT effect in Takoma/Fahey Vols. 2 and three! So, in setting the record straight and myth busting, Fahey's comments of over 30 years later notwithstanding, (i.e.- where John casually alleges that he "sowed" copies of this expensive vanity LP in Goodwill and Salvation Army Stores) is, of course, totally false/machismo/bravado BS. Anyone who really knew John, knows that he would NEVER give or throw away an LP that he was selling for $5 apiece until the VERY LAST ONE was sold IN 1963, let alone that he'd
"sow" them anywhere! LOL
Second, that John himself DID NOT FOUND TAKOMA RECORDS, it wasn't until the re-discovery of Bukka White, that Takoma was officially founded by ED Denson and John Fahey as partners.
So much for the Fahey starting Indy Labels myth. Further, the real explanation of the "Blind Joe Death" opposite side packaging, was (again) for "saleability"... anyone with even half a brain should be able to hear NO particular stylistic differences from one side of the
LP to the other on the ORIGINAL vanity pressing! (Note, I said ORIGINAL vanity pressing). So to summarize, John's genius in the early years was NOT his "brilliant" (tongue in cheek) guitar improvisations, but his egocentric oriented packaging and self promotion.
To address another related point, the "letterpress" printing company/building that John used in Takoma Park, to sur-print his first LP, still exists, although no longer actively in the printing business, the family still owns the building, and to the best of my knowlege the original (I believe Heidelberg press) is still there.
Course I might be wrong, but I suspect that most Fahey fans would have much preferred photos/film of the printing press that began John's career, in the dusty ink spattered building, with voice over comments from the Master printer's son, much more then photos/film of boulders in the "new" Sligo Creek, but I guess I could be mistaken.
In any event I think it's moot now...shame, as all it would have taken would have been a phone call or e-mail to me from Tamarack, and I'd have directed them there.
There is one last Urban legend/myth (at least it might be)that I give you here, that I really personally like, and that swung through the gossip ranks of the then (East Coast) Thong Members in 66 or so, Denson being on the West Coast at the time, "...that ED financed the founding of Takoma Records by collecting returnable coca cola bottles (3 cents apiece) from DC's Griffith Stadium, the then home of the Washington Senators, or maybe it was Uline aArena!? :-) LOL
I've never had the nerve in these recent years to ask Attorney Denson about this Legend/ but I think I'll hit him with it, out of the blue, next time I speak with him. :-)
For the record, and in my humble opinion/observations, the ONLY musicians that Fahey really liked to play with, when it didn't matter, were Bill Barth, Pat Sullivan and Mike Stewart. Most others he played with were for particular "studio" sessions, or for specific "agenda" reasons, primarily money, food, lodging and drugs. I calls it like I sees it, and that's the way I saw it in the "middle years", can't speak to the later years--- I wasn't there! :-)
I often feel like Thucydidese Chronicling the Peloponesion Wars when it falls upon me to keep the record straight about John from 1962/3 through 1976/7/8 the Fonotone/Takoma Years. Or perhaps more accurately
and to the point, I feel like, and AM the "Last Man Standing", actually worse then that, "The Only Man Standing" who knows and experienced first hand the entire Fahey story/saga/myth.
I didn't choose to be any part of it whatsoever, but it serendipitously chose to involve me for more then 15 years of my life, and now I'm once again sucked in to keep the record straight because I goddamn hate, with all my heart those that choose/need to bend or change history for/to there own personal gain or self agrandizement!
I'd planned to sorta wrap it up here, but a little while ago I received a notice about Tamarack's allegedly having changed the nature of there production, which I need to check out & verify....
So I guess there's gonna have to be a part four to end this tome.
Best for now