February 28, 2010

The Interpretation of Blind Joe Death

Well here we are at the end of the week and it's Fahey's b-day and you get the gifts.  Hope you all liked the TAB book, quite hard to come by I believe.
And today I'm very fortunate to be able to make a few songs available for download.  Fahey songs by the faithful followers of the Takoma school of pickin' and grinin'.
I call it The Interpretation of BJD.  The following people contributed to this effort, please visit their sites and give them a listen.  The d/l link for this is at the bottom.

Jim Wilson plays fiddle and banjo with a southend-on-sea based band called The Lucky Strikes. Jim was more than happy to contribute an effort to the tribute, he lays down multiple instruments here on When the Catfish is in Bloom.


Pat O’Connell’s contribution is called America Medley.
Pat says: I decided to record a medley of tunes from my favorite Fahey album, America. One of the things I love about America is the consistent tone and mood throughout the entire work. It's almost as if it was all recorded in one sitting (maybe it was?) Like America the country, this album is a melting pot of influences from Country Blues to Classical to Appalachian Folk all tied together with one unified voice. The notes ring out with expansiveness reminiscent of the American landscape.
Fahey explores the classic open G tuning (DGDGBD) to the max on this album. I strung together all the pieces in this tuning and was surprised at how well they all seemed to complement one another, despite their different origins and time signatures.
Starting with the Classical-influenced "Dvorak".
Then into the spiritual blues "Jesus is a Dying Bedmaker" (yes that's spelled Bedmaker. Who better to make a pallet than Christ himself?)
Then into "Special Rider Blues".
Then into "Finale".
Then "Amazing Grace".
And finally, the upbeat "Song #3", which ends with the final chord from "Special Rider" (had to sneak that in!)
I've never played these tunes as a medley before. This was something I came up with just for Fahey Week.

Ragtime Ralph did a great version of Poor Boy Long Ways From Home that I just had to put on here.  This is from The Backporch Drifters release.

J Scott Moore – That’s me. Here’s a version of Sunflower River Blues.

John Amidei’s myspace page is full of Fahey tunes that he very graciously sent to me for this tribute.
About John- I grew up in the mountains around Durango and Silverton, here in Colorado. In my early years I attended many Ute and Navajo Pow-Wows and dance events and love the music of the deserts- the music of winds and strings make me feel at home. I studied Music Composition and conducting in Denver at Metro State College but I settled on Bluegrass Music for my social music, African, Indian, and Indonesian music for inspiration, the intricate Fingerstylings of the Blues- (John Fahey and others) for my personal meditations and health.
I have been a professional Interior Space Designer for many years but recently threw my past away to experience my life in a completely new profession as an entrepreneur. I guess, after all, I work for the same reason that I play--To communicate, to learn more about myself and others, and to grow more involved with people and more in love with life every day.


Thanks to ALL who helped out this week! Hope you all enjoyed it.

So d/l this thing and give it a listen!
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February 27, 2010

The Best of John Fahey Guitar TAB


Folks, I owe a huge Thank You to Andrew Stranglen for taking the time to scan this entire book for me so I could share it with all of you.  Click here to visit Andrew's page at CDBaby..
You should thank him too!
The entire book, cover to cover in PDF format.
So warm up your fingers, flex that thumb.  Calluses? Check!
Play it brother!
Table of Contents
Sunflower River Blues
The Last Steam Engine Train
Poor Boy a Long Ways From Home
When the Spring Time Comes Again
Some Summer Day
Spanish Dance
Take a Look at That Baby
I'm Going to Do All I Can For My Lord
In Christ There is no East or West
Give Me Cornbread When I'm Hungry
Dance of the Inhabitants of the Palace of King Phillip XIV of Spain
Revolt of the Dyke Brigade
On the Sunny Side of the Ocean
Spanish Two Step

Get it Here: 1977
Now a single PDF thanks to Bert Vanden Berghe
                   
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February 26, 2010

John Fahey in Cyberspace

Today's feature is focused on Fahey-friendly sites.  Not all of these site are necessarily just about John Fahey, though there is no shortage of those and I've probably missed more than a few.  But these are sites I've come across that share some of the music that I think Fahey fans might like.

Ah John, cyberspace is so far from the turtle brigade of yore!

Here we go:

Johnfahey.org - Great site with a news page and tons of links.  Also, a list of Fahey's gigs and the ever important compilation of guitar TAB.

JohnFahey.com - THE Fahey site with an insane amount of info compiled and maintained by the IFC (International Fahey Committee).  Great discography.  There is a ton of info here, just dig around a bit.  Also a good site for guitar TAB.  The Fahey Guitar Players group is also a great place to go, moderated by the IFC (I believe) you must join to read and post but why wouldn't you?

Work & Worry: From the "About" page: Work & Worry is about acoustic music, with emphasis on fingerstyle acoustic guitar music. I’m hoping to bring you show announcements, show reviews, record reviews, etc etc etc, all loosely within the sphere of acoustic and folk music. And so he does!  Good site that is focused on fingerstyle in the here and now.  Check it!

Annaherungen:  Ok, now we are getting out there.  Some of this stuff is just whacked to me.  However, my musical tastes have shifted and changed over the years and as long as I keep trying to grow in my appreciation of music i can't predict what the future will bring.  So I like to stop by here and d/l a thing or two and give it a listen, you never know what is going to work.  There is also a lot of Fahey here for the listening if you are looking to expand your understanding of Fahey.

Takoma Records Discography: Great collection of record covers from every (?) Takoma release, including the various artwork, date of release, contents and catalog number.

John Fahey blogspot:  Stephen has a great Fahey specific site with a lot of discussion of the early record covers and all their minor differences.  Also a great little collection of out-takes, rare and unreleased material.

Wrath of the Grapevine: The Pirate's Fahey post, The Roots of Fahey is an amazing post, what a ton of work!  Check out the rest of the site, he has a lot of various music with an acoustic bent.  He also has a tendency to go off on cool adventures (like now) so you may find the blog silent for periods of time. 

Grown So Ugly: Good site that hasn't been updated in a long while but nonetheless has a TON of great music to download.  You can start with a Fahey search and go from there.

Did I miss your favorite site?  Leave me a comment, I'm always looking for great new sites!

Is the week over? you ask?  No, no my little Fahey addict!  In fact, you don't want to miss the weekend posts!  GREAT stuff coming up Saturday and Sunday.
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February 25, 2010

John Fahey - Early Career Bootlegs

Here are a couple of great boots, one from 1968, the other from 1972. 

The first is the 1968 performance.  Great performance, not a great recording, but no matter, the music makes up for it.

January 1968: Live in Santa Barbara, California

1. The Yellow Princess (8:07)

2. Requiem for Molly Part Five (8:31)
3. Requiem for Lion (5:58)
4. Commemorative Transfiguration and Communion at Magruder Park (11:53)
5. Irish Setter (9:58)
44:27 total time

What a great set!  I think this is the only boot that I have with Irish Setter on it.  I've always loved that song. All kinds of good chit-chat from Fahey.
Get it here: Santa Barbara
 
 
Next is the 1972 set.  This is a much better recording and a good performance as well.

July/15/1972
The Jabberwocky Nightclub
Syracuse University
Syracuse, NY

01. Stomping Tonight Fantasy

02. In Christ There is No East or West
03. Beverly
04. The Dance of the Inhabitants of the Palace of King Philip XIV of Spain
05. tuning
06. Thus Krishna on the Battlefield
07. Some Summer Day
08. Brenda's Blues/When You Wore a Tulip

Any set with Beverly in it is a winner for me.  Fortunately Fahey seemed to enjoy playing it a lot, often as part of a medley. 
Get it here: Jabberwocky
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February 24, 2010

John Fahey - You Want How Much for that Record?!?!

John Fahey’s uneven career has resulted in his musical catalog as well as associated material going in and out of print on a regular basis. Seems his career is a roller coaster ride and when it hits a high as it did in 2006 with a flurry of tribute CD’s hitting the shelves, you better be ready to act.

Shortly after titles like Railroad and Fare Forward Voyagers became available on CD, or possibly re-available. The point is, they weren’t readily available just previous to this renewed interest. Not that those two are exactly cheap, but they cost about as much as the vinyl copy of FFV I bought on eBay right before the CD was available, but a lot less scratchy.

So get it while you can before you are scouring the used bins of your local store or battling some other Fahey-crazed fan on eBay.

But $25-30 for a scratchy LP or an import CD isn’t bad compared to some of this crazy stuff.

How about some John Fahey LP’s, handmade by Joe Bussard? These are Fahey doing his “Blind Thomas” act back in the early 1960’s. Over $500 each for two of them. Check it out.

Now who bought these? Is it you? Are you reading this? Just curious.



You know what else is ridiculously priced out there? The Best of Fahey TAB book. Currently there is a “glut” of them, eight, on Amazon so it is only fetching $85. …the Best of TAB book…well, let’s just say anything could happen here during Fahey Week.

BTW, what about those Fahey Tribute CD’s? If you haven’t checked them out, you should. The best thing I got from them was a whole new set of musicians that I didn’t know were out there. Guys like Sean Smith and Nick Schillace.

Find them HERE, HERE and HERE.

Speaking of Nick Schillace, this crazy guy wrote his graduate thesis, titled: "JOHN FAHEY AND AMERICAN PRIMITIVISM: THE PROCESS OF AMERICAN IDENTITY IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY" about “modeling identity via Fahey”…er, right, you can read it for free HERE. I did!

Fahey wrote his UCLA master's thesis on the legendary Charley Patton, you can still get a reprint of that HERE. Lord only knows what an original might fetch.

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February 23, 2010

John Fahey - Late Career, Electric Bootlegs


Well here we are for day two of Fahey Week. Thought I would post a few of Fahey’s late-career concert bootlegs that I have. Both are electric guitar concerts.

Each has a unique aspect to it.

The Dutch boot is a radio show so the sound is excellent and it is interspersed with the Dutch announcer and a Fahey interview.

John Fahey Brudenell


The second one is a show from a UK tour in 1999 and the first two songs on the second disc have Fahey playing with an organist.


John Fahey - Amsterdam - 4 July 1999

Keep in mind that bootlegs aren’t always the best sound quality, though these two are pretty good.

February 22, 2010

John Fahey - Guitarist


On this day, Feb. 22nd, 2001 John Fahey left this world. But he is hardly forgotten. I’m going to devote the following week on Delta-Slider to John Fahey.
It will be a Benjamin Button sort of week as I start on the anniversary of his death and wrap up the tribute on Feb. 28th, Fahey’s birthday. Don’t expect cake, but gifts will be in order, so stick around!
It’s “Fahey Week” here at Delta-Slider. I hope you enjoy it.


We’ll kick off with a look at his obituary in the New York Times.

John Fahey, 61, Guitarist And an Iconoclast, Is Dead
By JON PARELES
Published: February 25, 2001

John Fahey, a guitarist who carved out a private corner of Americana only to see it become a foundation of new age music, died on Thursday at Salem Hospital in Salem, Ore., after undergoing sextuple heart bypass surgery, said Mitch Greenhill, the president of Folklore Productions and Mr. Fahey's executor. Mr. Fahey was 61 and lived in Salem.
Playing a six-string acoustic guitar, Mr. Fahey used country-blues fingerpicking and hymnlike melodies in stately pieces with classical structures. Wordless and unhurried, his music became a contemplation and an elegy, a stoic invocation of American roots, nameless musicians and ancestral memories. Behind its serene surface, the music was both stubborn and haunted.
''I was creating for myself an imaginary, beautiful world and pretending that I lived there, but I didn't feel beautiful,'' Mr. Fahey said in an interview with The Wire magazine in 1998. ''I was mad but I wasn't aware of it. I was also very sad, afraid and lonely.''
From the beginning, he was an iconoclast and a maverick. He started two independent labels. In 1959 he founded Takoma Records, which released his own albums, blues albums and recordings by other guitarists including Leo Kottke. And in 1995, he and his manager started Revenant Records, dedicated to what it called American Primitive music.
Although he didn't sing or write lyrics, Mr. Fahey was a voluble author of liner notes. His albums were crammed with parodies of academic analysis and tales of a fictitious blues guitarist, Blind Joe Death, and his disciple, John Fahey, who purportedly ''made his first guitar from a baby's coffin.'' He shared a Grammy Award for the liner notes to the 1997 ''Anthology of American Folk Music'' (Smithsonian Folkways).
Mr. Fahey was born in Takoma Park, Md., on Feb. 28, 1939. His father and mother both played piano, and his father also played Irish harp. On Sundays, the family went out to hear bluegrass and country music. Mr. Fahey said that hearing Bill Monroe's version of Jimmie Rodgers's ''Blue Yodel No. 7'' and Blind Willie Johnson's ''Praise God I'm Satisfied'' changed his life.
He started teaching himself guitar when he was 12. He also began collecting and trading old 78-r.p.m. recordings of hillbilly songs, blues, gospel and jazz, going door to door in the rural South to find them. A fellow collector, Joe Bussard Jr., recorded Mr. Fahey on 78-r.p.m. discs for his Fonotone label, under the name Blind Thomas. In 1959 Mr. Fahey recorded his first album and pressed 100 copies, the first Takoma Records album. One side of the LP was credited to ''Blind Joe Death,'' the other to ''John Fahey.''
Mr. Fahey studied philosophy at American University in Washington and then at the University of California in Berkeley, where he played at folk clubs in his first paid engagements. In 1963, he recorded his second album, ''Death Chants, Breakdowns and Military Waltzes.'' He and his partner in Takoma Records, ED Denson, tracked down two Mississippi bluesmen, Bukka White and Skip James, and recorded them for Takoma, bringing them to new audiences on the folk-revival circuit.
Mr. Fahey entered a graduate program in folklore at the University of California at Los Angeles in 1964, and wrote his master's thesis about the Delta bluesman Charley Patton. After he received his degree, Mr. Fahey turned to music full time.
His compositions expanded, embracing the modalities of raga along with dissonances not found in country or blues; he used unconventional tunings and turned some traditional picking patterns backward. He also experimented with tape collages, often to the annoyance of folk fans. Though hippie listeners may have heard his music as psychedelic, he was a bourbon drinker.
Along with his Takoma releases, Mr. Fahey also made albums for Vanguard and Reprise Records. His pristine 1968 solo album of Christmas songs for Takoma, ''The New Possibility,'' sold 100,000 copies initially and has been perennially reissued. Mr. Fahey spent time at a Hindu monastery in India; a 1973 album of extended solo pieces, ''Fare Forward Voyager'' (Takoma) is dedicated to a guru. Takoma was sold to Chrysalis Records in the mid-1970's, and in the 1980's Mr. Fahey made albums for the Shanachie and Varrick labels. New age performers like the pianist and guitarist George Winston, who made his first album for Takoma, prospered with a more ingratiating solo-guitar style.
Mr. Fahey suffered setbacks in the late 1980's. He divorced his third wife, Melody, and lost his house. He suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome and diabetes. His drinking grew worse. For a time, he lived at the Union Charity Mission in Salem. He often supported himself by scouring flea markets for used classical records to sell to collectors. He sometimes pawned his guitars.
But he was rediscovered in the 1990's. Rhino Records compiled a retrospective, ''Return of the Repressed,'' in 1994, and alternative rockers working on ''post-rock'' instrumental music sought out Mr. Fahey. He sobered up and restarted his career. In 1996 he released ''City of Refuge'' (Tim/Kerr), followed by two albums in 1997 and one each in 1998 and 2000. He continued to experiment, playing electric and lap steel guitars and freely using electronic effects.
Last year, he published a book of loosely autobiographical stories, ''How Bluegrass Music Destroyed My Life'' (Drag City Press).
''I never considered for a minute that I had talent,'' he wrote in 1994. ''What I did have was divine inspiration and an open subconscious.''

A little over a week after Fahey's death this article ran in the New York Times.

The Spirit Of America In His Guitar


By JACK VIERTEL


Published: March 4, 2001

JOHN FAHEY, the American primitive guitarist who died on Feb. 22, six days short of his 62nd birthday, was so often accused (by those few who acknowledged him at all) of being the accidental father of New Age music that it's easy to dismiss him as a crank who gave birth to an era of fake bliss and bogus musical rapture.

Alternatively, members of the folk-revival community are likely to point to him as a musician who synthesized the delta blues, early country music and other American folk roots with Eastern ragas and sound effects, producing a kind of elaborate acoustic music that ran on a parallel track to the more exotic experiments of the Beatles, the Grateful Dead and Frank Zappa.

While these lofty attributions aren't wrong, they miss the point entirely, for Fahey was a musician almost by accident. He was quick to acknowledge that his technical skills were limited (though his sound was unique) and that his gift had less to do with mastery of the guitar than with what he called ''divine inspiration and an open subconscious.''

Fahey was a sonic painter of the American landscape, whose guitar solos captured the vast spaces, the loneliness, the desolate dreams and the antic dance rhythms of a melting pot in turmoil. It was a hard-edged music that stared down the listener, even when it employed the ragtime progressions of the Memphis jug bands and blackface minstrel troupes. It never blinked. There is no point in comparing it to any other music; it was closer in impact to the writings of Raymond Carver, the paintings of Edward Hopper or the photographs of Walker Evans and O. Winston Link.

Like Link, Fahey was fascinated by railroads, by the restless solitude and wanderlust that their sound and visual imagery implied. Link's famous photograph ''Main Line on Main Street,'' which depicts a locomotive plowing through the main drag of a blue-collar town at midnight, while a man sits alone in a single lighted tenement window, is like a Fahey piece come to life. Even the titles of his songs, -- ''The Portland Cement Factory at Monolith California,'' ''Revelation on the Banks of the Pawtuxent,'' ''The Downfall of the Adelphi Rolling Grist Mill'' -- juxtapose the ironic with the iconic, mixing landscape, vernacular and vision into a uniquely evocative stew.

No one did more to confuse the actual nature of Fahey's art than Fahey himself, who not only delighted in these elaborately jokey titles but also wrote liner notes to his albums that confounded nearly everyone who managed to plow through them. Here were bizarre mythological tales of his own misadventures, full of inside jokes, classical and low-brow folk music allusions and fake philosophy attributed by footnote to nonexistent sources. The notes were stuffed inside record albums that he produced and issued on his own label. Invariably they turned out to be shaggy-dog stories of the most self-indulgent sort, whose effect was often to convince the listener that Fahey was a prankster, a hopeless eccentric, an oddball footnote to the folk music boom of the 60's, and not a real artist at all.

The truth was more complex. All the hokum was Fahey's most faithful weapon in his lifelong war against self-knowledge. Fully exposed, his vision would have been, and turned out to be, too hard to live with.

Yet it was unmistakable to anyone who ever saw him perform well (though he often performed less than well, especially after consuming quantities of alcohol and Darvon). Fahey in the thrall of his own compositions was both hypnotized and hypnotizing, a man whose longing and loneliness escaped directly through his fingers into the guitar strings that he always changed between sets.

He couldn't outpick Leo Kottke or Doc Watson, but his guitar rang with an authority that was as unequivocal as it was clear in its intention. He played like, and was, a man possessed, insisting that the essential spirit of this boundless, spectacular and unforgiving land could be communicated through six strings if only he could muster and sustain the strength and the clarity of purpose while keeping the lines of his unconscious mind open.

In the late 1960's, as a college junior, I drove Fahey through Massachusetts for a week. He was playing a series of gigs from Williamstown to Wellesley. Well after midnight, somewhere on the Mass Pike, he began to ramble on about his music and the odd and often inappropriate places it had found a home. He told me that there were mental hospitals in Massachusetts where his music was played over loudspeakers as part of the therapeutic regime; psychiatrists had decided it had the power to soothe the more agitated patients.

''I'm always amazed it doesn't drive them to immediate suicide,'' he said, cackling.

I'm convinced now that he knew more than he was saying. Dead at 61, after three marriages, years of battling alcohol, a pitiful career and even a stretch of life in a homeless shelter, he succumbed to sextuple bypass surgery; every conceivable path to his heart had finally shut down. John Fahey joins that elite group of Americans who wouldn't, or couldn't, hoe corn. Like Harry Partch and Charles Ives, he heard an America singing that the rest of us couldn't hear. We can be thankful he left behind a tremendous recorded legacy that gives us a second chance.

Followed by these letters to the editor.
 
JOHN FAHEY; A Profound Artist


Published: March 18, 2001


To the Editor:

Thanks to Jack Viertel for his moving tribute to the great John Fahey [''The Spirit of America in His Guitar,'' March 4], a needed corrective to the uncomprehending remarks that often dogged this poorly understood figure. In particular, readers should know that Fahey can in no way be blamed for the scourge of New Age music -- bland, escapist stuff and the absolute antithesis of everything he embodied. His simple harmonic language paid homage to the blues and hymns that he drew on so powerfully, and we can hardly blame him for the lazy noodling that arrived in his wake.

Fahey had the uncanny ability to channel the spirit of blues styles past, particularly the Delta blues of the 20's, and Mr. Viertel is precisely right in attributing this to his overheated imagination as much as to his guitar technique.

ELLIOTT S. HURWITT

Manhattan

JOHN FAHEY; A Guitar Player


Published: March 18, 2001


To the Editor:

Jack Viertel mentions John Fahey's ''pitiful career.'' In the last 10 years, Fahey came to my place of business every few weeks selling vinyl LP's. My husband and I became friends with him. More times than I can count, he said: ''People are always talking about my career. I don't have a career. Sometimes I play the guitar for money.''

He's dead, and people are still talking about that ''career.''

SUSAN GUNDERSON

Portland, Ore.

All I can say is, when the US is talking about your demise, from coast to coast, in the NYT no less, you were an influential person.  But, I doubt you needed me to tell you that about John Fahey.
 
Ok, that wraps it for today.  I'll be posting stuff all week and I hope you'll come back to see what's up next.  I'll have some live shows to d/l and what I think will be a few surprises.
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February 9, 2010

Ragtime Ralph - The Interview

I became aware of Ragtime Ralph via the Fahey Guitar Players Yahoo! Group. It was the summer of 2008 when he posted an offer to send 100 people his CD, "Lost Blues 1929-1934" for free.
Ralph just finished recording for his latest project and will begin mixing this week.
Ralph describes himself as “…a bit of a luddite when it comes to technology...no car/TV/computer/toys...my only fun is my guitar and my metal detector for poking around looking for archaeological relics.”
If you are interested in keeping up with Ralph’s latest recording adventures I recommend you sign up for the Yahoo! Group or check in here at the blog periodically.

If you are new to Ragtime Ralph, click here to see what's available to download.



Tell us about the guitars you play.
My guitar...Dixie X...an early 1930s Regal wood bodied resonator...beautiful fat V-neck and wonderfully warm tinny, banjo-like tone on some songs and a real low down bluesy growl on others. She needs a bit of work, but is in pretty fine shape for a budget guitar from the "golden era"!

On the early Ragtime Ralph recordings I played various guitars: Larrivee 6 & 12 strings/Kona Hawaiian guitar/National metal body guitar (model unknown)/Guild acoustic (model unknown)cheap ukulele/cheap dulcimer...and a hand built one string...with a tin can stuck on the end of it!

Did I read somewhere that you used to play surf music? What other musical journeys have you been on besides American Primitive?
Ahhh...surf music! I've had several musical epiphanies in my tenure on this planet...country blues/John Fahey/surf music/Savage Republic/Stereolab...the surf music came at a time when I was quite fed up with Fahey...he'd accused me of using his name to get known in show biz and I needed an out...my best friend played me "Surf Beat '80" by Jon and the Nightriders and it blew my socks off! From there I played lead guitar in the Garage Surfers/the Unknowns/the Surfdusters/the Fridge Magnets...bass in Beaver Patrol...then bass in Quonset which was a bass/scrap metal percussion duo based on Savage Republic...I also auditioned as bass player for Courtney Love’s band Hole...until I heard that Fahey had died...then I changed my name to Blind Brand X.

I think it’s great that you cultivate two different personalities, Ragtime Ralph and Blind Brand X. Does it give you more freedom to play two different styles of music? Where did the names come from?
Ragtime Ralph was my alter ego before Fahey died and Blind Brand X was after his unfortunate demise...for Ragtime Ralph I just came up with the name one day...it sounded more jazzy than just plain ol' Ralph Johnston...the Blind Brand X came from my distaste for today’s consumer society...just a dig at blind brainwashed consumer spending habits...brand x is better than brand z....that kind of mentality...it also differentiated the way I'd play...then and now...then I used fingerpicks and tried to play fast like Leo Kottke...ignoring the subtlety and space between notes...now I play with pauses...and fewer notes rather than more...I find it quite interesting, reinterpreting Ragtime Ralph songs the way Blind Brand X plays them...it gives them a whole new incarnation...but holding on to the spirit of the original versions.

What about how you learned to play this style, did you have a mentor? Did you learn by ear?
I started playing this style of music when in 1969 I saw John Fahey on the PBS show Guitar, Guitar...I was so knocked out by what I'd heard that I immediately tracked down several Fahey albums (Yellow Princess/Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death) and started teaching myself by ear. I had the good fortune to have an older brother who owned a guitar shop...I worked part time there and learned some tunings from some books and magazines he was selling. I took one lesson at another shop from a guy who taught me a Mance Lipscomb song "Texas Rag"...and that song will be on my next CD! The only other lesson I took was from John Fahey himself! He and his wife Melody stayed with me for a night...John was playing at the Vancouver Folk Festival the next day...I was having difficulty with a chord in one of his songs...he straightened me out and the song "Ragtime Piece In G ( aka Television Rag) appeared on Ragtime Ralph Volume 4.

Can you tell us a little about how you were almost a part of the Takoma catalog? What happened there and how did you feel about that then and now?
Fahey had contacted me after I'd sent him copies of the first three Ragtime Ralph EP’s...he seemed to like my stuff and over dinner one night when he'd come up to Vancouver to play at the Soft Rock Cafe where I opened for him he suggested to me that he might be interested in releasing the album (Volume 4) I'd completed. Then out of the blue I started getting weird phone calls from John...he said I was using his name to get "known in show business", and one time a very drunk Fahey phoned me at 3 AM babbling about some sort of nonsense or another...by then I was starting to get an inkling that John might be a little troubled...so I released the album myself and never really thought too much about the Takoma thing...I've always been very wary of people making all kinds of promises...it seems to happen to me fairly often...someone has a big idea...more often than not it turns out to be mostly smoke and mirrors...especially when I hear it coming from some drunk in a club somewhere...that's one big reason I like doing things the way I do...I'm not beholden to anyone. It was nice though that John recorded my arrangement of "Away In A Manger" on his Varrick Xmas album...I'm so proud when I show folks the record with my name right on the label...that's the biggest kick I got out from my tenuous relationship with Fahey. I never felt any resentment towards him 'cause he gave me so much in the form of music. John never liked to take any credit for how his music affected people like me...but I bring his name up whenever possible and try to turn folks on to his wonderful music!

Why do you give away your music?
I have to quote my favorite "rock band" Savage Republic for this one..."I can't seem to see the things you see" from their song "Film Noir"...I am in turmoil with the capitalist system...I have so much while the rest of the world starves...I need very little, so I figure I might as well take a bit of burden off the system and at least offer what I do to the world for the world to enjoy without the world being mired in the red tape that seems to entrap all of us in our daily lives...I need no reward for what I do...I don't seek fame or glory...I just know that my music might inspire others to do the same...and the music they might produce will possibly go on to inspire others!

Can you tell me how you came up with the Empty Square Records name?
Empty Square comes from me misunderstanding Charlie Patton’s lyrics on "Mississippi Bo Weavil Blues"...I always thought he was singing "Eat all your blossoms and leave you an empty square"...but blues scholars have determined the lyrics are "Sucks all the blossoms and he leave your hedges square"...to me it doesn't really matter...as mistakes lead to new and exciting discoveries...a lot of my songs are based on mistakes made when playing songs I already think I know...a slip of the finger and...voila!...a new sound/chord/melody...I often look forward to mistakes to shake me out of the doldrums that encircle me while playing the same song over and over again...like finding the gold nugget in the slag heap! The tattoo I have on my left arm was based on a photo of Charlie Patton...and I added the "Empty Square" in banners surrounding a suit wearing, guitar playing skeleton! What some of us will do for attention!

Are you planning a road trip/tour anytime?
I'm actually planning on traveling the USA on my holidays...renting a car and visiting the gravesites of Fahey/Patton/Hutchison/Hurt/White...and stopping in on Joe Bussard and Glenn Jones...and I hope to maybe pass through some of the towns of folks on my mailing list and maybe...pickin' a tune or two. I'm hoping this will all take place starting in May this year! I will elaborate further later!

What is your latest project?
My latest project is "Wreck of the Ol' 78"...I'm doing 13 of my favorite old blues and country songs and we are going to engineer the whole thing to sound like a batch of dusty old 78s! I really love the sound of old records and I explain my fascination in the CDs notes!

How are you doing your current recordings? Are you using a studio or is it a home set-up?
We're doing the recordings in Oliver Conways Aero Studios...Oliver is the soundman at the Vancouver blues club The Yale, as well as being the guitarist for several local blues/rhythm and blues bands. It's a small room in the basement of a music equipment supply company and he has a nice digital setup and knows how to get around it quite nicely. We use 4 mics: one near the resonator, one at the headstock and 2 room mics about 4 feet away and about 5 feet in the air. We usually do one or two takes of each song as I seem to know the stuff pretty well before entering the studio...I don't care if the takes are perfect, just as long as the flubs aren't obvious!

Any chance you are going to be on the upcoming Imaginational Anthem Vol. 4?
I'd sent Tompkins Square Records several of my releases, but I never heard back from them...I don't crave exposure...I'm having lots of fun doing what I'm doing...in the past I was turned down by Kicking Mule Records, Windham Hill Records and eventually Takoma Records but I knew I could never commit to being signed to a label because I work lots and am extremely, how would you say shy, to play in public...a hurdle I've not yet been able to conquer.

If a label offered to sign you would you do it?
I don't know if I'd want to be signed to a label...they probably couldn't justify spending money on someone who probably wouldn't tour to support an album...my approach of playing, recording and sending out free music satisfies my needs...to play...to document...and to communicate with others...apart from these things I have no goals...I just like to send the music out...like that Police song "Message In a Bottle"...set the music adrift and see where it ends up...even if nothing happens with the music in the outside world, I'm still happy and satisfied with what I do. Not being signed to Takoma never phased me a bit...I just kept and keep on releasing my own stuff...Fahey HATED the business end of Takoma and I don't want Empty Square to become a business. Fahey also disliked playing in public but felt trapped because it was his job, not a hobby like music is for me, although it's a hobby that pretty well dominates my non worklife. Oh well, I'll just dawdle along and enjoy this marvelous gift bestowed upon me...it makes me happy and seems to make other people happy too....I can't ask for much more than that!

February 1, 2010

Delta-Slider’s Tops of the Decade

Hey, you aren’t a real blog if you don’t do a Top Ten list, Best of the Decade or some other sort of list that says, “I know something you don’t…”

Well I don’t know shit, but here it goes anyway…

in no particular order:

Bob Brozman is usually all over the place, and that's fine, but I generally like his blues work the best. And this one is a beauty! You can get a run-down of each song on Blues Reflex at his website. I love to read where the song is from, what the artist was trying to do or how they got an idea. This isn't your usual blues playing and Brozman smacking, tapping and beating on the guitar is a bonus! Get it!

Yair Yona is up next, going in a completely different direction.  See my short review of this one here, posted just recently. 


Glenn Jones' three releases have all been great and after much waffling I pretty much picked this one at random.  They are all very good efforts.  But I do have one criticism of Glenn, dude, post your touring schedule somewhere, I just missed you recently and I'm very sad.


Ah, Sean Smith.  This was one of the first modern American Primitive releases that I stumbled across.  Though his second effort is arguably more intricate and his composition abilities made a huge leap, this one is a favorite of mine, perhaps just because of how blown away the first time I heard it.  You can find him HERE




Jack Rose was a monster when it came to releasing stuff and I decided that one of the rules I was going to have for this list was only one effort per artist would be listed. When I got to Rose, that rule made things difficult. But I decided to go with Kensington Blues.  It's got a little of everything, slide, 12 string, 6 string, raga and rag influences and a Fahey cover.  Be sure to check out VHF Records, Thrill Jockey and Three Lobed Records for releases.



I came across Andrew Stranglen either on the Fahey board or MySpace...or maybe it was CD Baby...I don't recall, but I'm glad I did.  This little gem is about as far as I go when it comes to experimental music.  I know, I know, maybe I need to try harder.  But nonetheless this one works for me.  Love it!




Ok, Cam Deas.  Here's a guy I found clicking around on MySpace again.  He gets the comparisons to James Blackshaw, and he does play 12 string, but Deas is much rawer, something I like.  This release WAS available here but he has since re-released it so you'll have to go to his site to get it.  Go HERE to read the review.


Careening back into the realm of blues: Felonius Smith is a local here in Colorado and I have the good fortune to see a lot of good live music from these guys. Get the CD Hoolay Moolay.  This is blues with an old-timey and fun feel to it.  But don't let that fool you, there's some great chops on this one.  Felonius studied with Bob Brozman before moving to Colorado.




John Hammond has really come though on this one. This is strictly solo guitar and harmonica along with some stomping and grunting. Hammond is an amazing act to catch live and this is almost as good.



Pat O’Connell was featured here on Delta-Slider back in June of 2009 when I wrote a review of his forth-coming release of On the Sunny Side of Ashland, also available at Amazon.



Mike Fekete was featured here in August of 2009 as a prelude to a successful tour. Mike is planning on re-releasing some of his earlier work this year. You can get his CD Yellow and Red on Amazon or CDbaby.



Mike Fekete and Pat O’Connell have something in common, besides being great guitarists. They, along with Aaron Sheppard are expected to be on the next release of Tompkins Square’s Imaginational Anthem Vol. 4. Yeah, freakin’ awesome, eh? In addition, Sheppard is going to be on volume two of Berkeley Guitar. Volume one of Berkeley Guitar gets an honorable mention in the Delta-Slider list.



Nick Schillace’s first solo CD, Box Canyon was fantastic, but he upped the ante with the second: Landscape and People.  You can also get his stuff at CD Baby





Next we have C. Joynes’ Anglo-Naïve and Contemporary Parlour Guitar Vol. 1.  The title is a bit much but the music is much simpler. I love the feel of the recording. I think this is a home recording and it has a great feel to it. The songs are simple and beautiful. Joynes has a real talent for playing songs in an unhurried way. It’s a real hard thing to do, most people try to play everything as fast as possible. Whenever I try to play slow it just sounds boring…and slow.  This is out of print so d/l it at the link above.  Don't miss this one.  Also, Joynes has been busy as of late and you can get a couple more releases on Amazon or at the label, Bo'Weavil Recordings.





Next is Ragtime Ralph’s Vol. 4 release, click on the lick to d/l it!!
Ragtime Ralph and his nom de plume Blind Brand X have been VERY popular downloads here on Delta-Slider. All of his stuff is here on Delta-Slider and it's all free.  And it's all good.  Just give him a listen, you’ll understand!




Mark Lemhouse plays the blues, damnit!  This release, Big Lonesome Radio is amazing.  No, I don’t have a free download for ya. Here’s the deal, this came out in 2002 and since then Lemhouse has been spiraling into insanity, an insanity catalyzed by banjo playing. It’s said that he wanders aimlessly around the Northwest. And when he isn’t plunking his Banjo, he’s cuddled up to it asleep…dreaming of plunking it. Nonetheless, he does stop by Yellow Dog Records once in a while to pick up a royalty check.  Won’t you buy a copy of Big Lonesome Radio?



Pat Donohue's latest is Freeway Man.  This is one of the best Donohue has put out in years. His choice of music is unique and he arranges them nicely as well. He’s got a thumb and an attack that is just so solid.



This was really off the top of my head hard and took a lot of time!   I was going to do an honorable mentions section but I think I will just save that for a later post skip it.

I’m sure I forgot some great music. What do you think I should have included?


What do you think of what I DID include?

How is it possible that I didn’t include a single Radiohead release?