When John Fahey and his friend and mentor Blind Joe Death first recorded for Takoma in 1959, neither of them was a stranger to folk recordings. Blind Joe had appreared on LC and Br, respected labels both, and with John had graced the halls and vaults of Fonotone.
Blind Joe Death recorded only one 78rpm record in 1927 on the Paramount Label, which also issued recordings by Charlie Patton, Ma Rainey, and Blind Lemon Jefferson in the late 1920s. The only remaining copy of the recording is included on the 2006 John Fahey Tribute Album on Takoma Records – released through Fantasy Records. The original 78 record was in Fahey’s collection, but now is lost.
It is speculated that John Henry by Blind Joe Death only sold a few copies, or perhaps it was never commercially released, as it is not listed in some catalogs of Paramount titles. The artist died shortly after making this, his only known recording. He was thought to have influenced Charlie Patton and other blues guitarists on the label who recorded later.
Fahey wrote that the old 78 was so beat up that only the B side was playable. The A side had been played so much that very little could be heard, despite modern recording restorative techniques. Must have been a great tune. In any case, Fahey never handed over a recording of the A side.
The name Blind Joe Death would have remained lost to blues lovers forever had it not been for Fahey, who recorded his first album of solo guitar music in 1959 with a cryptic album cover that just had the name John Fahey on one side and Blind Joe Death on the other. It’s rumored that Fahey lifted his early playing style from the Blind Joe Death recording.
1. Discography of Blind Joe Death prior to the Takoma Sessions: Blind Joe Death (guitar) and Lemuel Forkworth (vocal-I), State Penitentiary, Raleigh, North Carolina, 1934.
268-B-1 When I Lie Down Last Night – 1 LC
269-B In Trouble LC
Blind Joe Death (guitar) and Kid Bailey (vocal and guitar), Peabody Hotel, Memphis, c. Oct. 15, 1929. M-209/10 Mississippi Bottom Blues
2. Discographical Musicological information re: Takoma 1, Blind Joe Death and John Fahey. Recorded at St. Michael’s and All Angels’ Church, Adelphi, Maryland, by Pat Sullivan, c. April 1959, and -1-recorded at the secret Berkeley studios of our benefactor.
St. Louis Blues (W.C. Handy) played by Blind Joe Death. Learned by Death in Memphis from W.C. Handy in whose band Death at one time played, previous to the great northern migration and the great crossing over.
Poor Boy a Lone Ways from Home (sic) learned by Death from an old Columbia record by Barbecue Bob (CO. 14246-D) which the Death household at one time possessed.
Uncloudy Day learned by Death in his youth at a primitive Baptist church in the Etruscan River Valley Delta Basin Region of Tunica County, Mississippi.
In Christ There Is No East nor West a hymn which was sung, in its world historical aspect, by Captain Marvel and the Mole Men during their heroic attempt to destroy the theological stranglehold of the 1920’s.