Thursday, March 18, 2010
The Legend of Blind Joe Death
Somewhere between a memory and a dream lies the legend of Blind Joe Death. The real name of this old blues musician is lost to us now in the fog of time and is only half remembered as the subtle alter ego of musician John Fahey. Very little is known about the original Blind Joe Death except that we know he recorded a 78rpm through Paramount Records in 1927. His real name, or where he was from has been lost over the years and even the record itself is pretty much extinct except for the B-side track 'John Henry' that was preserved in the record collection of John Fahey. In the late 50's, Fahey was a teenager working at a gas station and already a huge record collector. It was said that he stumbled upon an old dusty box of blues records while sifting through collections at church garage sale one morning in 1958. One of them was an old 78rpm with a simple white sleeve that had no art or name attached save for 'Blind Joe Death' written in black type.
In 1959 Fahey released his first album through Takoma records and the B-side of the record was credited to 'Blind Joe Death'. Many people assumed that Fahey was trying to re-introduce the old blues man to a younger and fresher audience or that he was attempting to appropriate the work and stage name of the original Blind Joe Death. Fahey claimed that his main influence in the blues was Joe Death and he styled his own playing style after him. This love of Blind Joe Death's style continued on throughout the sixties with future albums offering secret glimpses into the past of Blind Joe Death and tempting fans with more and more proof of his existence. towards the late 60's, Fahey would even share the stage with someone rumoured to be either the son of Blind Joe Death or even possibly Blind Joe Death himself. All of this served to grow the legend larger and larger as the years went by, causing more and more people to ask the question "Who is Blind Joe Death?"
Strangely enough, the answer to that question was "nobody at all". The reality of the story starts back in 1958 when John Fahey was working at the gas station and writing music in the style that would be known later as American Primitivism. Fahey was becoming more and more obsessed with that minimalistic style of blues that he felt it was as if he was having a religious style conversion and that he would be a blues player until his death. This carried on and eventually his friends started calling him Blind Joe Death. He decided to create the alter ego of this old blues musician and he started spreading the rumour that he had just found an old record by the infamous Blind Joe Death (who he said his nick name was an homage to). He saved up his income from the gas station and managed to get 100 lp's produced privately which he then secretly snuck into thrift stores and used record stores. These limited edition records were packaged in white paper with Blind Joe Death written on the cover. Eventually he actually had a few music historians convinced that Blind Joe Death actually existed. During the mid 60's, Fahey came up with the idea of walking off stage for an 'intermission' where he would change clothes and costume himself in the appearance of an old man. He would then return to the stage to perform the Blind Joe Death part of the show and leave some fans wondering if this part of the show was actually being performed by another musician.
At the heart of this legend is the music itself. With it's style rooted in stripped down home made blues, and slight amounts of folk grooves, the music of Blind Joe Death is a fantastic listening experience that hooks you within the first ten seconds. Even today, 60 years later, John Fahey and his legend of Blind Joe Death are still a force upon music, albeit a subtle and much overlooked one. At this stage of the game it is so far removed in our past that many people simply do not hear his music. To be frank though, the album Blind Joe Death is fantastic and is one of those records you are extremely glad to have heard and one you instantly find yourself recommending to friends.
This track is off the Blind Joe Death album and it is called 'Desperate Man Blues'