Some summer days like these, from 22 to 24 August, just 49 years ago, John Fahey entered the studio to record his third album. The album, which was originally published as Vol 3 The Dance of Death & Other Plantation Favorites, contained four unreleased tracks in the 1999 reissue.
An album that saw the light through Takoma Records, the record label that John Fahey and Eugene “ED” Denson founded in the late ’50s, their first release was the first album of Fahey, Blind Joe Death (1959), one of the first independent recordings, i.e., recorded and produced by an artist independently.
During the three recording days were recorded over 30 songs of which only 11 were included in the original album. The cover was just a white background with the letters John Fahey and the album title in black, but later, in the 1967 reissue, it appeared the most famous cover, with a design similar to the reissue of his first two albums, Blind Joe Death, and Death Chants, Breakdowns & Military Waltzes, which also were reissued in 1967, all designed by Tom Weller.
At first the composer was very interested and influenced by folk and blues music from American roots, but later he also introduced into classical music, Portuguese, Brazilian and Indian.
The Dance of Death & Other Plantation Favorites is a folk album, an original disc, very original for the time, with strong Southern roots that also has the blues, and to a lesser extent a classic touch, which at times (Wine and Roses, which later become The Red Pony), involves a sombre and funeral tone, as the name of the album. The guitarist runs virtuously all songs with a perfect fingerstyle, and Delta Blues Slide style as in Worried Blues, and Revelation on the Banks of the Pawtuxent.
The third song On the Banks of the Owchita, a duet with American blues guitarist Bill Barth, is influenced by Indian classical music (Raga).
Poor Boy is an anonymous traditional blues song quite versioned.
Variations on the Coocoo is a traditional English folk song of which the best-known version was recorded by the Appalachian folk musician Clarence Ashley.
One of the four unreleased songs included in the 1999 reissue, Steel Guitar Rag, is based on Sylvester Weaver‘s song Guitar Rag.
“It is with considerable surprise that Takoma presents its third album of the creations of John Fahey. I had last seen John and Barth on a hot dusty night in Washington D. C. last August. Sitting by the banks of the Sligo we had we had discussed the horror of the terrible events which were occurring about us. Then he and Barth had left for their fateful journey to the South. I never imagined that after that conversation John and Barth had gone to the Adelphi Studios and in an incredible all night session left posterity hours of his finest music. As I listened to the tapes I realized that he had poured forth his soul as if he had a premonition ofwhat was to come in the months that followed. The sense of urgency that these pieces unfold is comprehensible only if the listener recalls the well known events of that August.
Everywhere the forces of darkness and evil were rampant. Before their onslaught, everywhere the goodguys were falling back in what were then described as strategic retreats. Skepticism as to the existence of the master plan was rife. I still retain a yellowing clipping on the inferior wartime paper from the popular folk magazine Guaranteed Bullfrog, soon itself to be swept from the scene in a horrible night of fire and death (…)”.
“(…) From listening to these selections it is apparent that by April 1959 Fahey had absorbed direct influence from the works of Elizabeth Cotton, Two Poor Boys, Sam McGee, Barbecue Bob, Charlie Patton, Sylvester Weaver and Walter Beasley, Mississippi John Hurt or Frank Hutchison, and the Carter Family; not to mention the Episcopal Hymnal. His amazing capacity for assimilation and synthesis thus became evident early in his recording career. It is all the more amazing for the obscurity of the work of those artists before the inception of the Origin Jazz Library. it is clear that John owes a debt to the Harry Smith Anthology, that miracle which justifies, by itself, the existence of Folkways (…)”.
John Fahey gained much more popularity thanks to The Dance of Death & Other Plantation Favorites. The funny thing is that some people pigeonholed him to the hippie movement, something that the guitarist was responsible for “clarifying” on the notes included in his 1997 album City of Refuge, the one that helped start his career resurgence:
“I do hope that nobody will try to make me out as a child of the sixties. I was playing what I play before and after the sixties. This period had very little influence on me. I was never a hippie, and had no hippie friends.”
Recorded by Gene Rosenthal at Adelphi Studios, Maryland, 22-24 August 1964.
The video refers to the 1999 reissue including four unreleased bonus tracks.
- Wine and Roses 3:29
- How Long 2:56
- On The Banks Of The Owchita 3:48
- Worried Blues 2:24
- What The Sun Said 10:12
- Revelation On The Banks Of The Pawtuxent 2:31
- Poor Boy 3:20
- Variations On The Coocoo (Arranged and adapted by Fahey. Written by Clarence Ashley) 4:00
- The Last Steam Engine Train 2:14
- Give Me Cornbread When I’m Hungry 3:12
- Dance Of Death 7:40
- Tulip (aka When You Wore A Tulip And I Wore A Big Red Rose) – (Arranged by Fahey. Written by Jack Mahoney & Percy Wenrich) 2:44
- Daisy (aka A Bicycle Built For Two) – (Arranged and adapted by Fahey. Written by Harry Dacre 1:20
- The Siege Of Sevastopol (Arranged by Fahey. Tradicional) 1:23
- Steel Guitar Rag (Written by Sylvester Weaver) 2:10