The Voice of the Turtle (album)

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The Voice of the Turtle
Studio album by John Fahey
Released 1968
Recorded 1968
Genre Folk
Length 39:45
Label Takoma
John Fahey chronology
The Voice of the Turtle
The Yellow Princess

The Voice of the Turtle is the seventh album by guitarist John Fahey. Recorded and released in 1968, it is considered one of his more experimental albums, combining not only folk elements, but shreds of psychedelia, early blues, country fiddles, ragas, and white noise.[1]


The mythical bluesman named Blind Joe Death, first introduced by Fahey on his debut album Blind Joe Death, appears again in the liner notes of The Voice of the Turtle. For years Fahey and Takoma continued to treat the imaginary guitarist as a real person, including booklets with their LPs containing biographical information about him and that he had taught Fahey to play.[2][3][4]

The conceit that the blues guitarist Blind Joe Death was an actual person and contemporary of Fahey is carried further with some tracks credited to being performed by Death and Fahey. There is debate that Fahey never actually appears on some of the tracks and that they are instead old, little-known recordings.[5] Fahey has been quoted as saying "That whole record was a hoax. On all the songs that say it's me it isn't and vice versa."[citation needed] Barry Hansen, a friend and collaborator of Fahey's albums told Rolling Stone reporter David Fricke that three of the tracks were old 78s that Fahey copied to tape and credited to Blind Joe Death.[6] The first track "Bottleneck Blues" is a 1927 recording made by Sylvester Weaver and Walter Beasley.[7] The tracks with fiddlers Hubert Thomas and Virgil Willis Johnston were made with Fahey during his 1965 trip to the South with Barry Hansen.

The Voice of the Turtle was reissued on CD in 1996.


The original LP release was a gatefold. The liner notes are extensive (the first sentence alone is 561 words long)[8][9] and were included in a 12-page booklet, including photos in an old-time scrapbook format. Later pressings did not include the gatefold and booklet.

Voice of the Turtle has three quasi-subtitles on the cover. Directly underneath the main title is "Being a Musical Hodograph & Chronologue of the Music of John Fahey, including his most recent composition, The Story of Dorothy Gooch." On the right side of the cover appears "The Volk Roots & Hiart Leaves of John Fahey, Blind Joe Death, Hubert Thomas, Virgil Willis Johnston, L. Mayne Smith, Mark Levine." and directly below that "The Fahey Picture Album: Genuine photographs of Blind Joe Death, Knott's Berry Farm Molly, The Adelphi Rolling Grist Mill, Etc."

The photograph labeled Blind Joe Death is actually a retouched old Vocalion Records advertisement of Blind Joe Taggart who recorded in the late 20s and 30s under several different names.[10]

The back cover quotes a "Song of Solomon" verse "... and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land." After his death, the verse was printed in Fahey's funeral program.[11]


Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4.5/5 stars[1]

Q Magazine stated in its December 1996 review: "Half of this 1968 made up of pleasant, traditionally styled instrumentals... But it's the three lengthy improvisational pieces that dominate, pointing forward to his later, more elliptical work..." In a November 1996 review in Down Beat it was rated 4.5 Stars — Very Good/Excellent — "...has to be the strangest folk trip of the '60s... it's Fahey's loopy sound collages and odd sonic touches that make this largely instrumental album a treasure." It received three-and-a-half stars in The New Rolling Stone Album Guide.

In his Allmusic review, music critic Richie Unterberger called the album "One of his more obscure early efforts, Voice of the Turtle is both listenable and wildly eclectic, going from scratchy emulations of early blues 78s and country fiddle tunes to haunting guitar-flute combinations and eerie ragas." and its "...undercurrent of dark, uneasy tension that gives much of Fahey's '60s material its intriguing combination of meditation and restlessness."[1]

Track listing[edit]

The credits given on the original album cover are shown in italics below.

Side one[edit]

  1. "Bottleneck Blues" – 3:06
    • Blind Joe Death & John Fahey
    • This is a lo-fi recording with hissing and pops, an old 78-rpm recording by Sylvester Weaver and Walter Beasley.
  2. "Bill Cheatum" – 1:56
    • Hubert Thomas & John Fahey
  3. "Lewisdale Blues" – 2:18
    • Nancy McClean & John Fahey
  4. "Bean Vine Blues" – 2:45
    • Blind Thomas Curtis, Blind Joe Death & John Fahey
    • This is a lo-fi recording with hissing and pops. This is a vocal track with at least two singers.
  5. "Bean Vine Blues #2" – 2:51
    • This is not labeled on the jacket, but is noted on the LP label.
  6. "A Raga Called Pat, Part III" – 9:04
    • Tibetan Buddhist Monks, John Fahey & Gamblin' Gamelan Gong

Side two[edit]

  1. "A Raga Called Pat, Part IV" – 4:28
    • Monks, Fahey & Gong
  2. "Train" – 1:47
    • L. Mayne Smith & John Fahey
    • On the record label, this is titled "The Little Train that Couldn't"
  3. "Je Ne Me Suis Reveillais Matin Pas En May" – 2:22
    • Harmonica ED & John Fahey
  4. "The Story Of Dorothy Gooch, Part I" – 5:27
    • John Fahey
  5. "Nine-Pound Hammer" – 1:59
    • Blind Joe Death & John Fahey
  6. "Lonesome Valley" – 1:42
    • Virgil Willis Johnston & John Fahey


  • John Fahey – guitar
  • L. Mayne Smith – banjo (on "Train")
  • Mark Levine – guitar (on "Train")
  • Nancy McLean – flute


  1. ^ a b c Unterberger, Richie. "The Voice of the Turtle > Review". Allmusic. Retrieved March 15, 2010. 
  2. ^ Fahey, John. "Original Liner Notes: Death Chants, Breakdowns, and Military Waltzes". Takoma Records. Retrieved January 5, 2010. 
  3. ^ Sullivan, John Jeremiah (2009). Best Music Writing 2009: Unknown Bards. Seal Press. p. 29. ISBN 978-0-306-81782-3. 
  4. ^ Gordon, Robert (2001). It Came From Memphis. Simon and Schuster. p. 128. ISBN 978-0-7434-1045-8. 
  5. ^ The Fahey Files notes on the songs.
  6. ^ Fricke, David (April 2001). "John Fahey, 1939-2001". Rolling Stone (866). 
  7. ^ "Sylvester Weaver: Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order, Vol. 2". Document Records. Retrieved April 10, 2010. 
  8. ^ Original liner notes.
  9. ^ Hanks, Matt (1997). "Age Against the Machine". No Depression (May-June). Retrieved March 17, 2010. 
  10. ^ Cochran, Robert. The Return of Blind Joe Death. Sep/Oct 1999. Gadfly online. Accessed May 14, 2009.
  11. ^ Dunlap Jr., David (July 7, 2006). "The Cosmos Club". Washington City Paper. Retrieved March 10, 2010. 

External links[edit]