Harry Taussig – Fate Is Only Once


In his liner notes to this extremely rare 1965 album, Harry Taussig lists Woody Guthrie, Jesse Fuller, Mance Lipscomb, Scrapper Blackwell, Libba Cotton, Mississippi John Hurt, John Fahey, Ravi Shankar, and koto master Kimio Eto as influences or inspirations. But, he writes, “The one who speaks with voice and music separately and in a magnificently inseparable blend is Rev. Gary Davis.” The Reverend’s influence is evident on most of the pieces here, with Fahey’s “American Primitive” approach also underscoring everything.

The only other work by Taussig was a track on Takoma’s influential Contemporary Guitar Spring ’67 album, which also featured Fahey, Robbie Basho, Max Ochs, and bluesman Bukka White. “Dorian Sonata,” from Fate Is Only Once, was featured on Tompkins Square’s wonderful compilation of steel-string instrumentalists old and new, Imaginational Anthem Vol. 1. Now the label had excavated the ’65 solo LP.

It sounds like several different acoustics were used, including, no doubt, Harry’s 1923 Martin and also a nice, floppy-sounding 12-string. He’s not the most facile Gary Davis devotee, but as a result he sometimes sounds closer to the Reverend’s often hard-picked style than other, cleaner players. Sometimes Taussig sounds so crude it’s almost child-like; other times he rolls along, solid as a rock. It doesn’t seem to be a matter of technique, or lack of it; it has to do with whatever mood he’s creating – which ranges from fanciful to haunting – which, of course, is similar to Fahey and Basho.

The CD features the cover art from the original Talisman release and Taussig’s original liner notes, in which he explains, “I find that what I feel can be best expressed not by words or voice, but by sheer tones, simply or in various combinations, drawn from the flow of time and punctuating invisible sentences like dark birds sitting on a farmer’s fence. The notes not played are those that often mean the most.” I’m sure Fahey understood just what he meant. – DF

This article originally appeared in VG‘s Sep. ’06 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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