It’s not every day you come across as music that will rip flesh from bones, bring tears to your eyes as it tears the walls from your ears. It’s not every day you come across music that makes John Fahey’s ‘Lion’ pale in comparison. Get ready folks, it’s the revolt of a real dyke brigade!
Randal Gatz and Mary Jane Kelly were the first male-female guitar duet ever recorded, and they were one of the best. They issued their first 78, Red Cap in the OK / Slotty Spoons, on the Bluebird label in 1926. According to the records, they were initially quite popular and recorded another dozen sides. Unfortunately, most of these records have not survived. For years they were known just by the one record, but the power in that one record was enough to create a fanatical passion amongst collectors when it was rediscovered in the early 1960s. While he was looking for the old bluesman Ishman Bracey, John Fahey uncovered another record by Gatz & Kelly: the mysterious “Smut Eulas” and its B-Side “Edly”. He used the latter as a launching point for his unreleased masterpiece “Requiem for Blind Thomas”. It stands head and shoulders all other early guitar music, for power, mystery and sheer brilliance, and in an odd way, it sounds almost avant-garde, in a very primitive way. Indeed, you can hear echoes of these early sides in not only the country-blues duets of Weaver & Beasley or the haunting slide work of Blind Willie Johnson, but also in the more modern sounding guitar soli and even hints of it in heavy metal and thrash music. It’s amazing, actually, that it was recorded at all, considering how challenging it must have been given the cultural climate; but then again, those were the early days of recording, when executives were willing to give any weirdo hillbilly a shot just in case there was a market for it. This is real roots music: like somethig you would probably hear in the hills somewhere before recording technology ever existed. Except that instead of a banjo is a shotgun of a guitar, and instead of vocals, there’s a diving duck, dead.
Fahey’s obsession with this music, from hitherto-unknown names, propelled him to track down the former recording engineer for Bluebird, then in his 90s, working as a janitor in an ice-skating rink in Minneapolis. He quizzed the old man, one Elijah P. Lovejoy (who would later contribute remarks to some of Fahey’s liner notes), asking him if he could remember any other master takes from Gatz & Kelly. Together they tracked down the original masters and found a previously unissued track, “Skull to the Balls,” withheld due to profanity, as well as some tracks containing snippets of studio dialogue. Then they discovered something totally unexpected: the reason that so few Gatz & Kelly records survived is because most of them were intentionally recalled and destroyed. The reason behind this has to do with the murder and mutilation of Mary Jane Kelly, and a supposed curse that was imprinted in the record if you played it on reverse (this preceded all the hype about playing Beatles records backwards by 40 years). Randal Gatz joined a Dixieland jazz band soon after the event, but they all disappeared soon afterwards, never to be seen again.
The doctor’s report following the discovery of Kelly’s body was written as follows:
“The body was lying naked in the middle of the bed, the shoulders flat but the axis of the body inclined to the left side of the bed. The head was turned on the left cheek. The left arm was close to the body with the forearm flexed at a right angle and lying across the abdomen.
The right arm was slightly abducted from the body and rested on the mattress. The elbow was bent, the forearm supine with the fingers clenched. The legs were wide apart, the left thigh at right angles to the trunk and the right forming an obtuse angle with the pubes.
The whole of the surface of the abdomen and thighs was removed and the abdominal cavity emptied of its viscera. The breasts were cut off, the arms mutilated by several jagged wounds and the face hacked beyond recognition of the features. The tissues of the neck were severed all round down to the bone.
The viscera were found in various parts viz: the uterus and kidneys with one breast under the head, the other breast by the right foot, the liver between the feet, the intestines by the right side and the spleen by the left side of the body. The flaps removed from the abdomen and thighs were on a table.
The bed clothing at the right corner was saturated with blood, and on the floor beneath was a pool of blood covering about two feet square. The wall by the right side of the bed and in a line with the neck was marked by blood which had struck it in a number of separate splashes.
The face was gashed in all directions, the nose, cheeks, eyebrows, and ears being partly removed. The lips were blanched and cut by several incisions running obliquely down to the chin. There were also numerous cuts extending irregularly across all the features.
The neck was cut through the skin and other tissues right down to the vertebrae, the fifth and sixth being deeply notched. The skin cuts in the front of the neck showed distinct ecchymosis. The air passage was cut at the lower part of the larynx through the cricoid cartilage.
Both breasts were more or less removed by circular incisions, the muscle down to the ribs being attached to the breasts. The intercostals between the fourth, fifth, and sixth ribs were cut through and the contents of the thorax visible through the openings.
The skin and tissues of the abdomen from the costal arch to the pubes were removed in three large flaps. The right thigh was denuded in front to the bone, the flap of skin, including the external organs of generation, and part of the right buttock. The left thigh was stripped of skin fascia, and muscles as far as the knee.
The left calf showed a long gash through skin and tissues to the deep muscles and reaching from the knee to five inches above the ankle. Both arms and forearms had extensive jagged wounds.
The right thumb showed a small superficial incision about one inch long, with extravasation of blood in the skin, and there were several abrasions on the back of the hand moreover showing the same condition.
On opening the thorax it was found that the right lung was minimally adherent by old firm adhesions. The lower part of the lung was broken and torn away. The left lung was intact. It was adherent at the apex and there were a few adhesions over the side. In the substances of the lung there were several nodules of consolidation.
The pericardium was open below and the heart absent. In the abdominal cavity there was some partly digested food of fish and potatoes, and similar food was found in the remains of the stomach attached to the intestines.”
Transfixed by this account, and compelled by the murder was conducted by the same person who waxed such haunting guitar lines (namely the late Kelly’s partner), Randal Gatz became the model for John Fahey’s ‘Blind Joe Death’.
These recordings are extremely rare, only released by Document and Mississippi Records, and seems to have disappeared off both of their official discographies. So I’m assuming it’s out of print, perhaps recalled due to the same superstitions that destroyed most of the original records. The files were given to me by a fellow Fahey-enthusiast, which prompted my research into this cryptomortological story.
wonder, wallow, weep.
mp3 128kbps | with cover | 11mb