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April 1, 2009

Randal Gatz and Mary Jane Kelly - Complete Recorded Works

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.

Randal Gatz and Mary Jane Kelly - Complete Recorded Works (1926-1929)
Label: Document
Year: 1994

wonder, wallow, weep.
mp3 128kbps | with cover | 11mb


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much.

You mentioned Weaver & Beasley I have never heard of them before, do you have any thing they recorded?

Onkel Toby said...

Very nice... You almost had me convinced... :)

David Michael said...

I was briefly a Fool but I thank you none the less!

finvarra said...

Almost convinced... but the record # gave you away. Arizona Dranes, no less... hah!!!

Delfield said...

Hook, line and got me.


astarte said...

Jesus, all I got was Jack the Ripper when I googled Mary Jane Kelly.
Took me almost an hour and 22,000 investigated links to finally realize the date...

. said...


I was lapping it up until I clicked the link and got a terrible sinking feeling.

May the Gatz/Kelley curse have it's evil way with you!

Private Beach said...

It took me a while to notice the date too - good story, though. Where did you find the photos?

The Irate Pirate said...


I love getting to play the trickster. And making people believe something that I know is false is a crazy fun game... now I almost know how Fahey must have felt fooling people with his first recordings as "Blind Thomas" and "Blind Joe Death"...

The truth is, the record is by a band called "The Randal Gatz" and the album is "The Mary Jane Kelly"; see their myspace page. The album was sent to me by a blog reader.

and Mary Jane Kelly was one of Jack the Ripper's victims. So the pictures and the police report are accurate. Oh, and the other photo is a different Mary Kelly.

re: finvarra, damn! I forgot to check that! Document covers are the easiest to forge, but I should've paid attention to details.

re: anonymous, yeah I do. i'll post some eventually.

Anonymous said...

Glad you think using pictures & description of a brutally murdered woman are appropriate subject matter for your jolly April 1st jape. Very disappointing post on a great site.

old folkie said...

I didn't bite on this one. I usually do though.
I've seen the Mary Kelly photos before so that was the immediate giveaway.
Jack was a nasty fellow. Wasn't he?

The Irate Pirate said...

re: anonymous #2:
1: this site is called "Wrath of the Grapevine", and it's presented by an Irate Pirate of the greatest audacity. We pirates see blood and guts and brutality and wenches all the time, and we have a skin thick enough to take it. and we do not seek to shelter landlubbers from the reality of a seafarin' life.

2: many of the songs featured on this blog, blues and folk alike, deal with the subject of murders and other such calamities. and some were written by people who were either murdered or murderers themselves. it was a part of the reality of life back in the day, just as it's a reality of the present day. there ain't no use denying it, and while i understand the gruesome photos may turn you off or make you feel sick, how is that a worse response than listening or singing along to a murder ballad?

3: i didn't set out to have a gruesome story; i just did a google search for "Mary Jane Kelly" which was the name of the album, and appropriately vintage photos showed up.

4: there is nothing so sacred nor so tragic that it can't eventually be seen under a humorous light. from a large enough perspective, everything becomes irrelevant.

5: even on the scale of a human lifetime, in the grand scheme of things, a murder that happened 120 years ago - however grotesque - pales in comparison to the horrific, brutal devastation that originates in clean, respectable boardrooms and office buildings. Jack the Ripper was a deranged, desperate, and dangerous individual, to be sure. But he was nothing compared with people like Dick Cheney. you want to see something really scary? Look up "Codex Alimentarius". Or do some research on deforestation. Genocide is worse than homicide, in my opinion, at least.

6: what a fantastic word, 'jape'! i must use it in a future post.

bruce said...


"in the grand scheme of things, a murder that happened 120 years ago - however grotesque - pales in comparison to the horrific, brutal devastation that originates in clean, respectable boardrooms and office buildings."

I couldn't agree more. Thanks for all your work, and for the laughs... smart laughs.

julien said...

You did convince me ... with my weak english



Anonymous said...

Damn! I bought the whole thing. I came to comments to tell you what a wonderful post this was. And then I find out it's an April Fool's joke. That's the best one anyone's ever pulled on me. I'm feeling kind of sheepish now but it was great!


The Irate Pirate said...

hey skank! long time no see. how are you?

norbu56 said...

this is a fantastic topic for a Noir movie o r books.
Thx a lot for this fantastic post.

Anonymous said...

Hah! I was falling for it too, though I was getting a feeling when I got to the first picture, I was pretty sure I recognized it as a ripper photo. Still, it was a sufficiently creepy story!
Sooo…since I sit on the Wal-Mart board you people don’t want to be my friend? :(
As an aside, the joke was much better than the music!