WHS-C 1001 William Ackerman – The Search for the Turtle’s Navel

The Search for the Turtle’s Navel or

In Search of the Turtle’s Navel

Original Release Date: 1976

Current Artist Web Site: http://williamackerman.com/

Updated September 2015 with new details about different pressings. See below.


This is the album that started it all. “The Search for the Turtle’s Navel” is the first William Ackerman album, the first Windham Hill album. In 1975, William Ackerman, a Stanford dropout and founder of Windham Hill Builders in Palo Alto, California collected $5 each from 300 friends to record an album. They had heard him play live and wanted to have the music to listen to anytime.

Ackerman had been inspired by John Fahey’s Takoma Records – musically, and with the sense that he, too, could start his own record label. At the time, Ackerman hadn’t envisioned that his label would sell millions of recordings establish dozens of artists and start a new genre. He was making records for friends and putting out records part time. As the founding of Windham Hill is fairly widely reported, I’ll not go into it deeply here.

It is an essential recording for fans of solo guitar, folk, finger-picking, and new age.

As a collector and lover of the early Windham Hill albums this is certainly the most interesting because Ackerman would change it with new printings. This original page featured two covers that I’ve found in Bay Area stores: the “black cover” Windham Hill recording with guitar on the back, and the final “White Cover” Windham Hill pressing. The A&M pressing replicated the “White Cover” Windham Hill release except for the change in release number from “WHS C-1001” t0 “WH 1001” and the addition of the A&M distribution reference.

Since then I’ve heard from guitarist and Ackerman collector Tim Pacheco, who graciously photographed 5 different versions he’s collected. I’ve also heard from the “Turtle’s Navel” recording engineer Scott Saxon, who also has multiple copies.

The Search for the Turtle’s Navel: The original version is titled “The Search for the Turtle’s Navel” and features a black and white photo of a young child over the entire cover. The back side features a black and white shot by photographer Ron May of a guitar neck with plant silhouettes behind it.

Some have wondered about title. Don’t turtles lay eggs? How could they have a navel? This question drove the album name. In a comment in the Facebook group Windham Hill Lovers, Will Ackerman states: When I was 10 we lived in Germany for a year. My father was the head “prof” for the second Stanford in Germany campus. I was then a fairly serious ping pong player. There was a ping pong table there and I could usually beat the pants off of most of the students. One student, Bill Sterling (the son of the then-president of Stanford University), however, was a challenge. We used to bet on games. A Mark was worth 25 cents in a time when that would buy 50 Gumi Bears in Germany…. my principal currency at the time. There was a time when Bill owed me 5 marks (a nice hefty coin that made me feel pretty rich when I had one)… he offered me a deal… double or nothing. If I could find a picture of a turtle’s navel I’d be up to 10 Marks and if not it would be back to 0 for me. So I went hunting for the photo and failed. I handed over my 5 Marks, not wanting to be a “kid” and taking my lumps. Bill smiled and explained the ruse and handed me 10 Marks !!! I recently reached out to Bill who remembered the bet. He did say that I owed him at least 10 Marks for the title of my LP (now CD).”

UPDATE: Scott Saxon, who was the recording engineer for Ackerman’s “The Search for the Turtle’s Navel” and “It Takes a Year” as well as Alex De Grassi’s “Turning: Turning Back” has promised to share some interesting stuff about the original recording sessions, including the technical stuff. Scott Saxon is currently owner at TechShop Durham.

The Search for the Turtle's Navel
Original Black Cover

Credits from final Windham Hill issued “black cover” release

  • Recorded at Mantra Studios, San Mateo, CA.
  • Engineered and mixed by Scott Saxon.
  • Produced by Scott Saxon and William Ackerman
  • Liner photo by Ron May
  • All compositions by William Ackerman
  • All selections Windham Hill Music BMI
  • Manufactured by Windham Hill Records
  • Box 9388 Stanford, Ca. 94305
White Cover

Credits from “White Cover” release

  • Recorded at Mantra Studios, San Mateo, CA.
  • Engineered and mixed by Scott Saxon.
  • Produced by Scott Saxon and William Ackerman
  • Cover photo by William Ackerman
  • Liner photo by Anne Ackerman
  • Design by Gail Segerstrom, Cheryl, Anne Ackerman and Will Ackerman
  • All compositions by William Ackerman
  • All selections Windham Hill Music BMI
  • Manufactured by Windham Hill Records
  • Box 9388 Stanford, Ca. 94305

Liner Notes

Side One


proving once and for all that speed and dexterity are not enough. Written as the theme song for the 1973 Smart Person’s Convention in Detroit.

ELY (5:27) 1970

intended to convey a picture of the cathedral in Ely, England

WINDHAM MARY (4:25) 1972

a song for Mary Folsom.

PROCESSIONAL (3:40) 1973

for Steve Harvey who is noted within theatre circles primarily for his promotion of excessive hairgrowth as a viable dramatic form.


a kotoesque ballad of death and anger. The thought “life is an endless vista of toil” may be supplied by the individual listener as harmony.


a horror story of metal fatigue and intoxication wherein a maddened Pepsi salesman is coerced into the abandonment of all ethical standards and a submissive truck first experiences the freedom of modern downhill skiing.

Side Two


conveys the mood of terrible heat and concerns itself with how unwelcome enlightenment can be without icecubes.

BARBARA’S SONG (7:25) 1970

a song of love and its attendant miseries

GAZOS (4:33) 1975

in commemoration of The Great Barrier Reef Marsupial Jamboree, 1857 at which time Coriolis Effect was invented for purposes of comedy.


the woman across from you is moonlit and confessing something. Suddenly the flood comes.

WOMAN SHE RIDES (2:43) 1974

being a lament directed at the singing voice itself.

Tunings and Tabs

Ackerman generously makes tunings for his songs available on his web site.

Alternate Covers

Photos Courtesy of guitarist Tim Pacheco.

CD Reissue Liner Notes

It seems both like yesterday and in another lifetime that I recorded Turtle’s Navel. While not as poetic, the calendar tells me it was somewhere in the middle of these extremes, twenty-two years ago. It was 1975 and I was 25.

In 1975, the Bee Gees we Jive Talkin’ and we were scared to go into the water; a young Steven Spielberg having done for oceans what Hitchcock had previously done for showers. I recorded a simple solo guitar record at Mantra Studios in San Mateo, California with a guy named Scott Saxon engineering. I think the whole project took place in three two-hour sessions. It’s impossible to describe the innocence of the experience. This was intended to be a record for friends who had heard my music in stairwells and churches in the Palo Alto, California area. This naïve and innocent ambition was the beginning of Windham Hill Records which, like Turtle’s Navel, is now twenty-two years old.

I have not listened to Turtle’s Navel all the way through since 1976, which offers a musician about as much objectivity on their own music as one could hope for. I just listened to the record. It is so long ago that I almost feel it was written by someone else. Whoever the guy is, you can hear clearly the source of some of his influence: John Fahey in “What the Buzzard Told Suzanne,” Kottke in “The Second Great Tortion Bar Overland” and “The Pink Chiffon Tricycle Queen,” Robbie Basho in “Ely” and Japanese Koto music in “Dance for the Death of a Bird.” There are transitions I had forgotten and was surprised to hear as the CD played. Two fo the songs Id actually forgotten entirely, “Gazos” and “Slow Motion Roast Beef Restaurant Seduction.” I was surprised by the jazzy feel of “Windham Mary” and “Gazos,” an element which has all but disappeared from what I write now. What struck me the most, though, was that a few songs really sounded like they had their own voice; “Processional” (still a staple of my live performance), “Barbara’s Song” and “Slow Motion.” The years however, and all the music that has come since, make the fruits of this exploration rather like finding artifacts in an archeological dig. I am pleased to say that Turtle’s Navel sounds simple, even primitive to me, but also sincere.

I hope you’ll find something here that you enjoy.

Will Ackerman

Windham County, VT November 1, 1997

August 2015 Updates

Since publishing this a few years back, I’ve found new copies of the album, and heard comments from Will Ackerman about some of the variations. In a comment on the Facebook Group Windham Hill Lovers, Will says:

“The very first Turtle’s Navel albums were printed on a warm brown paper stock. They are easily identified by the fact that they were glued to plain white album covers (which were in the ceiling crawlspace of Mantra Studios in San Mateo and given to me by engineer Scott Saxon), so that one can see the white of the cover on the spine and on all of the margins. This was being done on such a shoestring budget that the free plain covers from Scott were deeply appreciated. These early covers retained the inclusion of thanks to friends who helped make these covers… Gail Segerstrom who did the design with my input (the photo I took being of my sister Elinor when she was 3), Geoff Elliot who did the actual printing. Then it was up to me to use spray adhesive to glue these to the plain white covers. The second incarnation is much the same as the first except the gluing of the cover printing is over black covers which were given to me by Chris Strachwitz of Arhoolie Records (for whom I was doing some construction work in Emeryville, CA as part of my Windham Hill Builders company). The covers were from a discontinued record called “Louisiana Prison Worksongs.” I take certain delight that Turtles and prison work songs could be such intimate partners in this. I am indebted to friend and fellow guitarist Tim Pacheco who has found at least 5 of the covers as they evolved and sent them to me as gifts. One of the tip-offs that you have one of the original covers is that I learned that I needed some sort of copyright information on the records and so had a rubber stamp made that read ” P ” with a circle around it, 1975 William Ackerman. I believe that there were perhaps 300 of these covers. I’d have to write a book on all of the later variations. I believe there are 7 different Turtle’s Navel cover incarnations. Will”

You can see some of these covers in a video I made of the 5 variations I own here: