Turning: Turning Back is Alex De Grassi’s first album and the fourth album issued on the Windham Hill label. This is a gorgeous solo acoustic guitar recording. In many ways it sets the tone for the remainder of what I consider to be the high period of the Windham Hill label.
De Grassi’s playing is technically deft, without being showy, creating a sound that flows and bubbles like water in a rocky brook, or sparkles like sunlight on aspen leaves – always engaging and thoughtful, and consistently filled with beauty and a positive energy.
This is a defining Windham Hill outing, but unfortunately not currently in print or available digitally.
Regarding other early Windham Hill releases, De Grassi says they are “Out of print and owned by Windham Hill/BMG. I can’t legally make them available. we’ve tried unsuccessfully to license them back. So, i might re-record them, but I can’t make them available as a digital download–sorry. Perhaps they will become available as individual pieces as downloads from Windham Hill,”
The recording quality is faultless with De Grassi’s guitar close-miked at the same San Mateo studio where William Ackerman’s first albums were recorded. Mastering by Stan Ricker and pressing by RTI of Camarillo makes the vinyl pressings similar to many Mobile Fidelity audiophile reissues.
In his Innerviews interview, De Grassi says of the album: “Turning: Turning Back really reflects a very personal approach to playing guitar and music in general,” he said. “People couldn’t put their finger on the genre. It came out before people called anything New Age. There were guitar influences from the British Isles like John Renbourn and Bert Jansch. I was listening to a lot of Keith Jarrett’s solo piano stuff at the time too. I really admired his playing and solo improvisations that cut across a lot of different lines and styles. Although it was jazz, it had a lot of qualities that were indefinable and indescribable. I think that was a very encouraging thing.”
Below is a terrific audio-only interview which begins with Alex talking about learning guitar and some of the things he brought to the recording of “Turning: Turning Back”.
It Takes a Year is the second album by William Ackerman and the third issue on the Windham Hill label. Certainly the album is best known for introducing us to Ackerman’s most famous song “The Bricklayer’s Beautiful Daughter.” There is much more to the album than the opening track – “It Takes a Year”, deftly transitions between fast-paced folk guitar songs and graceful, contemplative, almost melancholy studies.
Ackerman has said that “The Impending Death of the Virgin Spirit” is about the feeling of innocence he had before his mother passed away when he was 12 – the same year he first took up the guitar. Just a beautiful piece – and one he would rerecord several times.
This is an album worth revisiting if you already own it, and sampling if you don’t. As the title implies a maturing and patience, “It Takes a Year” shows the key musical development of Ackerman with themes that he would work time and again over the next 30 years; Bricklayer’s Beautiful Daughter he has recorded at least twice more.
Produced again by Scott Saxon, the album was mastered by the legendary Stan Ricker. While not as consistent in sound as later albums, the recording still invites an intimate encounter with Ackerman’s guitar. Ackerman points out that one of the microphones he owns at Imaginary Road Studious is worth more than the entire recording budget for his first four albums, the sound is still quite good on the vinyl pressings, even if the steel strings sometimes show more of their metal than mettle.
Notably, this is the first Windham Hill album to use the ECM Records-inspired graphics that came to define the Windham Hill look.
I’ve been in touch with Scott Saxon and hope to report some additional details about the recording work he did on the early Windham Hill albums.
The Bricklayer’s Beautiful Daughter, (3:38) 1975
Balancing, (3:35) 1975
The Impending Death of the Virgin Spirit, (5:30) 1970
It Takes a Year, (4:52) 1976
The Townshend Shuffle (4:27), 1970-1976
A Tribute To The Philosophy Of James Estell Bradley, (2:36) 1973
The Search for the Turtle’s Navel, (4:58) 1970
The Rediscovery Of Big Bug Creek, Arizona, (3:03) 1973
“Artists, I am told, are always searching for a new medium to explore. I honestly thought I had it, but it proved infeasible to lathe sound recordings into Tupperware. My apologies. The search goes on.”
Update: New comment by Jim Bredouw added 6/1/2010. See below.
The second Windham Hill album, and first solo Linda Waterfall album. She had previously released material with Entropy Service. Mary’s Garden a very pleasant folk/pop album, with several strong songs and excellent moments.
Here are Linda Waterfall’s comments on Mary’s Garden from her web site:
“My first solo album, originally released by Windham Hill Records. Special thanks to William Ackerman, my old school buddy from Stanford, who offered to put out my first album and bring me into the music business. Some day soon I want to re-release this recording on CD. This collection of songs is very close to my heart. It cherishes special people I loved very much, who cared for me and started me on my path through life.”
Three of the first ten Windham Hill albums were not being reissued by the time 1980 rolled around; all three varied from what would become the Windham Hill sound: Robbie Basho’s album has gorgeous guitar work in the style that had so inspired Ackerman, but with intensely riveting vocals; Kidd Afrika is a blues album, and Mary’s Garden by Linda Waterfall is vocal folk/pop.
It’s clear that Ackerman had a good ear. There’s an awful lot to like on Mary’s Garden, even 30 plus years after it’s release. But the sound is so different from the crystalline vision of the acoustic instrumental music that would define Windham Hill that it’s no surprise it wasn’t reprinted when the label gained national distribution. In later years, fans would knock Windham Hill for segueing into electronic and vocal jazz. In reality, it had been part of the original vision of the label.
Linda has clearly had a long and successful career as an artist in the wake of her auspicious initial release. Here’s a lovely video of Linda Waterfall singing “Way of Beauty” recorded in 2009 – some 33 years after the release of Mary’s Garden. Credits and Liner notes from Mary’s Garden after the video.
I’m pleased to have received a generous email from Jim Bredouw who engineered and produced the Mary’s Garden, which appears unedited.
Following are the ramblings of a 59-year old music veteran, any of which you’re free to use or edit as you see fit.
Re: the story w/Linda; I worked at a tiny 24 tk. studio on E. Pike St. in Seattle called The Music Farm between 1974-79. I saw Linda with Entropy Service in 1976 and was immediately enamored with her voice, songs, unique gtr. technique* and, of course, that gigantic smile. A few months later, as I was on my way to Santa Cruz to meet my future wife for the very first time (married as of now for 33 years), I stopped by Palo Alto to see Linda and Will Ackerman and pursued the idea of producing her for this fledging new label that Will named for his construction company.
(* 99% of all gtr. players use standard chording but Linda would write all her parts out and would voice her gtr. chords to not match, for example, the line in the treble clef on which her vocal was written – I’d never seen anyone take “folk” music and orchestrate it the way she did; which makes sense given her classical background – that is, she read and wrote music; a ‘legitimacy’ that was rare in those days of mostly self taught, unschooled rock and folk musicians).
I don’t believe Will had never signed an act before and as I had been involved in exactly one ‘deal’ with another act I’d produced, the master of which got bought and actually released by a major label (Capitol), I suppose I thought of myself as the seasoned professional among we three (laughable now, of course, as Will became perhaps the most successful independent label since Berry Gordy of Motown and I never again placed another major) and if memory serves, I believe I might have helped Linda better her deal with Will a tiny bit and negotiated my end as well. (I think after moderate sales, it amounted to a few hundred bucks but in those days of regularly having an annual income of $6,000, that was a lot – it was also a high honor just to be paid to make a record in the then very small Seattle studio world.)
Linda generously allowed me to collaborate on her arrangements and I hired maybe a dozen or so of my favorite studio players to enhance her already complete compositions and the result, I think, still mostly stands up today – I particularly love the steel guitar on Mary’s Garden played by Chris Middaugh of the much loved Seattle country band, The Skyboys – more on them later. (I also hired the photographer, Jonathan Crane, the brother of an ex-girlfriend who took what I consider to be an iconic cover photo.)
She and I, considering that we’re both being fairly headstrong and opinionated about music (and most things), got along famously to my memory and I truly loved the entire process. (She also patiently and generously taught me how to write music which was instrumental to my future work orchestrating and even conducting large studio orchestras in my commercial composing career.
We were both proud of this record. Anecdotally, my next project after Linda was producing the aforementioned Skyboys – perhaps the best record I’ve ever produced. Midway through recording, they fired their bass player and on a WAY out of left field whim, I suggested that they audition Linda, who is also a remarkably capable bassist, among her many abilities. To many people’s surprise I would guess, she actually joined this hard drinking touring bar band all over Western Washington for the next couple of years and enhanced them all musically much as she had me – nothing unusual given her need to constantly be exploring her musical boundaries.
A couple of years after the completion of Mary’s Garden, I moved to LA, gradually built a 16-studio recording complex called The L.A. Studios (http://www.facebook.com/l/dc780;www.lastudios.com), which coincidentally I just sold two weeks ago after 30 years, and as mentioned, composed music for commercials for a number of years; most notably for Nike. I am now retired on Orcas Island north of Seattle and work out of a private home studio.
This also has the distinction of being the first Windham Hill album with a lyric sheet with the first note to Windham Hill customers:
“Windham Hill records is, and will probably remain, a small record label. As such, and with a budget typical of most independent ventures, this is little to rely upon in terms of promotion for our music but the quality of the music itself. Though we obviously hop to survive financially, we will be less concerned with the mass appeal of our recordings than with promoting the talents of the individual artist, whose freedom artistically will be in no way compromised by Windham Hill. So without wanting to become in any way elitist, we will be content to reach an audience looking for some alternative to the dictates of the major labels. The production of our albums will be of a quality consistent with our regard for the music, and though there are certainly good arguments for “home recordings,” we have chosen to master only the work of professional studios. Please write to us and inquire about our other recordings.”
In a 2016 Facebook post, Ackerman added some details about this, and the othe early Windham Hill instrumental title, Kidd Afrika: “Linda Waterfall (Mary’s Garden) and Kidd Afrika were personal choices of mine … Linda was at Stanford with me and was close to JB White and Frank Light (the “White Light Band”) who were as good as any duo on the radio at the time…. no, I mean REALLY as good as anything on the radio at that time. Linda was equally brilliant …. Kidd Afrika included Larry Ryan who was a faculty brat like me… his dad was in the English Dept. at Stanford along with my dad and a lot of memories include Larry.”
“I would like to thank Jim Bredouw for his fine engineering, invaluable production advice, and for being great fun to work with. I would also like to thank William Ackerman of Windham Hill Records for his friendship and enthusiasm. Special thanks also to Gunnar Erickson, Ned Hearn, Richenda Richardson, The Music Farm, and Entropy Service; to Peter Langston for ideas I used in the arrangements of The Bird Song and Lullaby, to Annette Morriss for the first line of Cherry Tomato, and to my teachers Mrs. Olga Sorenson Fuss, Mrs. William Burgoyne, and especially to Mary Festinger.
All selections Windham Hill Music (BMI) except Grandma’s Crumbcake Mighty Oak Music
Manufactured ny Windham Hill Records, Stanford, California (c) & (p) 1976 Windham Hill Records.
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).”
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
(c)(p)WINDHAM HILL RECORDS 1976
THE PINK CHIFFON TRICYCLE QUEEN (5:30) 1973
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.
DANCE FOR THE DEATH OF A BIRD (3:27) 1970
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.
THE SECOND GREAT TORTION BAR OVERLAND OF WEST TOWNSHEND, VERMONT, JOSE PEPSI ATTENDING (3:10) 1974
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.
WHAT THE BUZZARD TOLD SUZANNE (4:30) 1971
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.
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.
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: