Joseph Spence (musician)
August 3, 1910|
|Died||March 18, 1984
Joseph Spence (August 3, 1910 - March 18, 1984) was a Bahamian guitarist and singer. He is well known for his vocalizations and humming while performing on guitar. Several American musicians, including Taj Mahal, The Grateful Dead, Ry Cooder, Catfish Keith, Woody Mann and Olu Dara, in addition to the British guitarist John Renbourn, were influenced by and have recorded variations of his arrangements of gospel and Bahamian songs.
Born in Andros, Bahamas in 1910, Spence was the son of a pastor, and got his start in music as a teenager playing in his great uncle Tony Spence's band. After leaving school he worked as a sponge fisher, stonemason, and carpenter, and as a crop cutter in the United States.
The earliest recordings of Joseph Spence were made on Spence's porch by folk musicologist Samuel Charters in 1958, with Charters initially thinking that Spence's guitar playing was the work of two players duelling. These were released by Folkways Records on the album Music of the Bahamas Volume One in 1959.
In 1964, Fritz Richmond travelled to Barbados to record Spence, and recordings made in Spence's living room were issued on the album Happy All the Time. The following year, Jody Stecher and Peter Siegel made the trip to record Spence, recording tracks also featuring Edith and Raymond Pinder and their daughter Geneva, which were released on The Real Bahamas Volume One. These tracks included Spence's arrangement of "I Bid You Goodnight" which was covered by The Grateful Dead and Ralph McTell among others. The album was a success, and led to Spence touring the US, with a second volume released in 1978.
Mike Heron of The Incredible String Band credited Spence as the inspiration for the "Lay down, dear sister" passage in A Very Cellular Song on 1968's The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter. Curiously, Spence credited Heron with the same song, claiming to have learned it from the ISB.
Spence released a third album, Good Morning Mr. Walker, in 1972, and performed several more times in the US during the 1970s.
Spence's repertoire encompassed calypso, blues, folk music and sacred songs. Spence played a steel-string acoustic guitar, and nearly all of his recorded songs employ guitar accompaniment in a Drop D tuning. The power of his playing derives from moving bass lines and interior voices and a driving beat that he emphasizes with foot tapping. To this mix he adds blues coloration and calypso rhythms to achieve a unique and easily identifiable sound. He has been called the folk guitarist's Thelonious Monk.
Several tributes to Spence have been recorded. After his death in 1984 the Richard Thompson fan club produced a benefit tribute album to Spence and the Pinder Family, Out on the Rolling Sea, released on the Green Linnet label and featuring Henry Kaiser, Taj Mahal, and Martin Carthy.
Bahamian musician KB paid tribute in the song "Riddim and Rhyme".
Spence's recording of "That Glad Reunion Day" was used in the 2004 film Open Water and also appears on its soundtrack album.
- 1959: Music of the Bahamas Volume One: Bahamian Folk Guitar Folkways Records FS 3844
- 1964: Happy All the Time Elektra Records EKL-273; Carthage Records CGLP 4419 (LP reissue 1985); Hannibal Records HNCD 4419 (CD reissue 2003)
- 1972: Joseph Spence: Bahamian Guitarist, "Good Morning Mr. Walker" Arhoolie Records 1061; Arhoolie CD 349 (CD reissue 1990)
- 1980: Living on the Hallelujah Side Rounder CD 2021
- 1990: Glory Rounder CD 2096
- 1992: The Complete Folkways Recordings, 1958 Smithsonian Folkways CD SF 40066
- 1995: The Spring of Sixty-Five Rounder CD 2114
- 1964: Folk Guitar, Bahaman Ballads and Rhyming Spirituals Folkways Records FW03847
- 1966: Explorer Series: The Bahamas - The Real Bahamas Nonesuch Explorer Series 79725-2
- 1978: Explorer Series: The Bahamas - The Real Bahamas, Vol. 2 Nonesuch Explorer Series 79733-2
- 1995: Kneelin' Down Inside The Gate: The Great Rhyming Singers of the Bahamas Rounder CD 5035
- 1997: The Bahamas: Islands of Song Smithsonian Folkways SFW40405
- 2006: Friends of Old Time Music: The Folk Arrival 1961 - 1965 Smithsonian Folkways SFW40160
- Thompson, Dave (2002) Reggae & Caribbean Music, Backbeat Books, ISBN 0-87930-655-6, pp. 274-5
- Metting, F. (2000). The Unbroken Circle: Tradition and Innovation in the Music of Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal, The Scarecrow Press, p. 86
- Dodd, D. (2005). The Complete Annotated Grateful Dead lyrics, Simon and Schuster, p. 60
- Belanger, Larry (1962-02-09). "Catfish Keith - Music Biography, Credits and Discography". AllMusic. Retrieved 2012-12-08.
- Humphrey, Mark A. (1984-03-18). "Allmusic.com". Allmusic.com. Retrieved 2010-05-23.