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SoundGround >> How come nobody told me about Joseph Spence?


10/23/10 1:40 AM
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whaledog
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Edited: 10/23/10 12:02 PM
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 Just saw an article about him today and looked him up. (Isn't YouTube awesome?)  The music hooked me immediately.





Joseph Spence (born August, 1910 in Andros, Bahamas - died March 18, 1984 in Nassau, Bahamas) 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,[1] The Grateful Dead,[2] Ry Cooder,[1] 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.

The earliest recordings of Joseph Spence were made on Spence's porch by folk musicologist Samuel Charters. These were released by Folkways Records.

Spence played a steel-string acoustic guitar, and nearly all of his recorded songs employ guitar accompaniment in a Drop D tuning, where the sixth string is tuned to a D below the normal E, so that the guitar sounds, from sixth to first D A D G B E. 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.[3]

The Richard Thompson fan club produced a benefit tribute album to Spence and the Pinder Family, Out on the Rolling Sea. It featured a variety of artists covering songs from Spence's repertoire. His recording of "That Glad Reunion Day" was used in the 2004 film Open Water and also appears on its soundtrack CD. His unique vocal stylings on "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" may be the definitive version of that song, according to Tom Schnable of KCRW's "Weekend Becomes Eclectic" show.[citation needed]

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.
   
10/23/10 1:47 AM
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whaledog
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10/23/10 4:07 PM
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whaledog
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Edited: 10/24/10 9:05 PM
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Maybe it's because I've been learning fingerstyle blues guitar the last few years, so I'm kinda tuned into this kind of thing, but the genius of his music just grabbed me. I'd never heard anything quite like it. The rhythms and harmonies are pretty unique.

  
10/24/10 7:00 PM
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Rawbass
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Liked that first tune, Jump In The Line. Pretty catchy tune. I just noticed it said he tuned down to D, it sounds like it's even lower than that. I thought maybe that was a bass player playing the bass part, guess it's just him though.

I'll have to check out the rest of the songs, good find.
8/18/11 7:30 AM
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Ali
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His later recordings (with the Pindar family) get overly churchy, but that Smithsonian record and "Happy All the Time"/"Good Mornings Mrs. Walker" are great albums.

Ry Cooder talks about him in very reverential and hilarious terms. I first noticed him when I went to a Black Rock Coalition in NYC in the 80s (Vernon Reid, Ronnie Drayton, people like that), and the biggest showstopper was Olu Dara coming out and singing "Out On the Rolling Sea". Sent me right into the record store. (We didn't have youtube back on those prehistorical days). Spent a bunch of money, some of it not well but at least the two good records were SO good!
8/24/11 4:21 PM
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Hillbilly
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When I ived in the Bahamas as a young guitar player (I was 16) an old Bahamian man used to come to the docks and play guitar. He played much like Joseph Spence but had a much better singing voice.. He was awesome and I don`t remember his name.. He would do songs and start with something like "I learnt this before Hitler"..lol.

My old buddy Catfish Keith does a great version of Spence`s "Brownskin Girl".. Most of that stuff is in Drop D..

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