Jody Stecher and The Real Bahamas

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The Real Bahamas (Nonesuch Records), recorded by Pete Siegel and Jody Stecher

by Jody Stecher (from liner notes):

We were strangers, conspicuously white-skinned, suspected of being Beatles (who had just been there filming Help!) or tax collectors. Peter Siegel was 21 years old; I had just turned 19. We had come to the Bahamas to record the spirituals and anthems of the region and, particularly, the distinctive Bahamian vocal style called “rhyming.”

On our first day in Nassau we began our search for the legendary singer and guitarist Joseph Spence. We asked everyone, and the response was uniform and predictable: “Sure mon, I know Spence”—until we arrived in his own neighborhood. Nobody knew of Spence, and a young woman standing in the doorway of a cottage sternly asked us why we were looking for him. When we said that we wanted to record Spence’s music she brightened and offered to take us to his house; gathering several small children from behind her long skirt, she escorted us next door.

Spence’s wife Louise seemed to be expecting us and served us conch fritters. In the corner was a black guitar leaning on a small amplifier bearing a sign: “Joseph Spence—The Voice from Heaven.” Spence himself came home, and after a tour of the banana trees in the back yard we set up a time to record him with his sister Edith and her family. This session was recorded in the yard of the home of Raymond and Edith Pinder, some distance away.

The yard was full of children and lush subtropical trees and plants. We began recording at dusk and, as the night deepened, more and more neighbors showed up. Edith’s husband, Raymond Pinder, sang bass, and their daughter Geneva sang the high parts (treble). With her strong and compelling voice, Edith sang lead most of the time. Joseph Spence would sing a part all his own, along with his unique guitar playing.

One song from that session, “I Bid You Goodnight,” became world-famous not long after Volume I of The Real Bahamas was released in 1966; the Incredible String Band and the Grateful Dead subsequently recorded the song, and it has also been used as the closing theme for several American radio stations.

The Reverend W.G. McPhee was very helpful in locating good singers and we recorded some of them at his home, including the Swain family and the legendary singer from Andros, Frederick McQueen, with his high-pitched, otherworldly voice and uncanny melodic sense. The Swain family—Shelton Swain, his son Ronald, and cousin Stanley—and George McKenzie were all from the island of Abaco. When still a boy, Shelton had learned his musical style in the sponge-fishing days from the great rhyming singer Peter Elliot; he recalled how Elliot took him on his knee after hearing him sing, saying, “Son, I could take you and run a nation.”

The Swains told us about a great singer, Bruce Green from Moores Island, and arranged a meeting with him. Mr. Green had with him two splendid younger singers, Clifton Green and Tweedie Gibson. The atmosphere of our hotel room, where this session was recorded, became elevated by the innate nobility and the pure, dignified presence of these three men.

We set out for Moores Island, hoping to find and record more rhyming singers but managed to get only as far as Marsh Harbor, on the island of Abaco. There we encountered Lyndall Albury, a singer of English ballads and folksongs. Marsh Harbor was founded by her ancestors, Loyalists to the English crown who had left the Carolina colony after their cause was defeated in the American Revolution. The layout of the village, style of the houses, the speech and bearing of the people were so much of another time and place that we felt ourselves bewitched and transported into a dream world far removed from 1965.

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One Response to “Jody Stecher and The Real Bahamas”

  1. MIke Hoffmann Says:

    Thank you.

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