Archive for the ‘Joseph Spence’ Category

Kneelin’ Down Inside the Gate

September 29, 2014


Kneelin’ Down Inside the Gate: The Great Rhyming Singers of the Bahamas (Rounder CD)

from and liner notes by Jody Stecher:
When these recording were made in 1965 in Nassau, the Bahamas, these singers — including Joseph Spence, the Pinder Family and Frederick McQueen — were at the height of their powers. Coming from Nassau and the Andros, Abaco and Mores Islands, most of these singers were already over sixty years old when they recorded the lovely spirituals, anthems, rhyming songs and ballads heard here.

Today, this powerful and complex music has virtually disappeared, making the release of these recordings all the more invaluable and historically important. Kneelin’ Down Inside the Gate was recorded by Peter K. Siegel and Jody Stecher, the team responsible for the Elektra/Nonesuch label’s two volume series titled The Real Bahamas.

The first volume, issued in 1966, is a beloved and influential album, cherished and absorbed by countless musicians — such as Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal — and was the source for the Incredible String Band’s “I Bid You Goodnight,” a song that was the heartbreaking, joyous finale of live shows throughout their career. Except for three tracks recorded in 1965, the tracks recorded here come from the same legendary field trip that produced The Real Bahamas, and have never been issued before.

Rhyming is a uniquely Bahamian way of developing a song.  A singer intones verses, “rhymes,” over a repeating time cycle created by the words, rhythms, and harmonies of bass and treble support singers.

Joseph Spence’s “What a Beautiful Home” was recorded in Peter Siegel’s home in NYC a month before we journeyed to the Bahamas.  It captures Spence in a tender and reflective mood.  For me, it recalls his personal sweetness and the first words he spoke to me: “You like banana?”



The Guitar of Joseph Spence: DVD

September 7, 2014

spence dvdfrom
The Guitar Stylings of Joseph Spence (DVD)

To order online, go to the Guitar Workshop site.
For related music, check out my Bahamian Blind Blake page.

I saw Joseph Spence only once, when I was 12 years old, in a concert at

Harvard University with the Texas guitarist Mance Lipscomb. I can’t say I

remember very much about that particular concert, but I have been listening

to his music as long as I can remember, and he has always been one of my

favorite musicians.


I worked out one of his arrangements for the first time in the late 1970s,

among the first pieces I ever tried to learn note for note off a recording.

I can’t say I got very close to his fingering, but I came pretty close to the

rhythm, and that was what first fascinated me about his playing. I was

used to the straightforward rhythms of ragtime-blues, and Spence opened

up new possibilities that would eventually lead me to the Congo and lessons

from players like Jean-Bosco Mwenda and Edouard Masengo.


Over the next thirty years I learned about a dozen of his pieces, but it was

only after Ernie Hawkins put me in touch with Stefan Grossman and Stefan

agreed to do this video that I really buckled down and tried to get the pieces

right. The last three years have involved months of intensive woodshedding,

as well as many long conversations with Guy Droussart. (more…)

The Spring of Sixty-Five

August 21, 2014


Joseph Spence & The Pinder Family – The Spring of Sixty-Five (Rounder CD)


These recordings come from two separate occasions. Six tracks were recorded in New York City during Joseph Spence’s first tour of the U.S., and prominently feature Spence’s guitar and vocals, with harmonies and occasional lead vocals from his sister Edith Pinder. The other seven selections were recorded at the same sessions that yielded the Nonesuch Real Bahamas album, recorded in the backyard of the Pinder family, with Spence accompanied by incredible vocals from the Pinder family, Edith, Raymond, and Geneva.

Their vocals have the same rough-hewn rightness as Spence’s guitar, and the voices intertwine and create spontaneous counterpoint like some sort of coarse Bahamian vocal Dixieland ensemble. Or, as Jody Stecher says in the liner notes, “When the Pinders sing ‘When Jesus Calls Again’ they remind me of a big old living pump organ, complete with leaks and squeaks, and completely irresistible.”

– The Nassau Guardian:“Joseph Spence: The Unforgotten Legend”

Spence, as he was endearingly called by his siblings, his wife and inevitably everyone who came to know him, was raised with his sister and four half-brothers. In his youth, the Out Islands were still largely unpopulated, this meant that there was no access to mainland music. The influences that Joseph Spence did absorb came in the form of Baptist anthems, rhyming spirituals, Tin Pan alley songs, Trinidadian calypso, children’s songs and even Christmas carols. The ingenious guitarist broke new ground finding ways to combine and derive these musical genres into a format that better suited his own voice.The gifted Androsian was most heavily influenced while still in his teens, during a stint as a sponge hooker. Spence would take his guitar with him on these trips. The men whom he accompanied would often spend months at a time out in the “Mud” – the shallow waters where natural sponges were often found and harvested. The choral style developed on the Out Islands known as “rhyming” emerged when spongers were unable to return back to port in time for Sunday fellowship. Instead, they took bible verses, a few basic chords as well as an innate sense of rhythm adaptability and sang out their own service and prayers on the boats, utilisng a call and response format. Spence took hold of the approach and transformed it into something of his own creation. The teenager left the sponge industry one year before the great sponge blight in 1938, which wiped out 90 percent of the Bahamas’ sponge population.

The very first time that Charters heard Joseph Spence playing he was sitting on a wall at a construction site. Charters is said to have checked behind the wall for another guitarist, so layered and rich was Spence’s finger picking approach.

Some years later, in 1964, Fritz Richmond of the Jim Kweskin Jug Band visited the islands on behalf of Vanguard Records as a sort of fact finding trip to see if Joseph Spence was still around. Upon locating the elusive Spence, Richmond sent a a telegram back to the record company saying, “Spence lives. Bring 12 sets of metal bronze strings and a tape recorder.”


Jody Stecher and The Real Bahamas

April 21, 2013


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.