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Country Blues => Weenie Campbell Main Forum => Topic started by: ryan on January 17, 2005, 11:59:52 PM

Title: Joseph Spence
Post by: ryan on January 17, 2005, 11:59:52 PM
I just ordered an artist by the name of Joseph Spence.  I read he was discovered by Sam Charters on one of his ethno-musical travels to the bahamas.  I have never heard him before but he caught my eye and he looks like he has done alot of traditional numbers, and reviews have stated his style was similar to the country blues.  do any of you like him?  suggestions on albums?
Title: Re: joseph spence?
Post by: a2tom on January 18, 2005, 05:29:47 AM
I simply love Jopeph Spence.? My wife simply hates him.? But that has to do more with his proclivity toward tuning problems (I'd be interested to hear what other Weenies think about whether this was intentional or what...) and his decidedly unusual way of singing (or not singing).? Regardless, Spence has an incredibly warm and inviting style, both on the guitar and in his personality which exudes from every song.

As for similarity to country blues, there is certainly some (he is a fingerpicker after all), but most of his music isn't what I'd call "in the style".? He does many religious numbers, which creates some level of a link as well.? As I understand it, Spence played (almost?) exclusively in dropped D.

As for recordings, I have one called Bahamian Guitarist, from Arhoolie.? Others have said the Folkways recordings is a must have, but I've never picked that up (too many other artists to buy to be reproducing yet).

As for playing it, I find Spence very difficult to capture soundwise.? In many places the notes aren't really that hard, but he is stylistically out there in the way beyond.? I can fake my way through Mary Ann and Happy Meeting, but I don't really sound anything like Spence.? My wife says that 'cause you can understand the words...

tom
Title: Re: joseph spence?
Post by: BlindSockeyeSalmon on January 18, 2005, 06:32:07 AM
I love Joseph Spence. Here's my chance to ask a somewhat related question.

I just heard a Ghanaian highlife guitarist named King Onyina for the first time, and my first thought was to notice how much his playing reminded me of Joseph Spence.

Take a listen to the first track here and see if you don't agree:

http://www.sternsmusic.com/disk_info.php?id=PAMAG702

Any other fans of King Onyina or highlife music here? I'm surprised after listening to him & reading about him that his name is not better known.

John
Title: Re: joseph spence?
Post by: ryan on January 18, 2005, 01:36:28 PM
hey guys thanks for the reply.  the one I ordered is on rounder so i'll let you know my opinion when I get it. AMG gave it 41/2 stars, not that there opinion goes very far with me.  I think I'll pick up the one you also mentioned a2tom and I have a feeling my fiance will be in a similar mindset as your wife.
happy new year,
ryan 
Title: Re: joseph spence?
Post by: BlindLemonMeringue on January 18, 2005, 01:39:34 PM
Hello, yes you are correct, that guy does sound very much like Spence.

I,m working on the Spence tune "Great Dreams fron Heaven". Ive got a very basic version down but now need to add some variations into it and due to my lack of musical knowledge I,m stuck. Anybody help with licks/runs which can be done over this tune, and any other help or advice would be appreciated

regards

Blind Lemon Meringue (yes another blind guy)
Title: Re: joseph spence?
Post by: frankie on January 18, 2005, 01:50:14 PM
Others have said the Folkways recordings is a must have

I have most of Spence's recordings that have been released on CD.  The best one, hands-down, without any hesitation, reservation or qualifier is the CD of his 1958 recordings.  There's something to be enjoyed in all of his recordings, but that first one is just completely unbelievable - the guy was on fire!
Title: Re: joseph spence?
Post by: a2tom on January 18, 2005, 02:43:48 PM
The best one, hands-down, without any hesitation, reservation or qualifier is the CD of his 1958 recordings. There's something to be enjoyed in all of his recordings, but that first one is just completely unbelievable - the guy was on fire!

So you like that one then?? ?:)? OK, I guess I'll have to buy it.? You're not the first person I've heard say this.

tom
Title: Re: joseph spence?
Post by: Peter McCracken on January 20, 2005, 04:14:36 PM
I agree with Frank re. the first recordings. Unbelievably cool and inventive. John Miller pointed out to me that he plays tunes for 6 or 7 minutes, different each time through.

Interestingly, there's a man named Israel Forbes, a Bahamian, who learned from and plays like Spence. He's pretty old now, but he can still get it. Phil Wiggins worked on inviting him to the blues week this year, but he's currently not well. Maybe next year.

Peter
Title: Re: joseph spence?
Post by: Merle on January 23, 2005, 02:30:56 PM
Spence is awesome.

For comparison, you ought to hear Ry Cooder's in-tune, cleaned-up versions of Spence's arrangements. On his "Into the Purple Valley" album (1972) he covers "Great Dream from Heaven. On his "Jazz" album (1978) he does "Happy Meeting in Glory", "We Shall be Happy" and "Face to Face That I Shall Meet Him".

The John Stropes' book "20th Century Masters of Fingerstyle Guitar" transcribed Spence's "Glory Glory" and Cooder's arrangement of Spence's "Great Dream From Heaven". The book is out of print, but can be found online sometimes at eBay or MX Bookfinder. Years ago I recall seeing a full book of transcriptions, maybe published by Mel Bay.

I have a Spence album where he even gives his unique treatment to "Santa Clause is Coming to Town" and "Sloop John B". Wild.
Title: Re: joseph spence?
Post by: Merle on January 25, 2005, 03:54:56 AM
This thread has got me pulling  out all my old Spence stuff.

Those of you who have actually heard him will appreciate the following "imitation" I found on the web somewhere:

"be a friend...doodle doo hack cough... to Jesus...a-hack! doodle doo arrrr mumble a-hey".

To which I can only add: be sure your guitar is slightly out of tune.
Title: Re: joseph spence?
Post by: Smokin Bill on February 02, 2005, 08:28:38 AM
I love Spence's guitar playing, but his vocal stylings are so bizarre they make it difficult for me to enjoy listening to his recordings. Anybody know of any covers of his pieces by people who can sing without setting off the neighborhood cats? Or any intrumental versions? I recently came across a Jim Henry and Brooks Williams CD, "Ring Some Changes," that includes a great version of "On the Rolling Sea."

Bill
Title: Re: joseph spence?
Post by: Johnm on February 02, 2005, 05:31:08 PM
You can look for covers of Joseph Spence, Bill, but in my opinion what you end up with sacrifices way, way too much, however nice the renditions may be, when compared with Spence's own renditions.  He had a tremendous advantage when it came to playing like Joseph Spence.  He was a kind of bottomless pit of invention and ideas, especially on the Folkways recordings.  Even the best of the covers generally just reproduce a couple of passes of what he did.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: joseph spence?
Post by: Smokin Bill on February 02, 2005, 10:37:57 PM
Hmm... both of the J. Spence discs I have are Rounder CDs. Perhaps I'll have to locate the Folkways discs and give the guy another chance.

Or are the Rounder CDs just reissues of the Folkways?
Title: Re: joseph spence?
Post by: Johnm on February 02, 2005, 10:51:54 PM
I believe the Spence Folkways recordings have been released on Smithsonian/Folkways, Bill.  If you have not heard them, you should definitely seek them out, because as Frank and Peter McCracken have mentioned earlier in this thread they are perfectly amazing.  Any number of tunes on there, "Jump In the Line", "Brownskin Girl", "Coming In On A Wing And A Prayer", et al, are worth the price of admission by themselves.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: joseph spence?
Post by: Merle on February 04, 2005, 10:35:24 AM
Smokin Bill:

See my earlier posts for info on cover versions by others (Ry Cooder).

Also, Tom Ball covered "There'll Be a Happy Meeting" on his Guitar Music CD (Kicking Mule). And John Renbourn does some covers as well.

---Merle
Title: Re: joseph spence?
Post by: mississippijohnhurt1928 on February 07, 2007, 06:31:08 PM
Here's a little article on Spence Form Wikipedia:

Joseph Spence (born August, 1910 in Andros, Bahamas - died March 18, 1984 in Nassau, Bahamas) was a Bahamanian guitarist, singer and blues musician. He is well known for his vocalizations and humming while performing on guitar. Several modern folk, blues and jazz musicians, including Taj Mahal, Ry Cooder, Woody Mann and John Renbourn were influenced by and have recorded variations of his arrangements of gospel and Bahamanian pop tunes. The earliest recordings of Joseph Spence were field recordings by folk musicologists such as Sam Charters. Nearly all of the recorded songs are in a Drop D tuning, where the sixth string is tuned to a low D rather than 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
Title: Re: joseph spence?
Post by: OMpicker on February 10, 2007, 02:03:42 PM
I agree that while covers of JS' tunes may make things a bit clearer, they lose the spontaneous, joyful, inventive qualities of his playing.  I think he could probably play one song the whole night and you'd never hear it the same way twice.  For help in demystifying positions and the steady calypso-like bounce to his tunes, the new DVD by Elijah Wald released by Stefan Grossman is worth looking at.
Title: Re: joseph spence?
Post by: leonard on February 11, 2007, 04:47:29 AM
Yeah Joesph Spence is Great! Recently I was at Stephan Grossmans website. He has all these free old radio shows on there. I think they are from the 70's He plays all these different artist and does some lessons. If you listen to the one on Ry Cooder you'll hear Joesph Spence do Comin in on a wing and a prayer. Very nice!  I have a recorder in my computer so I recorded all the shows Its really quite alot of material.
I think you'll like Joesph Spence.    Lenny
Title: Re: joseph spence?
Post by: natterjack on February 13, 2007, 12:44:06 PM
The 1958 Folkways recordings are definitely the way to go.

I've heard his somewhat unusual vocal style (partly) attributed to the fact he was very reluctant to take his pipe out of his mouth.

Also, his version of Santa Claus is Coming to Town is the only Christmas song that doesn't make me grit my teeth!
Title: Re: joseph spence?
Post by: mississippijohnhurt1928 on February 13, 2007, 08:14:20 PM
Back when I was ignorant of the blues my uncle played my family Joseph's version of "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town"

And like most of Spence's songs it consists of one just barely cohearant line ("Sandy Craw Ih Comin' To Townnn") and he grumbles his way through the rest of the tune.

Yet it's very enjoyable

Here is a link to the afformentioned website in which you can listen to free (but short) radio shows:

http://guitarvideos.com/radio/cbg.htm
Title: Re: joseph spence?
Post by: Rivers on March 07, 2007, 05:57:02 PM
I picked up the Folkways disc a couple of weeks ago, thanks for the rec people.

May I also strongly recommend Arhoolie's Good Morning Mister Walker. This little gem is equally essential for fans IMO. You really do need both and let's face it one can never have too much Joseph Spence.
Title: Re: joseph spence?
Post by: vxale13 on April 10, 2007, 04:26:30 PM
Hi everyone!! my name is JOSEPH SPENCE HIBBERT, i live in costa rica, im 26 years old, i have heard alots of good comments about this wonderful artis, i'ld like to meet he's family  to see if we got any kind of relationship, if anyone knows how to contact any family member, or if you're part of his family please contact me at joseph28150@hotmail.com
Title: Re: joseph spence?
Post by: Slack on December 23, 2009, 08:00:24 PM
Joseph Spence

Santa Claus is Coming to Town

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yk5ufApUArQ
Title: Re: joseph spence?
Post by: Mr.OMuck on December 23, 2009, 09:27:03 PM
Thanks for that Mr. Slack. A gem! Imagine a duet of Joseph Spence & Glenn Gould with dual weird vocalizations goin' on. Well..maybe on that other shore....
Title: Re: joseph spence?
Post by: Parlor Picker on December 24, 2009, 01:21:44 AM
But everybody knows - there ain't no Sanity Clause.
Title: Re: joseph spence?
Post by: RB on December 28, 2009, 06:46:00 PM
Enjoyed 'Santy Claus ...' by Spence, thanks.  Perhaps as suggested, Spence is the Monk of guitar. 

I know I enjoyed some good singing in a church in Hopetown, Abaco in about 1994 or 5.  The kids were playing ocarinas, but the good song was 'The Carribean Lord's Prayer.'
Title: I heard Joseph Spence for the first time today! Wow!
Post by: Westside on September 13, 2012, 12:19:25 PM
I heard Joseph Spence for the first time today and all I can say is WOW!  I can't believe that I have never come across him before.  I can't get enough of him!  I see he has quite a few CDs, are there a couple that might come recommended as must haves?  Also, does anyone have this book "Joseph Spence: The Complete Folkways Recordings 1958: Fingerstyle Guitar/Solos" LINK:http://www.amazon.com/Joseph-Spence-Complete-Recordings-Fingerstyle/dp/078662731X (http://www.amazon.com/Joseph-Spence-Complete-Recordings-Fingerstyle/dp/078662731X)  If so, is it any good, and does it include tab?  I see that there is also an instructional DVD by Elijah Wood out there!
Title: Re: I heard Joseph Spence for the first time today! Wow!
Post by: Johnm on September 13, 2012, 01:10:13 PM
The Elijah Wald CD is well-done.  Elijah really immersed himself in Spence's material and was in contact with a couple of Spence specialists in preparation for doing the video lesson.  I don't know about the book, but Spence's Folkway recordings are my favorites of his because he plays at great length, tons of variations, which really suits and shows off his enormous imagination.  If you want to get it right, get used to tuning your G string sharp.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: I heard Joseph Spence for the first time today! Wow!
Post by: Stuart on September 13, 2012, 03:35:10 PM
The Folkways recordings are a must have. I have the original LP, "Bahaman Folk Guitar." Sam Charters' liner notes differ from those of the CD, "Joseph Spence: The Complete Folkways Recordings, 1958."

http://www.folkways.si.edu/joseph-spence/the-complete-folkways-recordings-1958/caribbean-world/music/album/smithsonian (http://www.folkways.si.edu/joseph-spence/the-complete-folkways-recordings-1958/caribbean-world/music/album/smithsonian)

http://folklife-media01.si.edu/liner_notes/smithsonian_folkways/SFW40066.pdf (http://folklife-media01.si.edu/liner_notes/smithsonian_folkways/SFW40066.pdf)

Here's Stefan's page:

http://www.wirz.de/music/spencfrm.htm (http://www.wirz.de/music/spencfrm.htm)


I recall seeing the book at some point. I don't think that it has complete transcriptions, but if you're just starting out, anything will be a time saver. 

There appears to be a fair amount on YouTube. Here's a clip of Elijah:

Elijah Wald teaches "Oh How I Love Jesus" by Joseph Spence (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wqCSf-mIiG0#)
Title: Re: Joseph Spence
Post by: Johnm on September 13, 2012, 03:40:30 PM
Hi all,
I merged the new Joseph Spence thread of today with an earlier thread on Spence which had a lot of information in it.  Apart from the first post in the thread, all other posts will retain the titles of the original thread they were in.
all best,
Johnm
Title: Re: Joseph Spence
Post by: ScottN on September 13, 2012, 05:42:09 PM
Hi Westside Ryan,

If your looking for a great transcription of Spence's Face To Face That I Shall Know Him, Johnm (although probably to modest to bring it up himself) has transcribed every verse in a lesson available through his website.  I highly recommend it and it is one of my favorite songs to play.

Thanks,
              Scott
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