Joseph Spence Biography

August 1910, Andros, Bahamas, d. 18 March 1984, Nassau, Bahamas. Playing guitar and singing, Spence built an extensive repertoire of songs that incorporated Bahamian folk music and a great many hymns. He performed all his music in a highly distinctive and usually somewhat eccentric manner that brought him many admirers. While he inspired other artists, such as Ry Cooder, John Renbourn and Taj Mahal, his style was so idiosyncratic that few if any appear to have attempted to emulate him. The Bahamian folk music that Spence performed is known as rhyming and might be described as a form of rhythmic verse. Spence’s vocal sound was hoarse and he sometimes forsook words for guttural moans and grunts. His guitar playing was complex and strikingly unlike that of other folk artists of his own or any other land. Indeed, his tuning of the guitar (D A D G B E) was unusual by orthodox standards. He sometimes performed with his sister Edith and her husband Raymond Pinder, the group being rounded out with the Pinder’s daughter, Geneva. Recordings by Spence and the Pinder Family influenced musicians such as the Grateful Dead and the Incredible String Band.

Included in Spence’s repertoire were ‘Coming In On A Wing And A Prayer’, ‘There Will Be A Happy Meeting In Gloryland’, ‘Brown Skin Gal’, ‘Face To Face I Shall Know Him’, ‘Jump In The Line’, ‘Bimini Gal’, ‘Diamond On Earth’, ‘How I Love Jesus’, ‘Rock Daniel’, ‘I Am Living On The Hallelujah Side’, ‘Old-Time Religion’, ’Oh, How I Love Jesus’, ‘Jesus On The Mainline’, ‘We Will Understand It Better By And By’, ‘If I Had The Wings Of A Dove’, ‘I Bid You Good Night’ and ‘Yellow Bird’. Select members of 3 Mustaphas 3 contributed to a 1994 tribute album to Spence, Out On The Rolling Sea.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.