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Joseph Spence


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Joseph Spence (August 3, 1910, Andros, Bahamas - March 18, 1984, 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, The Grateful Dead, Ry Cooder, 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. 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.
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 Schnabel of KCRW’s Weekend Becomes Eclectic show and John Kelly of RTÉ Radio 1’s Mystery Train show.


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