My Tribute to Joseph Spence and the Pinder Family
This page is my tribute to Joseph Spence and the Pinder Family, some of God’s finest musicians to ever walk the face of this earth.
Here is a great big picture of Joseph Spence.
The Pinder Family lived in the Bahamas and were descended if not in blood then certainly in spirit from a long line of Island musicians.
Joseph Spence played the guitar and sang, if you can call it that. It’s hard to say exactly what he did.
He made low gutteral noises, and then would suddenly break into a demented scat.
He would be singing along and his English would descend into complete nonsensical giberish.
Sometimes he almost sounded like Popeye. But whatever it was he was doing*, you could tell he meant business.
They say he looked like he was going into a trance when he played. The man was almost certainly filled with the Spirit.
And his guitar playing was phenomenal.
Sometimes even to this day while listening to him I wonder if my ears might be playing tricks on me.
Paired along with his voice, his guitar playing could weave incredibly complex rhythms and produce some of the most intriguing music I’ve ever heard to this day. His lackadaisical and carefree (almost irreverent) style is guaranteed to lighten any mood, and to hear his laugh always puts a smile on my face. Most people unfortunately would dismiss this sort of music offhand, if not because it seemed strange and exotic (and perhaps even frightening!), then because much of it was gospel. But any musician, or anybody with an ear for good music for that matter should immediately recognize its value.
*Actually, the Bahamians refer to this style of singing as “rhyming”, and it could almost be considered a precursor to modern rap.
Here is a picture of Joseph Spence with his sister, Edith Pinder, in the background, and her husband Raymond in the foreground. The Pinder family often accompanied Spence, and together they were nothing short of a veritable music machine. Edith sang in a powerfully deep and throaty tenor that reminds me of a Jamaican reggae singer. Her husband Raymond provided a deep and rich bass, while their daughter Geneva warbled along in a flighty treble. You just have to hear them to understand, but I’m telling you it’s unbelievable stuff. They sang with an incredible intensity that at times can be almost overwhelming to listen to. The music is simple, but the complexities are astounding. It’s truly a wonder to behold. If you’ve ever heard The Incredible String Band or The Grateful Dead performing their versions of “I Bid You Goodnight” then you’ve heard their tribute to the Pinder Family. These groups heard the song on an album called The Real Bahamas, a 1965 Nonesuch Records release which has since been re-released. Other musicians who claim Joseph Spence as an influence include Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal, both of whom had the pleasurey to meet and play with him before his death in 1984.
The Pinder Family and Joseph Spence
|The Spring of Sixty-Five
Rounder CD 2114
Rounder CD 2096
|The Music Never Stopped: Roots of the Grateful Dead
Great compilation. Contains Spence & the Pinder’s version of “I Bid You Goodnight” from The Real Bahamas.
|Explorer Series: The Bahamas – The Real Bahamas
Nonesuch Explorer Series 79725-2
Compilation of various Island musicians. The record that first introduced Spence & the Pinders to American audiences.
|Explorer Series: The Bahamas – The Real Bahamas, Vol. 2
Nonesuch Explorer Series 79733-2
More of the 1965 recordings by Peter Siegel and Jody Stecher.
|The Real Bahamas (Volumes 1 & 2)
Nonesuch Explorer Series 79300-2
Both volumes on one CD.
|Kneelin’ Down Inside The Gate: The Great Rhyming Singers of the Bahamas
Rounder CD 5035
Another great compilation featuring Spence and other island musicians.
|Bahamian Guitarist: Good Morning Mr. Walker
Arhoolie CD 349
|The Complete Folkways Recordings 1958
Smithsonian Folkways CD SF 40066
|Living on the Hallelujah Side
Rounder CD 2021
|Happy All the Time
Hannibal Records; HNCD 4419
|Water Records; WATER110|
|Mas! A Caribbean Christmas Party
Contains Spence’s maniacal version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” from Living on the Hallelujah Side.
|Out on the Rolling Sea: A Tribute to the Music of Joseph Spence & the Pinder Family
Green Linnet GLCD 3095
This is the only tribute album I’ve ever liked. In fact, it’s one of my all-time favorite records.
Excerpt from the liner notes to “Bahamian Guitarist” (written by Jack Viertel)
“Spence plays almost exclusively in the key of D, in the standard tuning with the sixth string dropped from E to D (D-A-D-G-B-E) but his guitar is slightly ‘out of tune’ by European standards. There is no sloppiness in this. He tunes very precisely by playing the same figures over and over again until he is satisfied, and the guitar is always tuned to the same pitches. They simply aren’t the pitches that a trained ear would call correct. His guitar playing is idiosyncratic and his repertoire is eclectic, and to the best of my knowledge, no musician has been able to successfully imitate him, not that it would be a particularly fruitful endeavor if accomplished. He frequently employs counterpoint and rhythmic shifts so complex that they far surpass the musicianship of almost all non-classical guitarists working today, and his control of melodic variation is simply astounding. His voice, also inimitable, is used more as a secondary instrument than as a means for communicating words. It provides a solid, if somewhat gravelly, base for the guitar’s fluid lines to play off of and frequently serves as a reminder of how the basic melody of a given piece goes, when the guitar variations have become almost too complex to follow.”
“Bahamian Guitarist” Review
“Sounding like a delirious sea captain, a Delta bluesman on a tear, or a malfunctioning record player, Joseph Spence’s mix of words and sounds is quite unique. The Bahamian guitarist’s vocals bob like a fisherman’s floater, sometimes leading the guitar and sometimes supporting it. He alternately picks, strums, and beats the acoustic instrument, and the sum total is the most unusual style I’ve ever heard from such a common setup. Hymns, sea chanties, popular folk songs, and other tunes make up his repertoire. This reissue includes many previously unreleased performances. Joseph Spence is where fans of Tom Waits meet followers of Mississippi John Hurt.”
(Robert Gordon – The Memphis Flyer)
More Spence-related links:
|Joseph Spence/Fingerstyle Phenomenon (.PDF)|
Listen to a Clip From “I Bid You Goodnight”
|And that’s all I have to say on the matter.|