There is no possible way I could possibly describe for you the delightful contraption that is Joseph Spence and his music—it is simply charming madness. It is what the country blues sounds like when it comes from The Bahamas, and is sung by to you by a growling, grunting, humming, virtuosic, genius-scoundrel-gremlin-madman-charmer-farmer-fisher-prodigy.
I owe too many debts to Samuel Charters to count, for having introduced me to the music that has shaped my entire life. Joseph Spence is another who’s music I am able to cherish because Mr. Charters was able to document, record, and distribute his performances. Here is Charters describing the first time he heard Mr. Spence:
“When you go out into a new part of the world with a tape recorder to look for music you always dream that someday you might find a new performer who will be so unique and so exciting that their music will have an effect on anybody who hears it. One of the few times it ever happened to me was in our first few weeks in the Fresh Creek Settlement on Andros. We went out one day about noon…. Some men were working on the foundation of a new house, and as we came close to them we could hear guitar music. It was some of the most exuberant, spontaneous, and uninhibited guitar playing we had ever heard, but all we could see was a man in a faded shirt and rumpled khaki trousers sitting on a pile of bricks. I was so sure two guitarists were playing that I went along the path to look on the other side of the wall to see where the other man was sitting. We had just met Joseph Spence.”
Please, if you don’t know his music, listen to Joseph Spence.
Joseph Spence. Yep. That’s right. Joseph Spence. Caribbean Country Blues. Trust me. And here’s the best way to get your head wrapped around the gloriously bent and magic acoustical muttering beauty of this strange and incredible artist. Listen to his version of Sloop John B. Because you know the song, but you have NEVER heard it like this. And it’s so, so phenomenal … I mean, literally cool beyond imagining. Seriously. Dig this.
Dock Boggs. I am a firm believer that proper Country Blues needs to occasionally be a bit creepy. And there is little music in the world that is more creepy than Dock Boggs’ original version of Sugar Baby.
Freddie, by Mance Lipscomb. Mance is associated with a great many fantastic things, and rightfully so. But not often with one chord drone songs. And let’s digress for a moment to note that one chord drone songs are the ultimate measure of a musicianer. And Country Blues does it best. Yeah, take that, modal jazz! (which I happen to love, btw). Anyhow, Mance hypnotizes on this one, so dig:
And here’s one from the newden days. Chris Whitley (RIP) laying into Spoonful with the Billy Martin & Chris Wood, the esteemed Medeski, Martin & Wood rhythm section. Just when you thought an ol’ blue chestnut like this one couldn’t be reimagined successfully, here comes this motherfu&*er of a rendition. This, people, is modern country blues. Not … that other stuff. This.
To be continued, but please. Listen to this music. Listen to this Country Blues.