Happy All the Time


Joseph Spence – There Will be a Happy Meeting in Glory (from Complete Folkway Recordings 1958)

“Can you read music, Spence?” He replied, “No, I cannot read music.” “How did you learn this song?” Indicating the book, he said, “From this book, mon. There’s a lot of funny songs in this book. Lot of funny songs.” “But if you can’t read notes, how did you learn the melody to this song?” The response which typified Spence’s personality, “I’s talented.”

-The Nassau Guardian March 19th, 2004

Caught between the great Bahamian sponge blight and the microphones of Alan Lomax sat a man who never heard recordings of himself, never had a drivers license, and quite possibly never met another guitarist. The finger styles of Joseph Spence are one of the most extraordinary examples of self-learned musicianship these ears know, making most “outsider” artist sound like guitar instructors in comparison. The backing to Spence’s playing could be attributed to a number of things, including his years as a sponge hooker as a teenager and later on a stonemason, giving him great strength in his hands. His thumbs wrapping on his guitar were the key, as was his strange tuning style and complete blindness to musical notation. While certainly American blues rings a bell, his music was usually almost always about happiness rather than sorrow, hence the words “Happy All the Time”. I’d closer relate his music to Christmas Carols, something he enjoyed immensely. Sitting on the porch playing guitar constantly only stopping to ride around on his bike, Joseph lived a full life in Andros and later Nassau with his wife Louise. He had breif success with some touring near the end of his life, but remains largely unrecognized. I really can’t think of many people I’d rather hang out with, and really can’t think of much music as good as the recordings of Joseph Spence.

Not a duppy in sight here!

For more Spence stories, read this excellent article from the Nassau Guardian.

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