The fretboard diary is proud to give our readers a first look at a really special project, Smithsonian Folkways’ upcoming collection of previously unpublished Joseph Spence Recordings. As you hopefully know, Spence (1910-1984) was an extremely influential, one-of-a-kind guitarist / singer from the Bahamas. His unusual recordings sound like no other (before or after); he went on to inspire Ry Cooder, Taj Mahal, The Grateful Dead, and numerous others.
Encore: Unheard-of recordings of Bahamian guitar and vocals (released July 16, 2021) is a 13-track collection of recently rediscovered recordings by engineer, musician and producer Peter K. Siegel. In the 1960s, Siegel was fortunate enough to spend time with Spence, recording the musician in both New York City and Spence’s home in the Bahamas. Encore collects all previously unreleased Spence songs from these sessions.
As big Spence fans, we wanted to know more about how these recordings were made, Spence himself and the guitar of the musician’s choice. We spoke to Siegel about this project and his time with the musician for the Fretboard Journal Podcast. Look out for a story about these sessions in the fretboard diary # 49.
Some highlights from our interview with Siegel:
“I discovered him through his first Folkways album, which is still a classic. It was recorded by Sam Charters in 1958 and published in 1959. In the early 1960s, I and all of my friends were madly obsessed with Joseph Spence. I’ve heard the album so many times. So that was my introduction. It’s still a wonderful album. “
“Joseph Spence was presented in the spring of 1965 by Friends of Old-Time Music. As a volunteer for the group, I was asked to show them around the city; I can’t tell you how exciting that was. He was an incredible person. He was just so open, enthusiastic and happy. We went to the top of the Empire State Building! For me as a 21-year-old it was like a lifelong dream come true. “
“There are three sources for the recordings on this album. One was recorded live from the Friends of Ancient Music concert. Then there were recordings in the apartment where I lived with my parents on 31st St., in my bedroom. Let me tell you that for a 21 year old child having Joseph Spence play guitar in his bedroom is an incomparable experience … After meeting Spence and hearing him in concert, I was really excited about Bahamian music. I called my friend Jody Stecher, and we both went to the Bahamas and recorded all sorts of great pieces of music, which first came on an album called. came out The real Bahamas on Nonesuch Records. That is the third source. The three sources are the concert, the apartment and the house of Joseph Spence in the Bahamas. “
“I had looked through these tapes several times and didn’t know they were there. When Jody and I did The real Bahamas and a couple of other compilation albums we tried not to have the same songs on different albums. It was a weird take that I don’t quite understand, but we figured that even if the song was sung by Frederick McQueen, we didn’t want any more rewrite by Joseph Spence. That meant there were a number of great songs that we didn’t use. A few years ago, before the pandemic, I took off all these tapes, put them on the recorder, and listened to them. And I’ve found that there are some really great things out there. I only sat on it because I was not sufficiently aware of it. When I heard them, they sounded really good and that’s when I started putting it together. “
Pre-order the album here or through Bandcamp.