Elijah Wald has been a musician since age seven and a writer since the early 1980s. He has published more than a thousand articles, mostly about folk, roots and international music for various magazines and newspapers, including over ten years as "world music" writer for the Boston Globe. In the current millennium, he has been devoting most of his time to book projects, including volumes on such disparate subjects as Delta blues, Mexican drug ballads, hitchhiking, and a broad social history of American popular music. As a musician (and to a great extent as a writer as well), his mentor was Dave Van Ronk, who gave him a year of guitar lessons and many years of staying up late at night, arguing politics and listening to records of everything from Bulgarian folk music to Bing Crosby.
“To my way of thinking, Spence's style is like a language, and the aim of this DVD is to help people understand the structure and grammar, teach a representative sample of phrases, and provide some tips on the accent. Along with his rhythmic innovations, Spence worked out a contrapuntal style in which his thumb, rather than keeping a steady rhythm, accented the melody with carefully placed notes and bass runs. He also played almost all his melodic lines in harmony, parallel sixths drawn from church singing. The result is that there are typically three lines running at the same time--melody, harmony and bass--and his unique fingerings allowed him to improvise these simultaneously. It really is like a language. While he had a few pieces that were carefully worked out and remained more or less identical over the years, he could also play any melody he heard fluently, and once one has learned how to "speak" his style, it opens up a new vocabulary for any player.” – Elijah Wald
Tablature/music is available as a PDF file for each lesson. Lessons are filmed with multiple cameras and consist of a performance, explanation, and conclude
with a slow tempo split screen that follows the tab/music.
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A popular Caribbean song, recorded by everyone from Harry Belafonte to the Bahamian Blind Blake Higgs and even Louis Farrakhan, back when he was recording
calypso as the Charmer. Spence's arrangement uses the upper range of the guitar neck more than usual, but he does this by extending his usual shapes,
and it is a good example of how he would adapt his church-oriented style to a popular calypso, with several improvisatory variations.
Joseph Spence's secular masterpiece, this was a popular World War II song that he frequently played, apparently because he found it a particularly inviting
framework for improvisation. After stating the basic melody, he comes up with a wide range of variations, shifting from bass to treble, playing with
the time, and substituting a completely new section for the standard bridge. This is one of his more advanced pieces, but also one of the most varied
and fun to play.
A widely-recorded American pop hit from the 1930s, recorded by everyone from Benny Goodman to Big Bill Broonzy and Otis Redding, this is one of Spence's
most straightforward arrangements -- it uses his standard shapes and is an ideal tune for mastering his unique thumb/bass techniques, which accent
the melody rather than providing the solid rhythm of the familiar mainland "alternating bass" styles.
Originally titled "That Glad Reunion Day," this hymn by the South Carolina composer and singer Adger M. Pace was one of Joseph Spence's favorite showpieces,
and is his best known, thanks to covers by Ry Cooder, Davey Graham, and others. The basic arrangement is not particularly difficult, using his usual
techniques in 3/4 (waltz) time, and the later choruses show how he would improvise surprising and challenging variations on a theme.
Like most of Joseph Spence's songs, this is a Methodist hymn, composed in the 19th century to lyrics by an Anglican minister, Frederick Whitfield. It is
a perfect introduction to Spence's unique techniques for fingerpicking in 3/4 (waltz) time, using his usual chord shapes and moving bass lines.
Composed by Jessie Seymour Irvine, a Scottish minister's daughter, in her teens, this tune (officially known as "Crimond") is the most familiar setting
of the 23rd Psalm. It is one of Spence's most elegant and formal-sounding arrangements, using his standard left-hand fingerings to create an interplay
of melody with contrapuntal bass figures that is reminiscent of Renaissance European styles.