RIP: Bill Spence, 1940-2019
By Greg Haymes
Beloved musician and a key mover-and-shaker in the Greater Nippertown folk music community, Bill Spence died on Thursday (February 7). He was 78 years old.
Spence was a master of the hammered dulcimer. In 1970, he formed Fennig’s All-Star String Band with musicians at the Pick’n and Sing’n Gather’n. He recorded the album The Hammered Dulcimer in 1973 on a two-track recorder in the living room. It was the first album on the Front Hall Records label. The album – virtually the first hammered dulcimer recording – has sold more than 100,000 copies over the years, and selections from the album were featured on the 1970s PBS-TV show, “Crockett’s Garden.”
With a somewhat fluid line-up of musicians over the years, Fennig’s All-Star String Band recorded numerous albums over the years, including Saturday Night in the Provinces in 1975 featured Tom McCreesh on fiddle with Toby Stover on piano. The Hammered Dulcimer Strikes Again in 1977, Fennigmania in 1981 and The Hammered Dulcimer Returns in 1992, featuring fiddler George Wilson and pianist Toby Stover.
Spence and his wife Andy were founding members of Old Songs, the non-profit traditional folk music organization, which launched in 1977. Four years later, the first Old Songs Festival of Traditional Music & Dance was held in Guilderland, later relocating to the Altamont Fairgrounds in 1982. Old Songs also operates its year-round concert hall in Voorheesville, where Andy Spence was the director until her retirement in 2018.
Spence also worked at the University at Albany as a specialist in audio, television and graphic design, from the mid-’60 til his retirement in 1998.