Heather Wright/The Independent
As a little girl, Joan Spalding would crawl out of bed and peer through the staircase to watch her family make music together. It’s been her life ever since and she wasn’t about to give it up because of a pandemic.
Spalding, who is known as the First Lady of Bluewater Country, can’t remember a time without music. “There was always music and all our families went to the Hagan’s and we’d play at the farmhouse and I’d watch everybody.”
Spalding loved every stolen minute. And even at that young age, she made a keen observation; the family didn’t have a guitar in the band.
One day, her parents went to see Don Pablo – billed as the conductor of the Biggest Little Band. They brought him home. Spalding already knew how to play the piano and Pablo agreed to show her the guitar. “I just looked at him and what he did. He showed me three chords and that’s how we did it.” Spalding took to the instrument easily because she was playing by ear. “Music is my right hand,” she says.
By the time the Plympton-Wyoming woman was “16 or maybe 17,” the Rhythm Ramblers snuck her up the backstairs of the bar they were playing and put her out on stage. “I wasn’t old enough to be in that place” But she was home.
Spalding played every bar with live music in Lambton, recorded albums with friends including Doug Springstead and entered music competitions. She’s the only woman to win the Canadian Open Singing Contest three years in a row.
So, when COVID-19 hit and Spalding’s gigs stopped, she was a bit lost. “I didn’t know what to do…but it came in to me as a dream. So I got this as a dream (to play) on the computer, so that’s how I started.”
Spalding didn’t know anything about computers or social media, but on March 25, she played her first virtual gig – just one song.
“And the first song I did, because I didn’t know how I was going to connect to my people, I cried after I was done.
“It hit my heart because I didn’t know how to stay in touch with my fans.”
But her fans found her. In a couple of days, March 26, she began singing every day.
Some days Spalding plays three songs, some days more. She takes requests from the dozens of people who log on live. That’s stretched her – learning new songs she wouldn’t normally sing.
As she heads up to the first anniversary of her online daily concerts, Spalding is grateful she can still connect with all the people who love music like she does.
“You work so hard, keeping your career up, and then all of a sudden you think you’re gonna lose it. Anyway, that’s how I continued.”