Etta Baker started playing guitar when she was three, and played for an hour a day until she died. So she was really good. Like Libba Cotten, Etta’s style was a syncopated fingerpicking style rooted in the 19th Century. Called the “Piedmont” style, it owes as much to ragtime, Appalachian, and songster traditions as it does to the blues (which itself grew out of these traditions). Her music had a gentle, rollicking, and joyful flavor not unlike that of Mississippi John Hurt. Besides being a fantastic guitar and banjo player who influenced John Fahey, Taj Mahal, Doc Watson, Bob Dylan, and countless others, she was a warm and gracious person.
Here is the story of this album:
On a summer day in 1956, Mr. Boone Reid of Morganton, NC took his family to nearby Cone Mansion. The brilliant folksinger Paul Clayton happened to be walking the grounds with his guitar. Mrs. Etta Baker remembers, “My daddy asked Paul to let me play One-Dime Blues. He was over the next day with his tape-recorder.”
Clayton issued these pieces on an album that became among the most influential recordings of the folk era, Instrumental Music from the Southern Appalachians on Tradition Records. Etta’s renditions of One-Dime Blues and Railroad Bill became standards at the height of the folk music revival in New England. Taj Mahal a student at UMASS in the early 60s first heard this LP in a college dorm: “I was immediately taken by her version of Railroad Bill. She is the greatest influence in my guitar playing.” Etta had numerous offers to perform but did not go because, “My husband could play piano real well, we could have made it, but he did not want to leave home.”
Paul Clayton had a cabin outside of Charlottesville, VA, and he would bring his musician friends down from the New York folk scene to visit Etta. Paul, a friend to Bob Dylan brought Bob and Susie Rotolo to visit Etta in 1962 to celebrate Bob’s 21st birthday. Bob soon after rewrote Clayton’s song Whose Going to Buy You Ribbons, When I’m Gone into Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright, in which you can clearly hear Etta’s guitar influence.
Etta’s early recordings have always been available. The Bakers never granted permission for them to be released. Etta reflects, “Back then we just did not know what to do about it.”
— Music Maker Relief Foundation
Hobart Smith is also on this album playing some amazing fiddle and banjo. I’ll probably do a post on him later, but let me just say that he fully conveys the ancient-ness of the tunes he plays. They do not sound old; rather, they sound eternal. Mrs. Edd Presnell captures some of the same effect on the mountain dulcimer, though without the same virtuosity.
There are also some lackluster performances here, delivered by Mr. Richard Chase on harmonica and Mr. Boone Reid (Etta’s father) on banjo. Well, that’s ‘family and friends’ for ya.
Mrs. Etta Baker, Family and Friends – Instrumental Music of the Southern Appalachians
Year: 1956 (reissue 2006)
the happy blues.
mp3 >192kbps vbr | w/ cover | 49mb
also check out Etta Baker – One Dime Blues over at Broke Down Engine. It’s actually a much better album, as she got better and better with age.
and if you like Etta Baker, please support the Music Maker Releif Foundation, which started recording and supporting Etta Baker in the 90s and does so for many other unknown but very deserving artists. Really, it’s one of the most deserving labels ever, having been founded for the sole purpose of supporting the artists, rather than profiting from them.