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April 1, 2008

Mrs. Etta Baker, Family and Friends - Instrumental Music of the Southern Appalachians

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)
Label: Tradition
the happy blues.
mp3 >192kbps vbr | w/ cover | 49mb

for greg

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.


Anonymous said...

your taste in music is impeccable!

thank you for the great tunes!!!

glauberovsky said...

agree. gonna send some fine brazilian stuff to you, pirate.

GLAUBER [brazil]

glauberovsky said...

here it is. ELOMAR "Das Barrancas Do Rio Gavião" ['73]

more of his stuff an' similar artists, here:

hope ya like it,
GLAUBER [brazil]

brokedownengine said...

listening and enjoying. as always, top notch friend.

westwardwall said...

Again and again as surly as the sun comes up each morning I am awakened by the sounds of new roosters or hens. Surely your willingness to stare into the sun on behalf of your fellow man has broken one of your eyes and yet, you go on, and we all benefit, so there you are, looking more like James Joyce everyday. What a wonderful reward but not enough, so I add to that my thanks.

The Irate Pirate said...

hmm, James rings a bell. Oh yes, he was that feller I played spoons with back in '21. Yes, it was old James, Flann O'Brien, Myles NaGopalean, Backwards Sam, Kid Future, and my musical partner of the time, Blind Boy Moses. As I recall, it was James who lost the game, and set off on his own personal odessey in search of his missing spoon fixation. Now let us never speak of this again, or you'll expose my secret identity...

westwardwall said...

But surely the surly sun cost him one eye to go. How else explains the patch and the socket now filled with a beautiful marble, a "shooter" they called them back in those days. Now, I will bet that each time a park is walked past, his head twitches toward the marble ring. Those children, there, invite him to rest his head on the ground, next to it, if just for luck or memorence of old times. For that is the only place Joyce's marble eye can get some rest. Spoons you say? For a musical tour of ice cream shops? Spoons, singing out in ways that only professional dishwashers are able to replicate.

The Irate Pirate said...

if I have been acused of sungazing, it is only that I may more fully realize my Icarusian potential. The story of marbles reminds me of Coyote, who threw his eyes into a tree. Regardless, either I've got a marble and I'm looking for my spoon, or else I've got my spoon and lost my marbles.

Sigh, best turn my watchful bulb towards Aldeberon, that brilliant giant.