Monday, June 05, 2006

Women of the Piedmont Blues - Etta Baker

As with bluegrass, the Piedmont blues is another musical style with few female influences. The one female Piedmont blues guitarist that instantly comes to mind has had a profound influence on many musicians.

Etta Baker was born in the foothills of Caldwell County, in Morganton, North Carolina in 1913. She began playing guitar at the age of three. "I was so small, I had to lay the guitar on the bed, stand on the floor and play on the neck," she recalls. One of eight children, Etta quickly learned the guitar and joined her brothers and sisters playing for corn shuckings and other community events.

The story of her "discovery" is as extraordinary as her guitar mastery. On a summer day in 1956, Etta's father took the family to nearby Cone Mansion. Folksigner, Paul Clayton, happened to be walking the grounds with his guitar that day. "My daddy asked Paul to let me play One-Dime Blues. He was over the next day with his tape-recorder."

Paul Clayton issued Etta's renditions of One-Dime Blues and Railroad Bill on the landmark album "Instrumental Music from the Southern Appalachians" on Tradition Records. A young Taj Mahall was a college student in the early 1960s when he first heard those recordings. "I was immediately taken by her version of Railroad Bill. She is the greatest influence in my guitar playing."

In 1962, Paul Clayton brought his friends, Bob Dylan and Susie Rotolo to visit Etta at her home in Morganton to celebrate Dylan's 21st birthday. After his visit, Dylan rewrote Clayton's song Whose Going to Buy You Ribbons, When I'm Gone into his classic Don't Think Twice, It's Alright, in which you can clearly hear Etta's guitar influence.

Etta Baker - One Dime Blues.mp3

Etta Baker - Railroad Bill.mp3

Etta Baker - Going Down The Road Feeling Bad.mp3
A rare example of Etta's deft banjo picking.
From "The North Carolina Banjo Collection" available here

All of Etta Baker's music can be found at


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ed good choices for the day
But that’s ever day


June 06, 2006 6:44 AM  
Blogger Ed said...

Joey - One can never go wrong with some Etta Baker!

June 06, 2006 7:07 AM  
Anonymous Lucy said...

Real soothing listening. Good job Ed, as usual.

June 06, 2006 7:41 AM  
Anonymous Phillip said...

Thanks again for turning me on to another excellent musician I probably would have never otherwise been exposed to. Fanastic. I love it.

June 06, 2006 9:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just keep on riding the bus and Ed will definitely turn you on to some great musicians


June 06, 2006 11:26 AM  
Blogger Ed said...

Thanks for all of the kind words, folks.

Exposing people to under-played artists is the main pupose of this Bus ride. There is a vast pool of talented musicians (and the past musicians that influenced them) that do not get the radio play they deserve.

Phillip, I'm glad you enjoy the Etta Baker I posted. Her music was copyrighted by Paul Clayton and the various record companies. After years in courtrooms, Etta now has control of her own works. She still tours on occasion. If you get a chance to see her perform, you are in for a real treat. I hesitate to recommend one of her CDs over the others, as all are wonderful and any recording by Etta Baker is an essential part of any collection.


June 06, 2006 4:20 PM  

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