91-year-old artist Etta Baker reclaims ownership of “Railroad Bill” and other
influential songs on CD titled Etta Baker with Taj Mahal
Etta Baker of Morganton, NC, was born in 1913 and has been playing guitar
since the age of 3. She is the premier female Piedmont blues guitar instrumentalist, still plays the guitar everyday, and is constantly working on newarrangements.
Etta maintains a beautiful yard and garden, and at the age of91,is matriarch of 108 members in her immediate family.
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,
³My 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: (Taj comments)”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
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.
a friend to Bob Dylan brought Bob and Susie Rotolo to visit Etta in 1962 to
celebrate Bob’s 21st birthday.
Bob r 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.”
48 years later she has reclaimed ownership
for her music that had such far-reaching effect.
Taj Mahal has always made homage to Mrs. Etta Baker by performing her music. He explains,”That chord in Railroad Bill
is a very ancient root chord; it strikes straight through me, every time I hear it
Taj and Etta performed this cd one afternoon in Music Makers studio.
Etta’s friends Algia Mae Hinton and Wayne Martin make guest appearances.
We have included two recordings of her beloved father.
I just met with Etta and she played wonderfully.
She told me she had fully recovered from her heart condition,so I hope and pray that Etta remains a master musician for
years to come,influencing future generations of guitarists with her