By James Calemine
Etta Baker was born in 1913 amid the hills of Morganton, North Carolina. She began playing guitar at age four. Baker remains a premiere female Piedmont blues guitar instrumentalist.
Taj Mahal, tireless Music Maker consultant, elucidated on Baker’s musical prowess: “Because she was a stunning beauty, Etta’s husband refused to let her travel and perform away from home. She never stopped playing music! This gracious grandmother was the source of a great deal of joy and surprise when I found out she still played guitar after I heard her early recording in the sixties. One of the signature chords of my guitar vocabulary comes from her version of “Railroad Bill”. This was the first guitar-picking style that I ever learned.”
The first ten songs on this new release epitomize classic Appalachian-tinctured instrumentals. Baker’s masterful guitar playing accompanied by Mahal provides an earthy, organic sound that creates a fine front porch soundtrack no matter the location.
Track 11, a 21-second “Poem”, remains the only lyrics on this collection. The first 13 tracks were recorded from 1998-2004. The last six songs were recorded in 1956. Music Maker’s Tim Duffy wrote in the CD liner notes: “Paul Clayton had a cabin outside of Charlottesville, Virginia, and he would bring his musical friends down from the folk scene in New York to visit Etta. Paul, a friend to Bob Dylan brought Bob and Suze 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” which you can clearly hear Etta’s guitar influence.”
This Etta Baker collection emerges as a medicinal blues mantra.