Etta Baker: Etta Baker with Taj Mahal (1956-98) 2005

Etta Baker with Taj Majal

Track list:

01 – John Henry (with Taj Mahal)
02 – Crow Jane (with Taj Mahal)
03 – Going Down The Road Feeling Bad (with Taj Mahal)
04 – Madison Street Blues (with Taj Mahal)
05 – Railroad Bill (with Taj Mahal)
06 – Cripple Creek
07 – Johnson Boys (with Wayne Martin)
08 – Going To The Race Track
09 – Lost John
10 – Dew Drop
11 – Poem
12 – Comb Blues (with Algia Mae Hinton & Taj Mahal)
13 – One Dime Blues (P. Clayton recording)
14 – Sourwood Mountain (Mr. Boone Reid) (P. Clayton recording)
15 – Going Down The Road Feeling Bad (P. Clayton recording)
16 – Railroad Bill (P. Clayton recording)
17 – Johnson Boys (Mr. Boone Reid) (P. Clayton recording)
18 – John Henry (P. Clayton recording)
19 – Bully Of The Town (P. Clayton recording)


Etta Baker – guitar, electric guitar, banjo, vocals (poem)
Taj Mahal
Wayne Martin
Algia Mae Hinton
Boone Reid

Recorded: July 1956 – November 1998

This compilation:
Released: 2005
Label: Music Maker

Producer: Tim Duffy
Engineer: Tim Duffy; Leslie Williams; Paul Clayton; Wayne Martin
Artistic Consultant: Taj Mahal

Liner Notes: Timothy Duffy (President of Music Maker Relief Foundation)


At the age of 91, artist Etta Baker reclaimed ownership of Railroad Bill and other influential songs on this CD (part of the Music Maker and Taj Mahal series).

Popular recording artist Taj Mahal has always made homage to Mrs. Etta Baker by performing her music.

That chord in “Railroad Bill” is a very ancient root chord; it strikes straight through me, every time I hear it played. -Taj Mahal

Etta Baker of Morganton, NC, was born in 1913 and has played the guitar since the age of three.

She was the premier female Piedmont blues guitar instrumentalist, played the guitar everyday and was constantly working on new arrangements.

Etta maintained a beautiful yard and garden, and was matriarch of 108 members in her immediate family.

Taj Mahal has been a major recording artist since his debut album in 1967.

For 35 years, he has been a tireless preacher of American roots music.


This is sort of a patchwork album, with six new recordings featuring Taj Mahal as an accompanist stitched in with six songs of Baker recorded solo by her friend, Wayne Martin, and rounded off with the original seven tracks she made for folksinger Paul Clayton back in 1956, the tracks which introduced her to the world.

The sequence still moves fairly seamlessly, though, and shows off Baker’s versatility, as she tackles slide on “John Henry,” electric guitar (don’t worry, it works) on “Madison Street Blues,” and banjo on a vigorous version of “Cripple Creek.”

Any Etta Baker album makes a fine introduction to her enduring art, since she has never taken a day off on guitar in her life, but having the original Clayton tracks gathered together with more recent recordings makes this one feel a bit like a retrospective, and it shows that this amazing lady has been awfully good for an awfully long time.
~ Steve Leggett[]

Various Artists: Instrumental Music of the Southern Appalachians 1956 [Tradition TLP 1007 LP]


album includes the Paul Clayton recordings of Etta Baker:

One Dime Blues – guitar — Mrs. Etta Baker
Sourwood Mountain – 5-string banjo — Mr. Boone Reid
Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad – guitar — Mrs. Etta Baker
Railroad Bill – guitar — Mrs. Etta Baker
Johnson Boys – 5-string banjo — Mr. Boone Reid
John Henry – guitar — Mrs. Etta Baker
Bully Of The Town – guitar — Mrs. Etta Baker


excerpt from Sleeve Notes

[…] We first visited Mrs. Etta Baker and recorded the guitar solos on this record at Morganton.

Later we met more of her family, and other selections played by them were recorded at Morganton or Gamewell.

Mrs. Baker uses no finger picks in playing the guitar, and in John Henry tunes it to an open chord and plays with a jack-knife blade.

She started playing the guitar when she was three years old, learning from her father, Boone Reid.

Mr. Reid, now 79 years old, plays two banjo solos on this record, Sourwood Mountain, and Johnson Boys.

The other banjo pieces were recorded by Lacey Phillips, Boone Reid’s son-in-law. […]

ONE DIME BLUES: This song is perhaps best known in the version popularized by Woody Guthrie as New York Town. The words tell how “every good man gets a little hard luck some time, gets down and out and he ain’t got a dime.” Etta Baker’s brother-in-law, Quince Phillips included a stanza. “Do you want your son to be bad like Jesse James, get two big pistols and rob some passenger train?”

SOURWOOD MOUNTAIN: This is another country dance tune with many comic couplets that are often sung at random. The song has been collected widely in the South, and is one of the most famous pieces associated with the 5-string banjo.

GOIN’ DOWN THE ROAD FEELING BAD: This song was popular with the Okies in their trek from the Dust Bowl, but it is older than that, and Lomax speaks of its Negro origin.

RAILROAD BILL: This song about Railroad Bill has innumerable verses telling just how bad Railroad Bill is. No one has ever been able to find an historical figure with whom to identify the protagonist of this song. This ballad is one of the favorite guitar solos throughout the South.

JOHNSON BOYS: An old courting song, this ditty tells how spectacularly awkward the Johnson Boys are at that occupation.

JOHN HENRY: This great American ballad describes John Henry’s victory over the steam drill, though it made him “break his poor heart and lay down his hammer and die.” Playing this in an open chord with jack-knife blade seems to be traditional among Negro guitarists, perhaps partly because John Henry can quite readily be played in open chording, and partly because the effect suggests the ringing of steel on steel.

THE BULLY OF THE TOWN: “I’m looking for that bully of the town, looking for that bully that shot his woman down . . .” This old bad man ballad is well known, but the longest version I have heard sung or seen recorded was sung by Quince Phillips. In it, the bully is cut up so bad that “Stagaloo couldn’t cut him worse,” — a reference to another famous bad man. The piece makes a fine instrumental solo.

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