Piedmont Blues Guitarist Etta Baker

Though Chicago-style electric blues and Mississippi Delta blues have received the most amount of attention, they often overshadow a more subtle variety of the blues: Piedmont Blues. Etta Baker, who passed away in September at the age of 93, came from this line. The Piedmont region encompasses The Carolinas, Virginia, and Georgia.

The Piedmont Blues style is characterized by alternating-bass style guitar playing. In other words, the guitar player simultaneously plays the bass AND the treble. If you hear someone playing this style well, it will “sound easy.” However, you need to listen carefully to appreciate that the bass and the treble lines are played by a single individual. Sometimes it sounds like there are actually two guitars. Interestingly, this genre of the blues has an influence by both Whites and Blacks- contrary to the Delta version which seems to have been solely Black. To learn more about this style, this webpage, by students at UNC-Asheville proves to be a nice resource.

Anyway, Etta Baker was one of the finest in the Piedmont tradition. Her music is a little different because she does not usually sing- she let her guitar sing instead. Here is Baker performing a live version of One Dime Blues from the Florida Folk Life Collection. Additionally, here is an interview with Etta Baker and a memorial from NPR.

Tags: Etta Baker, Piedmont Blues


2 thoughts on “Piedmont Blues Guitarist Etta Baker

  1. J says:

    Interesting post. I’ve played the guitar for more years than I care to admit, but never heard of “Piedmont Blues”. It’s on the radar now and eventually I’ll investigate. Cheers.

  2. Bill Adams says:

    I was told about Piedmont Blues as a kid and taught the basics of it. It was another dozen years before I connected to the genre itself and recognized how I’d been taught to play. I like to use it to play fiddle tunes.

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