After collaborating with NC Arts Council colleague Lesley Willliams to produce the CD Etta Baker: One Dime Blues, I continued to visit Etta Baker at her home in Morganton to play and record her music. The CD recording focused upon her guitar repertoire, but Etta had also played fiddle and banjo as a girl. During my visits, she would often ask me to play the fiddle and she would pick up the banjo. Margaret would add guitar when she was present, completing the string band. This configuration stirred memories for Etta’s daughter, Dorothy, of times when she was young, listening to her grandfather, Boone Reid, play banjo with Etta on fiddle and Etta’s sister, Cora, on guitar. As Etta approached 90 years old, when playing guitar required more strength than she could easily muster, she seemed to gravitate to the banjo.
One unusual tune that we love, “Peace Behind the Bridge,” came back to Etta after she’d been playing banjo for a while. She recalled hearing it played by the Crisp family, her neighbors in the John’s River community of Caldwell County, who hosted music gatherings when she was growing up. I created the fiddle part and tried to integrate the slides that I heard Etta play on the banjo. The piece has a distinctive rhythm, and Etta liked to recall her father dancing to it. He was known as a fine dancer, whose steps, such as “sifting sand,” followed the bended notes in the tune.
Thanks to Tim Duffy, the founder of Music Maker Relief Foundation for permission to use this recording of Etta on banjo and Wayne on fiddle. Tim released this performance on Etta Baker: Banjo in 2003.