The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Local and State News

March 16, 2013

The ballad of Karen Dalton

Bob Dylan admired this obscure Enid folk singer’s vocals

(Continued)

‘Ghosts come back to haunt’

The posthumous accolades began appearing within the last several years, as Dalton’s music began resurfacing — in both reissues of her two records as well as three new compilations of unreleased recordings. “Cotton Eyed Joe” (2007), named after the Bob Wills hit she loved to sing (downshifted into a slow, regretful reading), draws from the tape of a house concert for a small audience of friends from 1962 in Boulder. “Green Rocky Road” (2008) gathers home recordings from 1963. The most recent is last year’s chronologically titled “1966,” featuring songs recorded by visiting pal Carl Baron in a Colorado mountain cabin.

“I sing on a few of those, and play,” Tucker said. “We were living in the hills outside Boulder. Carl was a friend of ours and loved to come up and jam with us. I didn’t even remember it, but apparently on more than one occasion he had a cheap tape recorder and taped it. The quality is not good. A lot of things are so distorted we couldn’t use them. Like, she was doing this Lead Belly song, and she’d do this ‘Whoop!’ The distortion is so horrible they couldn’t fix it electronically. … See, none of this stuff was ever meant to be put out. If you were seriously trying to make a recording, you would’ve done a better job than most of these tapes. They’re just things that were captured in the moment, for personal mementos or maybe to help one of us remember parts of the songs. Now they’re just these ghosts come back to haunt us all.”

After recording “In My Own Time” at the turn of the ’70s, Dalton never made another record. She drifted around the country and deeper into drugs. Lacy J. Dalton claims she had a recording session scheduled for Karen in Texas in 1992, but Karen exited rehab, went back to New York, and disappeared until her obituary followed her death on March 19, 1993.

Tucker last saw Dalton in ’67, two years before she was tricked into recording her proper debut album. The two split up in Denver and Dalton never saw her again. Years later, when he sought to remarry, he said he tracked her down in order to send her divorce papers, which Dalton signed and returned without comment.

Even Baird, now relocated to eastern Illinois, eventually lost touch with her mother. “I was married and having children. I called her and told her I was going to be a mom. There was a long pause,” Baird said. “Then this voice said, ‘You bitch.’ … She never met her grandchildren.”

Baird said she doesn’t mind the revisitations via reissues.

“People keep saying they’ve come up with more stuff, so I guess she’s going to walk the earth a while longer,” she said. “You’re never really famous until you die.”

A native Okie, Thomas Conner covers pop music for the Chicago Sun-Times. This story first appeared in This Land. For more, go to thislandpress.com.

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