Betsy Rutherford-Traditional Country Music

This out-of-print lp was the only recording of Betsy Rutherford, from Galax, Virginia. Raised in a musical family (her uncle was Fields Ward, see my post of this great musician), she kept singing the old songs she learned from her parents or from the Carter Family at a time when many young Virginians turned their back on the mountain traditions and the music was revived by urban students in the Northern states. Like Hazel Dickens, she sang country songs with a powerful and dignified voice, with a traditional instrumental back-up or a cappella on the beautiful Jean Ritchie song “The West Virginia Mine Disaster”. On “Amazing Grace”, she sings in the lining out fashion like in the Primitive Baptist churches and it’s one of my favorite recording of this famous hymn. She can be heard singing with the great Ola Belle Reed on a recent cd issued by Smithsonian Folkways called “Rising sun melodies” (on “I believe in the old-time way” and “I am the man Thomas”). Young appalachian singer Elizabeth LaPrelle cites Betsy Rutherford was one of her favorite singer and sang “Rain and Snow” on her first record.

Track list:

1.Faded coat of blue

2.Rain and snow

3.John Hardy

4.The West Virginia mine disaster

5.Tramp on the street

6.Boys, be good to dear old dad

7.Drunkard’s doom


9.Will the circle be unbroken

10.Amazing grace

Download here

Published in: on April 4, 2011 at 4:22 pm  Comments (5)  

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I remember the recording of this album like it was yesterday. Old Joe Clark’s, cited in the Acknowledgements, was a musical cooperative (gone now) in Cambridge, MA where Rusty, Sandy and I lived. Music all the time, and old-time musicians from out of town were always dropping in to play.

    Betsy recorded this in OJC’s dining room on a 2-track Crown tape deck, two mics sometime around 1968-69. In order to balance the instruments and voices, banjos were situated practically off in the next room. Pete Colby, in particular, had a strum that would pin the VU meters. Often we’d have to stop a track in the middle because of car horns or road noise, and start over.

    It’s a shame that she only recorded the one album. She knew lots of old, obscure songs she’d learned from her family. In fact, I learned “Faded Coat of Blue” from her, and later recorded it on the Spark Gap Wonder Boys Rounder album.

    • Thanks for your testimony…

  2. How cool to see a comment from Neil. It’s a little more than awesome to see Mom’s work being remembered after all this time. I’m her oldest daughter Heather.

  3. . We did do a lot of the recording at Old Joe Clark’s as described by Neil Rossi but some of the recording was done in an apartment a few blocks west of Harvard Square where the young recording engineers lived with their large dog. It was in 1970 or 1971. I was a graduate student at the time and commuted from Albany, NY to Cambridge, MA to play with the band and record this album. I particularly remember doing a great take of Tramp on the Street when the dog came wandering through the musicians, knocked over a whiskey bottle and emitted a loud and powerful dog fart that was caught on the tape. Needless to say that take didn’t make it on the record.

    One of the ironies of this record was that a year or more after it was released it was reviewed by Stereo Review Magazine. They panned Betsy’s singing but thought that the band was “the real thing”, getting it exactly backwards.

    Betsy’s voice was not always “on” but she was indeed the “real thing” and when she was “on” there were very few who could match her.

  4. Betsy was a true original. She, her husband John Coffey, Bill Schmidt, Bob Dalsemer and I were the “New Ruby Tonic Entertnainers”. We played square dances, festivals, fiddler`s conventions, etc. in the Baltimore/Washington area back in the early `70s.
    Short of a few “practice tapes” and one amateur recording at one of the early “Deer Creek Fiddler`s Conventions”, we made no recordings, but had a fine old time.
    Betsy is sorely missed.

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