This folk icon is an exemplar of the 60s folk style says Stuart Ryan, with fingerpicked chords, melodic ideas and added Spanish influences.
Stuart Ryan studies folk icon Joan Baez’ exquisite approach to playing guitar.
This month we are taking a look at the guitar style of one of the most famous of the ‘protest singers’ of 60s America, Joan Baez. A stalwart of the folk genre, Baez was born in New York in 1941 though moved frequently owing to the transient nature of her father’s work. Her interest in music began when she started playing ukulele as a child. This quickly led to the guitar, and seeing Pete Seeger perform in her early teens cemented her goal to become a singersongwriter. Coming of age in the late 50s she found herself in Boston. The fertile folk scene at the time gave her opportunities to hone her craft as both songwriter and guitarist. Her first big break came when she was invited to play at the Newport Folk Festival in 1959; this led to the recording and release of her eponymous debut album the following year. Although she is a writer herself her early releases featured mostly old ballads, gospels and blues with her original material coming to prominence later.
Baez’s guitar style falls into the classic folk singer-guitarist territory of clean fingerpicked chords with melodic ideas interwoven with the underlying harmony. However, she also has a strong Spanish heritage and you can hear this influence in her playing. Listen to one of her most famous originals like Diamonds And Rust and you can hear the dark, almost flamenco influence within the melodies and chords. In addition you will hear elements of the Spanish style in her picking hand patterns – we are not talking about full rasgueados here but when she rapidly picks or strums down the strings it’s evident that the Spanish sound is part of her musical make-up. Whereas many of the folk singer-songwriters would often create very basic guitar parts to accompany their vocals (and message), with Joan Baez you get the sense that her parts are more creative and composed and could even stand on their own as melodic instrumental pieces.
If you are new to Joan Baez or the 60s protest movement guitarists in general it’s well worth checking out their approaches. While Bob Dylan is the most well-known artist within this genre, superstars like Baez also have much to offer to anyone embarking on an acoustic guitar journey, as her playing is always super-accurate, powerfully-played and immensely musical.
while dylan is the best-known artist in the genre, joan’s playing is always accurate and immensely musical
NEXT MONTH Stuart looks at the acoustic style of performing legend Bruce Springsteen
Joan Baez playing her Martin 0-45