Cherokee folk singer Karen Dalton was a tragic story, a talent underheard and another tale of harsh and damaging substance abuse. Her sad, world-weary voice brings to mind Billie Holiday and her own compositions took a backseat to cover tunes.
She came from Oklahoma, ditching a husband & children for who knows why, and came to NYC where she was on the Greenwich Village folk scene along with Bob Dylan, the Holy Modal Rounders and her good friend Fred Neil. She played a twelve-string guitar and banjo and mentioned Bessie Smith as her biggest influence as a singer.
She made very few recordings, yet her repertoire included folk, blues, country, soul and pop with many cover versions. She sometimes played in a trio with Tim Hardin and her then-husband Richard Tucker. Her albums failed to sell and she was into heroin, eventually hitting the streets, where she died of AIDS in '93.
Nick Cave called her his "favorite female blues singer" and said Dylan: "My favorite singer...was Karen Dalton. Karen had a voice like Billie Holiday and played guitar like Jimmy Reed". Thankfully her music has been catching a revival these days, including some unreleased sessions. She stands as one of the most powerfully unique of the '60s folkies.