Karen Dalton Biography

Karen Cariker, 19 July 1937, Bonham, Texas, USA, d. 1993. One of the great overlooked talents of the New York folk revival of the early 60s, Dalton continued to enjoy cult status in the years following her departure from the music scene. Ironically, her music only became widely available following her death in 1993.

Dalton was born in Texas and raised in Oklahoma, and began singing at an early age. Schooled in the folk tradition, she also became highly proficient on the banjo and 12-string guitar. She relocated to New York City in the late 50s, basing herself in the bohemian enclave of Greenwich Village. It was in this locale that she began performing with a host of other aspiring young folk musicians, including Fred Neil and Bob Dylan. Despite her involvement with some of the scene’s leading lights, Dalton never made the same transition to mainstream acceptance. Her live performances were highly regarded and she was regularly name-dropped by her contemporaries, but her expressive, bluesy singing voice was an acquired taste and a turbulent personal life also made the labels wary of making an approach. It was not until the late 60s that she finally secured a recording contract, with Neil associate Nik Venet instrumental in finally getting Dalton into a studio to complete an album (she had undertaken a few abortive sessions in the mid-60s). Her Capitol Records debut, It’s So Hard To Tell Who’s Going To Love You The Best, included two Neil compositions alongside material by Tim Hardin, Lead Belly and Eddie Floyd / Booker T. Jones.

Dalton’s second album, In My Own Time, was released to a largely indifferent response and marked the end of this mercurial talent’s recording career. In retrospect, the album has come to be regarded as a lost classic, with high quality musical backing courtesy of Harvey Brooks, Amos Garrett, Bill Keith, John Simon, John Hall and Richard Bell, and Dalton turning in a series of highly personal interpretations of songs by artists including Dino Valenti (‘Something On Your Mind’), Richard Manuel (‘In A Station’) and George Jones (‘Take Me’).

Thereafter, Dalton disappeared from the music scene and little is known of her later years. She died in 1993, having suffered from substance abuse problems throughout her life. (NB: Not to be confused with the US singer-songwriter of the same name, who released Songs For Hire in 2001.)

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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