From an early age, traditional folk music played an integral part in Hedy West's life. While many of her peers would experience rural music for the first time in urban settings during the late-'50s folk revival, West drew upon a wealth of Georgia's traditional heritage. Her father, Don West, worked as a trade union organizer, and introduced his daughter to mining songs. Even more influential were her grandmother, Lillie Mulkey West, and her uncle, Augustus Mulkey, who taught her traditional British American ballads. "Grandma specialized in sober or tragic songs, perhaps conditioned by her hard life," West noted, "but Gus preferred humorous songs; indeed, he was not likely to sing unless he could extract a bit of fun out of the song." At the age of four, West began piano lessons and while attending high school, taught herself banjo.