Norman Blake (American musician)Norman Blake (born March 10, 1938) is a traditional American stringed instrument artist and songwriter.
Early performingBlake was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and grew up in Sulphur Springs, Georgia. He listened to old-time and country music on the radio by the Carter Family, the Skillet Lickers, Roy Acuff, and the Monroe Brothers (Charlie and Bill Monroe). He learned guitar at age 11 or 12, then mandolin, dobro, and fiddle in his teens. When he was 16, he dropped out of school to play music professionally.
In the 1950s, Blake joined the Dixieland Drifters and performed on radio broadcasts, then joined the Lonesome Travelers. When he was drafted in 1961, he served as an Army radio operator in the Panama Canal Zone. He started a popular band known as the Kobbe Mountaineers. A year later, while he was on leave, he recorded the album Twelve Shades of Bluegrass with the Lonesome Travelers.
Nashville and Johnny CashAfter being discharged from the Army, Blake moved to Nashville and became a studio musician. For ten years, he toured and recorded with country singer Johnny Cash and continued to play with Cash intermittently over the next thirty. He met Nancy Short, a cellist with a classical music background who was playing in a folk group. He was asked by Bob Dylan to play on the country-folk album Nashville Skyline, then became a member of the house band on Johnny Cash's TV show. Kris Kristofferson, one of the guests, hired Blake to tour with him. Blake recorded with folk singer Joan Baez and appeared on her hit song "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down". In 1971, he became a member of the bluegrass group Aero-plain, led by multi-instrumentalist John Hartford with fiddler Vassar Clements, but the band didn't last long.
Blake also played dobro on the 1972 album, Will the Circle Be Unbroken by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.
In 1972, Blake recorded his first solo album, Home in Sulphur Springs (Rounder, 1972). Soon after his debut, he and Nancy recorded their first album, The Fields of November (Flying Fish, 1974), with Nancy on hillbilly cello. They married in 1975 and performed together for twenty years.
StyleMost of the music that Norman Blake plays could be described as neo-traditionalist Americana folk and roots music (folk, bluegrass, country, blues), and many of the songs he plays are traditional, but he plays this acoustic type of music with a style, speed, and quality that has evolved and progressed in the modern age. Though probably best known for his fluid renditions of classic fiddle tunes transcribed for the guitar ("Fiddler's Dram/Whiskey Before Breakfast"), Blake has also written songs that have become bluegrass and folk standards, such as "Ginseng Sullivan", "Slow Train through Georgia", "Billy Gray", and "Church Street Blues".
Although known as one of the most prominent steel-string guitar flatpickers, Blake is a multi-instrumentalist and vocalist. Other instruments he plays include the mandolin, 6-string banjo, fiddle, dobro, banjo and viola. He is known for his loose, right-hand guitar technique, which arose out of his mandolin technique. Also well known is his devotion to 12-fret guitars, including Martin 00s, 000s, D18s, D28s, and Gibsons, like his 1929 12-fret Nick Lucas special.
Awards and honorsBlake played on the album Raising Sand by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, which won five Grammy Awards, and on the soundtrack O Brother, Where Art Thou?, which won a Grammy for Album of the Year.
Norman and Nancy Blake received Grammy nominations in the Best Traditional Folk Recording category for Blind Dog, Just Gimme Somethin' I'm Used To, While Passing Along This Way, and The Hobo's Last Ride. In 1986 Norman Blake was chosen Best Multi-Instrumentalist by the readers of Frets magazine.