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Norman Blake

Idioma disponível: inglês
A celebrated instrumentalist who has worked with legendary figures in country, bluegrass, and folk (including Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Steve Earle, and Robert Plant), Norman Blake is best known as a flatpicking guitarist, though he's also proficient on other stringed instruments, including mandolin, Dobro, and fiddle. Steeped in traditional styles, Blake is known for his clean, unpretentious picking, emphasizing melody over technical flash, and he earned a sterling reputation as a sideman and studio musician before stepping forward as a solo artist, launching a career that extended into the 2020s. Blake made his headlining debut with 1972's influential Back Home in Sulphur Springs and collaborated with Tony Rice on 1987's Blake & Rice. 1996's The Hobo's Last Ride, recorded with his wife and frequent collaborator Nancy Blake, focused on material from the 1930s; 2004's The Morning Glory Ramblers captured him after a revival of interest in his work; and 2021's Day by Day was a set of tunes Blake cut in single takes in his home studio. Norman Blake was born on March 10, 1938 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and spent most of his childhood in Sulphur Springs, Alabama. As a youngster, he developed a taste for old-time country and folk music, especially the work of Roy Acuff, the Carter Family, and Bill Monroe. He learned to play guitar when he was 12 years old, and within a few years he added mandolin, fiddle, and dobro to his repertoire. When he was 16, Blake dropped out of school so he could play music professionally, joining the Dixieland Drifters as a mandolinist in 1954; the group soon debuted on Tennessee Barn Dance, a radio show based in Knoxville. After two years, he left the band and became a member of the Lonesome Travelers, who were led by banjoist Bob Johnson. By the end of the '50s, the Lonesome Travelers had added a second banjoist, Walter Forbes, and had made two records for RCA. Although he joined Hylo Brown & the Timberliners in 1959, Blake continued to perform with Johnson. The following year, he also became a member of June Carter's touring band. In 1961, Blake was drafted into the Army, and was stationed in Panama. While in the service, he was a radio operator on the Panama Canal and formed a band called the Kobbe Mountaineers. The group became a popular attraction and was voted the best band in the Caribbean Command. In 1962, Blake recorded Twelve Shades of Bluegrass with the Lonesome Travelers while he was on leave. He was discharged from the Army the following year and moved to Nashville, where he joined Johnny Cash's band. That same year, he married Nancy Short and settled in Chattanooga. For the next few years, he played with Cash, both on recordings and concerts. In 1969, Bob Dylan hired Blake to play on his country-rock album Nashville Skyline, providing the guitarist with a whole new audience. That audience expanded even further when he became Cash's main guitarist on the singer's television show. Cash's program featured a wide array of musical guests, who were often impressed with Blake's talents. Kris Kristofferson asked Blake to join his touring band and Norman did so, playing both guitar and Dobro; he also played on several of Kristofferson's records. In addition, Blake played on several of Joan Baez's records, including her hit version of "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." Following his folk and country-rock experiments, Blake returned to his bluegrass roots in 1971 when he joined John Hartford's band Aeroplane, which also featured fiddler Vassar Clements. Aeroplane fell apart quickly, but Blake stayed with Hartford for a year and a half. (Blake would also join Clements for the sessions for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's acclaimed homage to country music's roots, 1972's Will the Circle Be Unbroken.) In 1972, Norman recorded his first solo album, Back Home in Sulphur Springs, which began a long relationship with Rounder Records. This arrangement lasted through Blake's 1990 album Norman Blake & Tony Rice 2, a follow-up to his earlier collaboration with Rice. Most of Blake's output in the '90s was released on the equally venerable Shanachie label, beginning with 1992's Just Gimme Somethin' I'm Used To and extending to 2001's Flower from the Fields of Alabama. This coincided with a fruitful period for Blake as he began working with producer T-Bone Burnett, first on the soundtrack album he coordinated for the hit film O Brother, Where Art Thou?, released in 2000. When the record became a surprise multi-platinum success, Burnett arranged a tour that brought together many of the artists who appeared on the soundtrack, with Blake as one of the accompanists. The tour produced a live album, 2001's Down from the Mountain: O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and Burnett would turn to Blake for many of his roots-oriented projects over the next several years, including 2002's self-titled effort from Ralph Stanley, 2003's Cold Mountain (Original Soundtrack), and 2007's Raising Sand by Robert Plant & Alison Krauss. In 2002, Blake went into the studio with fiddler/mandolin player Peter Ostroushko to record 2002's collaborative effort Meeting on Southern Soil. 2004's The Morning Glory Ramblers was the first of three albums Norman & Nancy Blake would record for Dualtone, followed by 2006's Back Home in Sulfur Springs and 2007's Shacktown Road (which also included Dobro virtuoso Tut Taylor). Norman and Nancy were also part of the ensemble for the 2009 release Rising Fawn Gathering, a blend of Southern and Celtic influences that also included the Boys of the Lough and James & Rachel Bryan. In 2010, Blake debuted the Plectrafone Records label, an offshoot of Western Jubilee Recording, with the album Green Light on the Southern, a set of low-key performances in the old-timey manner. He followed a similar template for 2015's Wood, Wire and Words, and was joined by Nancy Blake for 2016's Brushwood: Songs and Stories. Plectrafone and Western Jubilee went into a partnership with one of America's most prestigious labels of American roots music, Smithsonian Folkways, to issue 2021's Day by Day, a set of songs Blake recorded live in his own home studio.
© Kurt Wolff & Mark Deming /TiVo
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