Norman Blake and Nancy Blake Old Time Country music, American music.


 
The Old Time Country Music Division of: Western Jubilee Recording Company
Plectrafone Page
Biography
Western Jubilee

Press Release

Norman and Nancy Blake…2007 Artists In the News

On April 28, 2007, old time country musicians, Norman and Nancy Blake, were featured on the long running and highly popular weekly radio show, Prairie Home Companion. When Prairie Home Companion went on the road to Columbus, Georgia, Garrison Keillor called on the Blakes at their Rising Fawn, Georgia homestead to come lend their musical talents during the live broadcast from the city’s RiverCenter for the Performing Arts. What a great fit it was! The Blakes were joined by old time fiddler and long time friend, James Bryan, and his daughter, Rachel. They provided wonderful, obscure Southern selections to the receptive sold-out audience. A perfect blend…a perfect fit. Thank you, Prairie Home Companion.

For Bookings, Information and Concert dates contact Scott O'Malley and Associates

Norman & Nancy Blake
Old-time Country Musicians

Thirty-some-odd years ago, a simple but dazzling LP record album called Home In Sulphur Springs announced the arrival of Norman Blake as a solo artist. The bearded and spectacled face that loomed in close-up on the cover suggested a 19th century poet or painter. But the sound and the songs, the starchy drawl, and the exquisite guitar technique made it clear that Blake’s art was music of the most elemental sort, a lusty embrace of tradition that transcended technological change and the tides of pop culture.
           
One of many who fell in love with that album was Nancy Short of Independence, MO, then living in Nashville, TN. “I spent a lot of time cross legged on the floor before I met Norman, listening to Home in Sulphur Springs,” she says. “I was just so entranced by everything on it. I started out as a rocker, so when that came across my ears I thought, wow, this is a relief.”
           
Just about a year later, Nancy, a cellist with new found folk music leanings, was part of an opening act for Norman’s group at the Exit/In in Nashville. Their meeting that night became the basis for a life-long relationship in marriage and music that has taken them around the world and garnered multiple Grammy nominations and overwhelming critical acclaim. Together and in collaboration with others, they’ve forged a sound unlike anything else in bluegrass or old-time music – an elegant and complex weave of stringed instruments and honest, open-hearted voices. Norman and Nancy Blake’s unique chemistry has provided its own kind of relief for many thousands of music fans seeking timeless integrity in an increasingly superficial, accelerated world.
           
Norman and Nancy turned yet another page in their lives and careers with Back Home In Sulphur Springs, a 14-song collection that marks a resolution of sorts. The 2005 album on Western Jubilee’s Plectrafone Records label isn’t necessarily a swan song, they’re not using the ‘R-word’ yet, but clearly this well-traveled duo is thinking about the possibilities of more time to themselves in the picturesque community that gave both Sulphur Springs albums’ their titles.
           
The irony in the albums’ titles is that Norman never stayed away long from his own home in Sulphur Springs. Sure he’s toured and traveled, adventured and gallivanted but he kept coming back to his home in north Georgia. For 30 years, he and Nancy have lived in the same large farm house just down the country road from where he grew up and went to grade school. He was born in March of 1938 in nearby Chattanooga but grew up in Sulphur Springs near the Alabama/Georgia state line. The biggest deal there was the train depot, which has loomed large in many of Norman’s songs, like Slow Train Through Georgia and Green Light on the Southern.    “This was pretty far back down in the country,” he says, “And the railroad running through there all during my growing up years was just the biggest happenings around. The railroad was the biggest thing we had to relate to. There was a lot of colorful railroad action on the AGS Railroad – the steam and the green and gold locomotives; it was quite a scene. It certainly stirred the blood.”
           
Blake left home, quitting school at age 16, to play mandolin in his first band, The Dixie Drifters, on the WNOX ‘radio barn dance’ out of Knoxville, then on to TV in Rome, GA. In 1956 he hooked up with banjo player, Bob Johnson, with whom he made some recordings and several guest spots on the Grand Ole Opry. Norman was drafted, and while stationed as a radio operator in the Panama Canal, he formed a bluegrass band. Once home, Norman taught guitar and commuted to Nashville to play sessions. He found a place in June Carter’s road band which led to recording sessions with Johnny Cash. Then, in 1969, an offer to be in the house band for Johnny Cash’s television show moved Blake to Nashville. That’s when his talents really became valued by country-folk royalty: he played guitar and dobro on Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline album, he toured and recorded with Kris Kristofferson and then Joan Baez, he teamed up with John Hartford, Tut Taylor and Vassar Clements to make the progressive and influential Aereo Plain album. About the same time, he was invited to take part in perhaps the most important summit of country, folk and bluegrass music of the era, 1973’s Will the Circle Be Unbroken featuring the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

Norman and Nancy began touring together in 1974 and were married a year later. An early recording, Live At McCabe’s, showcased Norman at his virtuoso best and Nancy as a sensitive musical collaborator. The album, issued on CD in 1999, took on the stature of a cult classic. With fiddler, James Bryan, they formed the
Rising Fawn String Ensemble, a finely balanced old-time group whose subtleties and complexities inspired critics to dub their music ‘chamber-folk.’ In the 1990’s, the Blake’s recordings spawned a string of consecutive Grammy nominations.
           
Music producer, T-Bone Burnett, invited Norman to be a ground floor participant in creating and recording the music for the 2000 Coen Brothers motion picture, O Brother, Where Art Thou?. As a result, the critically acclaimed soundtrack includes two selections featuring Norman, You Are My Sunshine and the instrumental version of Man of Constant Sorrow. The multi-platinum recording arguably became the largest impact soundtrack recording for old-time country and bluegrass music of all time. Norman and Nancy subsequently participated in all three of the major national tours which featured select artists from this recording phenomenon. The Blakes also lent their talents to two additional T-Bone Burnett soundtracks; Cold Mountain and Walk the Line. The November 2006 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine quoted Burnett on Blake, “Norman is a true hero. He’s one of a handful of the best acoustic guitar players in the world. He’s learned hundreds of country songs, including rags, instrumental tunes, and fiddle numbers, knowing the influences and nuance of every one. He should be an absolutely revered musician. I will continue to champion Norman Blake to the end of my days.”
           
Back Home In Sulphur Springs doesn’t depart radically from previous albums by the Blakes. Like its Grammy nominated predecessor, The Morning Glory Ramblers, Back Home was recorded at the Western Jubilee Warehouse in Colorado Springs, which Nancy describes as the couples’ ‘home away from home.’ Like their music, the sessions were somewhat spontaneous. “Norman tricked me!” said Nancy. “He told me that we were going to record two or three songs while we were out in the Springs. He didn’t say anything to me about an album, songs, repertoire, and I was just like, oh, surprise!” But that’s the way this couple makes music; approaching stages and sessions without much of a plan. “Sometimes it’s just what you feel like that day,” Norman says, “In fact, this new one is very much that way, it’s very unscripted. Of course I’ve done that on shows a lot of times. A great deal of the time you just play a number in front of people and that dictates what you play next. And if you have a big backlog of stuff to draw on, that helps, of course,”
           
That backlog is actually one of the enviable repertoires in American music, a vast catalog of songs from the famous to the obscure that allows the Blakes to pick tunes the way painters pick colors. Plectrafone Records’ 2007 release, Shacktown Road, is another full circle project reuniting Norman and Nancy with old friend and dobro legend, Tut Taylor. It has been 35 years since Norman and Tut last recorded together on Aereo Plain. Tut stated, “I have dreamed of doing one more project with my friend and hero – guitar player, Norman Blake.” With the addition of Nancy’s magical colors on cello, mandola, mandolin, and guitar, the painting was complete…Norman Blake refers to Shacktown Road as, “A historical piece of art.”  2007 also finds Norman and Nancy, along with James Bryan and daughter, Rachel Bryan, showcased as featured artists on Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion broadcast from Columbus, GA. In addition, the Martin Guitar Company introduced a second Norman Blake Signature Edition 000-18 guitar. This, along with Blake’s 2004, 000-28 Signature Edition, is being offered by Martin on a non-limited, ongoing basis.  Plectrafone Records 2009 release of Rising Fawn Gathering was recorded at the Blake’s farm in Georgia.  The result of a 30 year vision, the collaboration of Boys of the Lough from Scotland, James and Rachel Bryan from Alabama, and Norman and Nancy Blake record a brilliant fusion of traditions.  “Not just another Celtic Hillbilly Record.”
           

As they have for decades, the Blakes continue to show us that old songs and old musical values have a great deal to tell us and teach us about our contemporary lives. Technology is changing music more radically than it has since the radio and phonograph mixed up America’s regional music into a vast creative smelting forge. But in Norman and Nancy’s hands, the rawest ingredients of voices, stringed instruments and sturdy songs demonstrate that purity is still possible and truth is still the brightest, strongest metal of all. Some artists of Norman’s generation have breathed life into their careers by collaborating with jam bands and other young musicians. But Norman has chosen to look inward instead. “It’s the music that I want to make,” he says. “I don’t have those kind of career aspirations. I enjoy playing music with Nancy. When we can do something good that’s an accomplishment to me.” And Nancy is content with carrying the music back home to the porch and the living room, where, symbolically and literally, it was born.

NORMAN and/or NANCY BLAKE SOUND RECORDINGS
Date
2005 BACK HOME IN SULPHUR SPRINGS (Plectrafone Records / Dualtone 1211)
2004 MORNING GLORY RAMBLERS (Plectrafone Records / Dualtone 1160)
2002 OLD TIES (Rounder 1166)
2001 FLOWER FROM THE FIELDS OF ALABAMA (Shanachie 6053)
2001 MEETING ON SOUTHERN SOIL (Red House 153)
1999 FAR AWAY, DOWN ON A GEORGIA FARM (Shanachie 6045)
1999 NORMAN BLAKE & RICH O’BRIEN “BE READY BOYS” (Western Jubilee Recording Co. 1182)
1998 CHATTANOOGA SUGAR BABE (Shanachie 6027)
1996 THE HOBO’S LAST RIDE (Shanachie 6020)
1994 WHILE PASSING ALONG THIS WAY (Shanachie 6012)
1992 JUST GIMME SOMETHIN’ I’M USED TO (Shanachie 6001)
1992 FIELDS OF NOVEMBER / OLD & NEW (compilation) (Flying Fish 70004)
1990 BLAKE / RICE II (Rounder 0266)
1988 BLIND DOG (Rounder 0254)
1988 NATASHA’S WALTZ (compilation) (Rounder 11530)
1987 TAKOMA PLUS ONE (compilation) (Takoma 72826)
1987 SLOW TRAIN THROUGH GEORGIA (compilation) (Rounder 11526)
1987 BLAKE / RICE (Rounder 0233)
1986 NORMAN AND NANCY COMPACT DISC (Rounder 11505)
1986 GRAND JUNCTION (Nancy Blake) (Rounder 0231)
1985 LIGHTHOUSE ON THE SHORE (Rounder 0211)
1984 NASHVILLE BLUES (Rounder 0188)
1982 ORIGINAL UNDERGROUND MUSIC FROM THE MYSTERIOUS SOUTH (Rounder 0166)
1981 FULL MOON ON THE FARM (Rounder 0144)
1979 THE RISING FAWN STRING ENSEMBLE (Rounder 0122)
1978 DIRECTIONS (Takoma 1064)
1977 BLACKBERRY BLOSSOM (Flying Fish 047) (Rounder re-release 2000)
1976 LIVE AT McCABE’S (Takoma 1052)
1976 WHISKEY BEFORE BREAKFAST (Rounder 0063)
1975 NORMAN BLAKE & RED RECTOR (County 755))
1975 HDS SESSIONS (Flying Fish 701)
1975 OLD AND NEW (Flying Fish 010)
1974 THE FIELDS OF NOVEMBER (Flying Fish 004)
1972 HOME IN SULPHUR SPRINGS (Rounder 0012)
SOUNDTRACK RECORDINGS
2003 COLD MOUNTAIN (DMZ / Columbia 86843)
2000 O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? (Mercury 088170)
VIDEO RECORDINGS
NORMAN BLAKE - GUITAR TECHNIQUES Video Two (Instructional) (Homespun)
NORMAN & NANCY BLAKE - THE VIDEO COLLECTION 1980-1995 (Vestapol 13059)
LEGENDS OF FLATPICKING (Compilation) (Vestapol 13005)
MY DEAR OLD SOUTHERN HOME (Shanachie 208)
THE MANDOLIN OF NORMAN BLAKE (instructional) (Homespun)
NORMAN BLAKE GUITAR TECHNIQUES (instructional) (Homespun)
PLANET RIDER (Central Sun Video)
NORMAN BLAKE & THE RISING FAWN STRING ENSEMBLE (Ramblin’)
BOOKS
1998 NORMAN BLAKE ANTHOLOGY (Mel Bay Publications)

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