Multi-instrumentalist, old-time singer, and songwriter.
Norman Blake, of Rising Fawn, Georgia, became a major practitioner of traditional music in the 1970s. Initially a much sought-after Nashville session musician, the multi-instrumentalist worked solely in acoustic formats for three decades, per- forming in solo, duo, and ensemble settings. Acknowledged as an inﬂuential ﬂat-pick guitar stylist, Blake has demonstrated equal facility on the ﬁddle, mandolin, and dobro. The lyrics of several of his better-known original songs, most notably “Last Train from Poor Valley” and “Ginseng Sullivan,” depict Appalachian themes and imagery.
Born March 10, 1938, in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Blake absorbed the traditional music played by family members in northwest Georgia; he also heard African American blues, white country music, and bluegrass. Blake dropped out of school at the age of sixteen to play music full-time. His ﬁrst band, the Dixie Drifters, played on radio stations in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Rome, Georgia. He made several guest appearances on WSM’s Grand Ole Opry before being drafted into the U.S. Army in 1961.
After completing his service in 1963, Blake returned to Chattanooga and taught guitar lessons. He also traveled frequently to Nashville to record on sessions by a number of artists, including Johnny Cash. Moving to Nashville in 1969, Blake was soon performing regularly on Cash’s television show. He also appeared on Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline album and played in Kris Kristofferson’s band. Later, Blake joined John Hartford’s influential band, Aereo-Plain, a group that helped launch the progressive bluegrass, or “newgrass,” era.
In 1972 Blake began collaborating with his eventual wife, Nancy Short, a multi-instrumentalist who shared his passion for old-time music. The couple toured and recorded, performing original compositions and nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century folk, country, blues, and old-time music. Among her other contributions to the duo’s sound, Nancy revived the use of the cello in old-time music (the instrument was not uncommon in old-time bands during the early twentieth century). Norman Blake’s later albums have maintained the consistency and integrity of such acclaimed solo albums from the 1970s as Back Home in Sulphur Springs, Old and New, and The Fields of November. In the 1990s, he re- corded and toured with Johnny and June Carter Cash and with Steve Earle.
Cite this Entry
"Norman Blake," Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 2017, Encyclopedia of Appalachia. 26 May 2017 <http://www.encyclopediaofappalachia.com/entry.php?rec=36>
"Norman Blake." (2017) In Encyclopedia of Appalachia, Retrieved May 26, 2017, from Encyclopedia of Appalachia: http://www.encyclopediaofappalachia.com/entry.php?rec=36