Norman Blake Biography

10 March 1938, Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA. Norman Blake is a singer-songwriter and talented multi-instrumentalist. He plays dobro, mandolin, mandola, fiddle and viola, but is especially respected for his flat-picking acoustic guitar playing. When he was a baby, the family moved to Sulphur Springs, Georgia, and he grew up in an area where old-time traditional and country music was very popular. He later wrote the songs for his debut album from his childhood memories of life at Sulphur Springs. Blake first played guitar at the age of 11 and, far more interested in playing music than attending school, he left Trenton High School at 16 to play mandolin in a group called the Dixieland Drifters, who appeared on radio in Knoxville and Chattanooga, as well as on television in Rome, Georgia. He played traditional Appalachian music and recorded an album of old folk tunes with Walter Forbes. In 1960, Blake toured with June Carter and played dobro and mandolin with Hylo Brown on the WWVA Wheeling Jamboree, West Virginia, before moving to Nashville. He did military service from 1961-62, during which time he recorded 12 Shades Of Bluegrass with Bob Johnson And The Lonesome Travellers for Parkway Records. After completing his military service, Blake returned to Nashville and in 1963, played on the first of many recordings with Johnny Cash. He later appeared on Cash’s network show, but by 1969, he had become a very popular session musician. He played on Bob Dylan’s album Nashville Skyline and toured with Kris Kristofferson and Joan Baez. He also played on Baez’s popular recording of ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’.

In 1971, returning more to his bluegrass roots, Blake played with a group led by John Hartford, which included fiddler Vassar Clements. He and Clements also played on the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s album Will The Circle Be Unbroken. Since then Blake has appeared with various groups and recorded both old-time country, newgrass, bluegrass and even jazz-grass on countless albums with other progressive bluegrass musicians, including Jethro Burns, Sam Bush, Alan Munde, Mark O’Connor, Red Rector, Tony Rice, Tut Taylor and Doc Watson. He has also recorded several albums with his wife, Nancy Blake, another talented instrumentalist, who is equally at home with cello, mandolin, guitar, bass, fiddle and accordion.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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