All posts tagged: Norman Blake

60 Lessons From 60 Years

Here are 60 things I’ve learned in my (now) 60 years of life: 1.  Discipline is remembering what you really want. 2.  The graveyard is full of folks who thought the world couldn’t get along without them. (Mary Dixie Bearden Brown and others) 3.  Baseball is (much) better than football. 4.  I have been lucky in love. 5.  Few things sound better than a solo acoustic guitar played by Doc Watson (Deep River Blues), Tony Rice, (Shenandoah), or Norman Blake (Church Street Blues). Or, if you want to go next generation, Bryan Sutton (Texas Gales). 6.  Good things can come from bad situations, if you’ll stop wallowing in your sorrow and seek out the good. 7.  I have become my father.  I repeat many of the same stories. (Did you know that I paid more for my last car than for my first house?)  I read funny articles from the newspaper out loud at the dining room table, sometimes to the consternation of my wife and children. I cackle when I laugh. I am a …

Follow Your Passions

On the Friday following Thanksgiving, we decided to spend the day in Los Angeles.  We were on the west coast to holiday with our daughter Claire. Candice, Andrew, and I had flown cross country so we could be together. The Los Angeles portion of the trip was one of those decisions made after discussing options that would appeal to the entire family.  In the end, we toured a place that had something for everyone…but the family was kind enough to also allow me to indulge in a bit of roots music fantasy along the way. The Getty Center was the place on everyone’s list. I was the only one of the four who had previously visited Richard Meier’s masterpiece of modern architecture set in the hills above LA, but we had enthusiasm on all fronts.  Claire wanted to see the buildings and gardens, and instantly found the photographic exhibit on display as well. Andrew and Candice wanted to wander the campus and soak in Meier’s vision. I was eager to savor the passions everyone brought …

DJB is listening to…

Many of my younger (read “hipper”) Facebook friends have regular status updates that read, “Joe Cool is listening to Still Sound by Toro Y Moi  on Spotify.”  Or something similar. I’m behind the times (what else is new), so somehow I haven’t gotten around to letting everyone know what I’m listening to at any time.  Plus, my children would be mortified.  They run from the room when my iPod is in the dock. But every now and then I listen to something and want to tell someone.  I have to do it the old-fashioned way:  through my blog. I don’t usually drive in to work, but today was different.  And so instead of the iPod, I picked up a couple of CDs (you remember them) – Norman Blake’s Live at McCabe’s (which I’ve written about before) and the Tony Rice/Norman Blake duet album.  These are two beautifully simple albums that are anything but simple musically. Blake and Rice are in the upper pantheon of acoustic country/bluegrass/newgrass guitarists.  They’ve both played on seminal albums that set …

Taking the Steam Powered Aereo Plane to that Desert Island

The last album in my review of top five albums to take to a desert island may be my all-time favorite.  I’ve long loved John Hartford’s quirky, hippy-bluegrass Aereo-Plain album.   So it was only fitting that last night, as I was returning from a dinner in Nashville with a long-time friend, I turned on Del McCoury’s Hand Picked show on XM Radio’s Bluegrass Junction and what was coming out of the speakers but Steam Powered Aereo Plane.  Damn, Del has great taste in music!  I was reminded all over again of why this album is on my list. What do I love about this album?  Let’s start with the cover. My mother hated this cover when I was a teenager and my wife hates it still.  I loved it so much that I had the father of a high-school friend who was a commercial artist do a charcoal drawing of Hartford with his shaggy beard and aviator glasses.  (My friend Judy’s father had a side business of doing spot-on drawings of photographs from 1970s record albums.)  …

Five Albums for a Desert Island – The Circle Album

I still remember coming home sometime in 1972 – I was a junior or senior in high school – and putting Will the Circle be Unbroken on my stereo.  I had started focusing on acoustic music (such as James Taylor) a year or two before, but I was soon exploring more of the roots of folk, which led me to the record bin on that fateful day when I found this record with the funny looking cover by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – a country-rock ensemble I had recently seen in concert.  There was a little patter to start the record, which was unusual in and of itself in that era of over-produced rock albums, with Jimmy Martin commenting on John McEuen’s banjo kick-off by saying, “Earl never did do that….”  But then Martin, the Dirt Band, and their musical guests were off with a rollicking version of The Grand Ole Opry Song.  Decades before O Brother Where Art Thou?, there was Will the Circle Be Unbroken when some long-haired hippies and rockers took country, …

Watching the Grammy’s Part II

After closing out last night’s More to Come… post on the Grammy’s, I caught the final award for album of the year, which went to Robert Plant and Alison Krauss for Rising Sand.  There is some justice when a rock icon who never won a Grammy with Led Zeppelin suddenly wins five when he teams up with – as the Washington Post’s J. Freedom du Lac termed her – “bluegrass goddess” Krauss. I loved it when Plant – that Led Zeppelin screamer – thanked old time musicians Mike Seeger and Norman Blake, along with bluegrass fiddler extraordinaire Stuart Duncan and the wonderful independent roots record company Rounder Records in his acceptance speech.  We haven’t heard names like that from the Grammy stage since O Brother swept the awards show.  Woo hoo! More to come… DJB

Live at McCabe’s

I am in Santa Monica, California, for a set of meetings.  For most people, when they think of Santa Monica they think of the beautiful beach and the restored Santa Monica Pier, with its historic carousel and the great Ferris wheel that lights up the night sky.  Those things are all pretty wonderful, but when flatpickers come to Santa Monica they think of Live at McCabe’s. Back in the 1970s, Norman Blake was making his first west coast appearance and he recorded an album at McCabe’s Guitar Shop, which is located on Pico Boulevard here in Santa Monica.  It is a wonderful album for several reasons, but most of all because it showcases Blake’s incredible guitar flatpicking skills.  For those who’ve only heard Blake on O Brother Where Art Thou or on his later albums, there’s always a wonder – as others have noted – at how Blake came to be mentioned among the first guitar greats in the same breath with Doc Watson, Dan Crary, and Clarence White.  When you listen to Live at …

Playing Music

Playing music with friends over Thanksgiving has pushed me to reorder my schedule to find even more time to play.  And – no surprise here – I’ve loved it.  I’m reacquainting myself with some of the playing of Norman Blake (check out the Nashville Blues video below of Norman and the Rising Fawn String Ensemble) and other musicians I admire. In the delightful book Practicing, author and musician Glenn Kurtz says, For me, sitting down to play has very little to do with discipline.  “It isn’t just education and discipline that makes one so devoted to work…it is simple joy.  It is one’s natural sense of well-being, to which nothing else can compare.”  Love of music brings me to the practice room. I am finding that joy in playing again and it is a wonderful feeling. So I’m off to play a bit now, and then tomorrow evening I’ll be at the Celtic Christmas concert of the Institute of Musical Traditions for some great acoustic guitar by Al Petteway and Robin Bullock.  If you’re in the Washington, …