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My guest this month is the stellar guitarist and blues interpreter, Rory Block.
Block grew up in Manhattan, immersed in the culture of the folk and blues music that was so prevalent at the time. Her father, Allan Block, ran a sandal shop in Greenwich Village in the 1960s, and the influence of the Greenwich Village folk music scene, including luminaries such as Peter Rowan, Maria Muldaur, and John Sebastian, tempted Block to study classical guitar. At the age of 14, she met guitarist Stefan Grossman, who introduced her to the music of Mississippi Delta blues guitarists - Fred McDowell, John Hurt, and The Reverend Gary Davis were huge for her. Block began listening to old albums, transcribing them, and learning to play the songs. At age 15, she left home to seek out the remaining blues giants and hone her craft in the traditional manner of blues musicians and ended up in Berkeley, California, where she played in clubs and coffeehouses.
After retiring temporarily to raise a family, Block returned to the music industry in the 1970s and ultimately signing with Rounder Records in 1981, who encouraged her to return to her love for the classical blues form. Since then she has carved out her own niche, releasing numerous critically acclaimed albums of original and traditional songs. Block has won five W. C. Handy Awards, two for "Traditional Blues Female Artist" (1997, 1998) and three for "Acoustic Blues Album of the Year" (1996, 1999, 2007).
I first heard Rory play on some of those early Rounder albums and was struck by her voice and guitar playing, and while different in style, like John Hammond, her right hand was a force to be reckoned with - driving the music with confidence and soul. I had a chance to speak with Rory a while back about her history, and find out about her process for making records, her guitar style, as well as going through her recent catalog which includes tributes to the music of artists like Son House, Skip James, and the latest release "A Woman's Soul" which is a tribute to Bessie Smith - enjoy my conversation with Rory Block, and please subscribe to the podcast for free on iTunes!