Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Blues torch bearer Rory Block, with new Son House tribute CD, plays Iron Horse Sat. 1/9 at 7PM

Rory Block was 15 years old when she met Son House. Two improbable people. A young teenaged Greenwich Village guitar prodigy and an older black man, 62, who had recorded nine of the most powerful blues pieces ever for the Paramount label in 1930.

Years later, she recalled the moment: “Backstage at the Village Gate in 1965 Son House virtually radiated a golden light. As I watched him perform, rolling his head back, slamming the strings and almost choking on the intensity, I learned a deep lesson about the power of the music which became an inseparable part of me.”

“Later I had a chance to play for him. I will never forget his amazement as I played Willie Brown's Future Blues. He was asking people “Where did she learn to play like this?”

“He was beautiful looking; smooth skin, tall and handsome, his face filled with a million stories of the music, a life lived in hardship and cloaked in mystery.”

Now, more than 40 years later, the guitarist has paid Son House an ultimate tribute: A collection of 13 songs associated with the legendary blues singer titled “Blues Walkin’ Like a Man” on Stony Plain, the international roots music label based in Edmonton, Alberta.

Rory Block’s life-long involvement with the blues has reached a new high point with this release.

With encouragement and support from Dick Waterman, who helped discover Son House and managed him until the singer died in 1988, she cut 13 tracks, mostly with her own solo acoustic guitar, and three with the support of one of her oldest friends, The Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian, on harmonica.

Revered songs like Preachin’ Blues, Death Letter, Grinnin’ in Your Face and Jinx Blues are loaded with the power — vocally and instrumentally — that marked Son House’s recorded repertoire and live performances.

Rory Block’s first recordings (under the pseudonym Sunshine Kate) were made for Elektra Records; she didn’t record again until 1975, when she recorded for RCA Victor and Chrysalis before signing to Rounder Records, for whom she cut more than a dozen albums. She has also recorded for a number of other labels, in between endless tour schedules that have only recently begun to slow down.

Along the way, she has won five W.C. Handy Awards (now known simply as Blues Awards) from the Blues Foundation, two for “Traditional Blues Female Artist,” and three for “Acoustic Blues Album of the Year,” the most recent just last year. She’s earned a gold record in Holland, and toured from one end of the United States to the other end of Canada, not to mention Poland and Norway and Italy and a half a dozen more European countries.

Everywhere she plays, audiences are touched by the depth of her commitment to her music; Critical plaudits follow the applause: The New York Times put it plainly enough: “Her playing is perfect, her singing otherworldly as she wrestles with ghosts, shadows and legends.” And Guitar Extra, a publication that knows what it speaks about, added: “Rory Block has become one of the world's most important preservers of the roots of American music. She has become a national treasure in the form of an uncompromising mature blues artist.”

And her peers echo the praise; Bonnie Raitt put it this way: “Rory has been an inspiration to me since we started out years ago. Her guitar playing, singing and songwriting are some of the most soulful in traditional and modern blues.”

And Dick Waterman, listening to the test pressings of the new record, summed it up: “She is a true messenger for the blues; an artist who can bring this music to people — perhaps in the same way that Mr. House brought it to Robert Johnson and countless others.”

Rory Block’s own watchwords are simple: “Life is short, and fragile, and I know we all have a mission. Don't forget that it is a great privilege to be in this miraculous place, and that if you're here, you're chosen."

Bottom line: there’s nobody like Rory Block... Rory Block is the blues... one can hear the actual historic blues tradition write itself into the new century... one of the music’s few living legends.” -Thom Jurek, All Music Guide

"... Rory Block is currently stretching the limits... hugely talented... She is one of our national treasures." - Richard Ludmere- The New York Blues & Jazz Society "Rory plays the blues like a force of nature with astonishing power and passion. Her guitar chops have chops, and she is certainly among the top living blues guitarists extant, male or female." -Bruce Menin, Merrimack River Current "

"Today, she's arguably the greatest acoustic slide guitarist around." -Tuscaloosa (AL) News

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