Rory Block brings the blues to Beaver Creek
May 25, 2012
Rory Block was 14-years-old when she got the blues. It was 1964 when she stumbled upon guitarist Stefan Grossman playing ragtime guitar in New York’s City Washington Square Park and it was all over. “(Stefan) gave me a record called ‘Really The Country Blues’ and that was the beginning of my love affair with the music,” said Block.A year later, she left home to seek out the living blues masters: Son House, Bukka White, Mississippi John Hurt, Fred McDowell, Skip James, Reverend Gary Davis and more. Sitting with those masters, and soaking up their passion and energy for the craft, no doubt colored Block’s own music career. Her latest album, “I Belong to the Band,” is a tribute to Rev. Davis and on the album she recreates his gospel music with authority. Her memory of meeting Rev. Davis is fairly vivid, though it took place more than 40 years ago.”His teaching style never involved taking apart licks or explaining anything, he just played at you and you had to run like the wind to follow along,” she said. “He also visited our apartment in the city, and I had the occasion to draw him as he sat with his characteristic slump and his cigar burning slowly down. Stefan’s hand was always outstretched catching the ashes.Block, who performs in Beaver Creek Saturday and Sunday at the Blues, Brews & BBQ festival, took the time to answer a few questions for the Vail Daily. Vail Daily: What drew you to the blues intially?Rory Block: I always make an analogy to falling in love. It’s a mystery. Who knows why we are drawn to things or why they resonate with us? That’s the mystery of why we are who we are. I can only say that it sounded like the most hauntingly beautiful music I had ever heard and that it spoke to what was in my heart.VD: It must have been profound meeting and playing music with blues masters. Do you think that led to your lifelong infatuation with country blues?RB: I was already infatuated with country blues before I met any of the masters, but there’s no doubt that meeting in the flesh was an incalculable inspiration and helped to cement my knowledge of and passion for the music. At the time I was friends with a group of musicians and scholars who were involved in “rediscovering” the old blues masters, going door to door asking for any word of their whereabouts. In this way, quite a few of the old players were found and brought up north for concerts. VD: What’s at the core of your musical career?RB: Having been on the road for 25 plus years, I’ve probably had every adventure (and mis-adventure) that a touring musician can hope to experience. At the core is a genuine love affair with the audiences, a sense of gratitude, and an awareness that performing is a privilege. In the beginning I played for pass-the-hat and a dinner, but like all of us who live on the road long enough, we eventually experience the big venues and television shows which broadcast to millions. In my view, two people or 2 million are equal in importance. No venue is too small, or too large, and no radio station insignificant. It all matters, and all of it is important. So we’re still out here for the love of the music and the communication it brings.VD: You have a new album coming out. Tell us about it. RB: The new CD, “I Belong To The Band,” is part of my “Mentor Series,” an expanding group of tribute cds dedicated to the re-discovered blues masters I met in person as a teenager. Thus far in this group I have released “Blues Walkin’ Like A Man: A tribute to Son House,” “Shake ‘Em On Down: A tribute to Mississippi Fred McDowell,” and now “I Belong To The Band: A tribute to Reverend Gary Davis.” Eventually I hope to have at least five for a boxed set. I consider this to be my way of saying thank you to those founding fathers of the blues who inspired me face to face, a gift that has lasted my entire life.VD: Can you tell us about your first experiences with music and what inspired you to start playing the guitar?RB: When I was very young my mother sang to me at bedtime and my dad would often play the banjo or fiddle in the evening. I knew music was important and central to everything, most particularly it had a powerful healing value and created a sense of peace and security. This stood out to me as I always felt the world was precarious and dangerous, and music supplied those moments of real peace and safety.At the age of 10 I was suddenly inspired to play guitar, so I picked up my mother’s old Galiano and began figuring out “Froggy Went A Courtin’.” From that moment on the guitar was virtually welded to me – all I did was play. I have a picture of myself at summer camp when I was 10 years old. My friends were all smiling at the camera, and I was looking down at my guitar.