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About the video
In this 1988 performance, Norman & Nancy Blake perform their version of
"Jordan Am A Hard Road To Travel." From the DVD "Norman & Nancy Blake:
The Video Collection."
About the artist
Although he is proficient with a variety of stringed instruments, Norman Blake is
famous for his acoustic guitar skills -- he was one of the major bluegrass
guitarists of the '70s. Blake came into view in the late '60s, when he began
performing as a sideman with artists as diverse as June Carter and Bob Dylan.
During the '70s, he began a solo career that quickly became one of the most
popular and musically adventurous within bluegrass. He continued recording and
performing -- occasionally with his wife, Nancy -- well into the '90s. Blake began
playing music professionally when he was 16 years old, joining the Dixieland
Drifters as a mandolinist in 1954; the group debuted on Tennessee Barn Dance,
a radio show based in Knoxville. After two years, he left the band and became a
member of the Lonesome Travelers, which was led by banjoist Bob Johnson. By
the end of the '50s, the Lonesome Travelers had added a second banjoist,
Walter Forbes, and had made two records for RCA. Although he joined Hylo
Brown & the Timberliners in 1959, Blake continued to perform with Johnson. The
following year, he also became a member of June Carter's touring band.
In 1961, Blake was drafted into the Army, where he was stationed in Panama.
While he was in the service, he was a radio operator on the Panama Canal and
he formed a band called the Kobbe Mountaineers. The band became a popular
attraction and was voted the best band in the Caribbean Command. In 1962,
Blake recorded 12 Shades of Bluegrass with the Lonesome Travelers while he
was on leave. He was discharged from the Army the following year and moved to
Nashville. Once he was in Nashville, Blake joined Johnny Cash's band. That
same year, he married Nancy Short and settled in Chattanooga, TN. For the next
few years he played with Cash, both on recordings and concerts. In 1969, Bob
Dylan hired Blake to play on his country-rock album Nashville Skyline, providing
the guitarist a whole new audience. That audience expanded even further when
he became Cash's main guitarist on the singer's television show. Cash's
program featured a wide array of musical guests, who were often impressed with
Blake's talents. Kris Kristofferson asked him to join his touring band and Norman
did so, playing both guitar and Dobro; he also played on several of
Kristofferson's records. Blake also played on several of Joan Baez's records,
including her hit version of "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down."
Following his folk and country-rock experiments, Blake returned to his bluegrass
roots in 1971 when he joined John Hartford's band, Aeroplane, which also
featured fiddler Vassar Clements. Aeroplane fell apart quickly, but Blake stayed
with Hartford for a year and a half. In 1972, Norman recorded his first solo
album, Back Home in Sulphur Springs, which began a long relationship with
Rounder Records. This arrangement lasted through Blake's 1990 album Norman
Blake and Tony Rice 2, a follow-up to an earlier collaboration with Tony Rice.
Most of Blake's output in the '90s was released on the equally venerable
Shanachie label, including 1999's Be Ready Boys: Appalachia to Abilene. Far
Away, Down on a Georgia Farm arrived that same year, followed by Flower from
the Fields of Alabama in 2001. Blake teamed up with Ukrainian fiddler/mandolin
player Peter Ostroushko for 2002's Meeting on Southern Soil in February of the
following year, with the compilation Old Ties arriving later that spring. Norman
and Nancy put out Morning Glory Ramblers in 2004 and Back Home in Sulphur
Springs in 2006. Norman released Shacktown Road in early 2007, following it
with Sleepy Eyed Joe in 2009. ~ Kurt Wolff, All Music Guide