Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of Norman Blake performing.
Norman Blake: Whiskey Before Breakfast, Norman Blake, Rounder Records, 1993
Norman Blake’s flat-picking style was an acquired taste, although not for the obvious reasons that you might thing that an ocean view yankee small city (Olde Saco up in Maine, for those who are interested) dweller might have hesitated over previously. I had heard Norman Blake’s music for years, from way back, from way back at least to the 1970s and the old Hillbilly At Harvard program aired on Saturday mornings where I, passively, learned about mountain, cowboy, and western music when I was, like my old friend, Peter Paul Markin in something he called his “country” minute.
And passive learning at that time was actually a step up, previously any time such music came on, or was performed at a concert that I was attending, or that some heathen faux hillbilly got all warm about and insisted I stopped dead in my tracks. Reason? Hell, the reason was simple enough, and requires no advanced degree in psychology to describe it. This stuff (Hank Williams, Doc Watson, Hazel Dickens, The Carter Family, including June and Johnny Cash, among others) was my father’s music.
My father from the hills and hollows (yes, I am perfectly aware that it is nothing but hollas but what is an old yankee reprobate to do) of Appalachia. Down where the wind sings through the mountains passes and all that stuff. The stuff of Saturday night barn dances complete with fiddle, banjo, flute, maybe, after a hard-scrabble week in the mines, or trying to get one last damn crop out of that worn-out barren ground. The stuff of sweet-talking some mountain maid out of her virtue, of white lightening whiskey too hard to put in a bottle but just right from some ball jar. No thank you.
Then, as if by magic, I grew up, kind of. On a trip down through those dear Appalachians Mountains with a sweet Ohio River woman that I took a fancy to a while back I started to hear that whining sing-song fiddle, the strum of that banjo, and could, I swear, smell that, rotgut whisky coming out of the ground of those hills and hollows (yes, still hollows), and the wind coming down through the passes. And I knew then I was home. And could listen to some flat-picking North Carolina (I think) guy, who knew and played with now revered June Carter and Johnny Cash, for hours when I am in the mood. Go figure.