The Blues Masters
In 1965 Stefan Grossman brought Reverend Gary Davis to our apartment on St. Mark's Place in NYC's East Village, and I drew this portrait as he sat with us in the living room. From time to time Stefan would lean over to flick the ashes from the end of the Reverend's cigar. The two of them used to rib each other and swap jokes constantly. I was more than lucky to have been there to witness this incredible moment in time.
Click here to read more about Reverend Gary Davis and other blues masters in my autobiography "When A Woman Gets The Blues."
Growing up with the blues: Rory Block background
Rory Block grew up in New York's Greenwich Village at the height of the "folk music revival", a time when a number of the founding giants of traditional country blues were being rediscovered and brought through New York City to perform. At the age of 14, already an accomplished guitarist, Rory was able to meet and play music with Son House, Mississippi John Hurt, Fred McDowell, Reverend Gary Davis, Skip James and Bukka White. Rory's father, sandal maker and country fiddle player Allan Block, founded the Allan Block Sandal Shop on West 4th Street, which quickly became a central hub for many luminaries of the folk and blues world. A young neighbor named Bob Dylan, fellow Village residents like John Sebastian, Maria Muldaur, John Hammond and many others frequented Block's famed Saturday afternoon jam sessions, which filled the shop and spilled out onto the sidewalks. This incredible time period formed the basis of almost all of Rory's formative musical inspiration.
At the age of 16, her first recording (under the pseudonym Sunshine Kate) was made for Elektra Records, but after that she didn't return to the studio until the early 1970's, when she recorded for RCA Victor and Chrysalis before signing with 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.
Along the way, she has won six W.C. Handy Awards (now known simply as The Blues Music Awards) from the Blues Foundation, two for "Traditional Blues Female Artist", three for "Acoustic Blues Album of the Year", and in 2019 she won "Acoustic Artist of the Year." She's earned a gold record in Holland, has toured repeatedly across the United States and Canada, in addition to England, France, Belgium, Norway, Italy and a half a dozen more European countries.
Everywhere she plays, audiences are touched by the depth of her commitment to the music. Critical plaudits always 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 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."