She hung out in Reverend Gary Davis' living room, listening to the Reverend get lost in the blues until the Reverend's wife instructed him to quit that devil music and play some gospel. She got to know Son House, to learn firsthand his charm and ferocity, and witness from a guitar's length away the fire and wonder that House could impart to a six string. She visited Skip James in the hospital, paying him quiet tribute and getting to know the man behind some of the saddest and most technically advanced country blues guitar ever recorded. And last but not least, she got to know Mississippi Fred McDowell well enough for him to help her with the dishes. When you're that close to the masters, you're going to soak up something extra and Block did.
For her efforts and her talent Block has been duly rewarded, even if she's not a household name. Blues music's version of the Grammys, the W.C. Handy Awards, awarded her Acoustic Blues Album of the Year in 1996 and 1999, and Traditional Blues Female Artist of the Year in 1997 and 1998.
The Martin Guitar company, which makes some of the world's finest acoustic guitars, showed their feelings without saying a word. A life-sized photo of Block greets visitors as soon as they enter the Martin Guitar showroom in Nazareth, Pa., and she's flanked by Eric Clapton, Jim Croce and Mark Knopfler.
Catch Block in concert and you're bound to hear songs by Willie Moore, Tommy Johnson, Robert Johnson, Bukka White, Charlie Patton and Blind Willie McTell. You'll probably be treated to some Al Green, Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield. And you're certain to hear several powerful originals. But whatever the song happens to be, Block has a mastery and authority that can only have come from touching the hands of the masters themselves. S
Rory Block will perform at Ashland Coffee & Tea, 100 N. Railroad Ave., Aug. 15 at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $12. Call 798-1702.
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