Friday, June 20, 2014

RORY BLOCK: When a Woman Gets the Blues

For my money, Rory Block is the best acoustic blues player alive, and one of the best acoustic blues players to ever live. Her ability to not only compose new material but to interpret the songs of the masters (Robert Johnson, Son House, Mississippi John Hurt, Reverend Gary Davis, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Tommy Johnson, and more) is, quite simply, un-matched. She is the best at what she does. Period.

And allow me to go a step further. Though it is anathema to say so (and Rory herself - as well as the blues establishment - will certainly disagree with me), , allow me to make a bold prediction: Rory Block will be remembered, 50 years, 100 years, and more from now, as better than not only her peers, but than most of the guitarists she looks up to. Better, in fact, than most players of any style.

Why? Well, I'll get to that in another article, because today we're here to discuss not her music, her voice, and her other-worldly abilities on guitar, but her book.

Rory has finally written an auto-biography, and, in  a nutshell, its one of the best musician auto-biographies I've ever read.

Rory Block, winner of 5 WC Handy Blues Awards (now called simply Blues Music Awards), has not composed a standard work in the "I was born and then...and then...and then..." vein. Neither has she thrown together notes about her past in haphazard, non-linear fashion (as many others have done). No, she has woven an intricate tale that answers many questions about her life, but leaves the reader with even more questions about this complex artist.

From her beginnings in Manhattan (where her family relocated from Princeton, NJ when she was but a small child) to stories of the growing folk scene in New York in her formative years, to leaving home in search of the blues masters and her troubled relationship with her family, and on until now, the book comes at us in small snippets. Brief, focused bits about a person or a situation or a success or a tragedy or a time or a place, allowing us to see deeply into a scene but not always with complete context. Like a timeline viewed through a kaleidoscope, exploding with images and emotions and sounds and colors, but ethereal and with grasp just beyond our reach.

Not only is this a work that allows us to learn about this amazing musician, but it is a beautiful study of music, of the music business, of human psychology, and of cultural history.

It is an inspirational book about enduring, about conquering, about surrendering and accepting. Unapologetic and with no regard for covering up the ugly bits, it is among the most honest "rock star" autobiographies ever printed.

This book - 420 pages of prose, poetry, photos, drawings, and more (the e-book is over 500 pages and twice as many photos plus nearly 100 music links) - should be on the shelf of not just fans of Rory Block, but those interested in the music of the 1960s and beyond, the music business, blues music, guitar, the cultural upheavals of the mid to late 20th century....and so much more.

My hat is off to you, Rory Block. You are truly one of a kind!

Visit Rory at

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