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Road Stories

A Message From Rory

In these tough economic times, we keep hearing that everyone is scrambling to re-invent themselves. With record companies and stores going out of business due to sales being replaced by downloads (in addition to a notable shortage of disposable income everywhere), fewer acts can afford to tour and fewer people can afford to come out to shows, affecting performers and venues significantly. Through all this we have ridden the waves and managed to continue touring, though we have been distressed to hear that some of our friends have come off the road entirely. Booking agents are groaning about venues closing, lables can't afford recording budgets- yes, big changes in the industry! BUT we are still on the road because of you, and can't thank you enough. Rob and I both feel a tremendous committment to the music. I feel this is what I was put here to do. We both live to make records and do live shows. I love the audiences dearly and have the most personal feeling about taking the music to the people. If you can come out to the shows, I can keep showing up!

Thank you, and much love,

Rory

Knowing that I will never have the discipline to write about all the shows, I have decided to include certain moments- not necessarily different from any others on the road- but distinctive in that I found the inspiration to sit down and write about them. In my opinion, all the shows are special and every audience and venue enriches me and reminds me again and again of the tremendous satisfaction of doing what I love for a living. Here are a few notes, which I will add to when I can. I'm leaving out reference to dates as it hardly seems relevant.

BENELUX - HOLLAND & BELGIUM

Rob and I have just returned home from another incredibly enjoyable tour of Holland and Belgium. Somehow or other, someone came up with the idea that this was my "farewell" tour, and everywhere we went we were greeted by posters with the words "Farewell Tour" emblazoned on them. After recovering from the initial feeling of uneasiness, I threw myself into the tour as usual. I had to chuckle when I learned that another band had been doing farewell tours for over 30 years.

These days I affectionately refer to The Netherlands as "my second home." Lovin' Whiskey, which became a hit single over twenty years ago, is still popular - so much so that it needs no introduction, and invariably elicits a round of applause. A Dutch journalist recently asked if I had any negative feelings about this- was the rest of my catalog overlooked in favor of this one song? Even if that was true, I explained, I would feel only gratitude. How many people, I said, could tour for twenty years from the success of just one song? If it was the only song of mine that was ever appreciated, I would have no complaints. But that is not the case. The gold record is called "Best Blues and Originals," and that clearly indicates a wide variety of material. People understand that I do blues and original songs. How wonderful, then, to have this kind of artistic freedom!

Though it was never my intention for this tour to be my last in Benelux, I can say in retrospect that it felt more like "The Thank You Tour," and in a very real sense, performing in Benelux feels like visiting with old friends.

USA

Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady at The Egg in Albany, NY

When Jorma and Jack came to my town, I ran up to The Egg (Theater) to sit in with them. I first worked with Jorma on my Mama's Blues cd where he played a soulful, bluesy electric guitar part that helped to inspire the lyrics. Backstage we listened to his fabulous road stories and roared with laughter. My guitar student Lars Nelson accompanied me and got to experience sound check from the stage.
The Times Union said: "The Tuna boys invited blues legend Rory Block up to finish the first set with a trio take of Block's "Mama Blues."

Fur Peace Ranch

September 10th-12th was spent teaching country blues at Jorma's Fur Peace Guitar Ranch in Pomeroy, Ohio, along with fellow instructors Arlo Guthrie, Jorma, and Jack Casady. I don't see how it's possible to get closer to the music than spending an entire weekend with your favorite artist- hanging out, studying, swapping stories, breaking bread, and asking all the questions you ever had but never thought you'd be able to ask. In addition, I always end up feeling that my students teach me more than I teach them, and am bowled over with the intensisty of their commitment. At the end of the first day we covered some very intricate and involved country blues techniques- more than could be easily retained in a day- and later that evening my entire class was spotted in the video library working diligently with my videos. The following day they had all reached a new level of accomplishment, leading me to believe that this could only happen in such a focused kind of environment. If this is what you're looking for, you need to try it. The natural foods in the dining room and the surrounding Appalachian countryside alone are worth the ticket price. The instructor/student concert at the end is also not to be missed. By the way, when you return year after year, you're affetionately termed "a repeat offender." I hope I have earned that status by now.

The Guitar Summit Tours

Guitar fans everywhere loved the Guitar Summit tours which featured four guitarists, each masters of a different style. On one of these tours the great Herb Ellis was the jazz guitarist, Sharon Isbin the classical guitarist, I played blues, and our dear friend Michael Hedges was the contemporary master (this only weeks before his tragic death in a car accident). He was replaced by Stanley Jordan in the following Guitar Summit tour. Each show consisted of all four performers, two in the first half and two in the second half. We traveled by tour bus and played beautiful halls, auditoriums and theaters.

Immediately following the first tour we learned of the death of our good friend Michael Hedges. No one could believe it- so sudden- so final, and so completely unexpected. We remember his words, his astounding, inspired playing, and his incredible, generous presence. As a memorial to Michael, I am leaving the following text unchanged:

The Guitar Summit tour was a blast! Our different styles were even more diverse than expected, and yet our similarities were also surprising. I felt we were truly paying homage to the guitar, and haven't been more challenged to play since I was struggling with old blues songs at the age of 15. I started the tour with my familiar format, but ended up doing two or three instrumentals nightly. It was like discovering the guitar all over again. In the beginning all four of us played a finale together. After several shows Herb and I began doing Willie Brown's classic "Mississippi Blues", and had such a great time that we decided to do two duets, Michael and Sharon, then me and Herb- and that was great fun. We kept "The Water Is Wide" in reserve as an encore, with everyone taking a solo verse. We reached our stride about mid tour.

One evening after Michael and Sharon did a beautiful version of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" (followed by Herb and I doing "Mississippi Blues"), Michael looked over to the rest of us and whispered, "Now we have a show!"

Soon Sharon and I began having a bit of fun with Michael, noting the changes in his hair and outfits nightly. He started the tour with hair, and ended it with a shaved head. One night he appeared in what I termed his "medieval veterinarian" look- with Michael, one never knows. That night he closed the show with the most incredible back flip, landing squarely on his feet with guitar in hand. We were all wowed by his agility, but he later revealed that it was an unplanned event caused by a collision with the raised area of the stage, which he managed to turn into a fabulous acrobatic move. I was vastly impressed.

We traveled caravan style with two buses- the band bus and my bus behind, co-piloted by Chester and Ranger, the two touring Labradors (see the "Dog House" link). Otis, the long suffering bus driver, had to endure our amateur chatter on the CB, but maintained his cool to the last. After all, he's been driving bands around for a long time. We never ceased to taunt him with how slow he was going and how we were going to pass him on the road. Otis always went the speed limit (though once, when it was 75, he had no problem with it). My driver knows not to exceed 65 ("It's more than my life is worth" he says). So Otis gets there first, but we always say, "Hey, what took you man, we went back and forth twice before you got here!" Otis is cool.

I went home with a feeling that the guitar was an unlimited instrument, versatile beyond imagining, and I knew I had my work cut out for me. "Rorita", as Taj Mahal sometimes calls me, has actually been practicing. What will happen next?

David Lindley & Rory at the Columbia Blues Festival, Columbia, SC

We've been burning down the highway- one day in a snow storm in Colorado, a few days later spring in Upstate New York, then on to the heat in North Carolina. It was only about two weeks before needing sunscreen and air-conditioning at Merlefest that we were marooned in a severe ice storm in Pennsylvania listening to the truckers chronicle the accidents over the CB. The seasons get harder to track when you're traveling, and I just look forward to summers because I can't deal with icy road conditions. Crossing the pass in the bus, we like to know that the precipitation is only going to be a warm rain!

Albuquerque, NM

Rory gives Josh Hernandez a quick guitar lesson backstage in the tour bus in Albuquerque, NM.

CANADA

The Edmonton Blues Festival

Over the summer I appeared at both the Edmonton Folk Festival and the San Francisco Blues Festival among others. The following is an excerpt from a review in The Edmonton Journal:

"There are few experiences like being bowled over by an artistic performance. About 600 to 700 acoustic blues and folk fans experienced that wonderful feeling Sunday as Rory Block showed why she's won four WC Handy Awards in the past few years... Powerful at every twist and turn, this American woman left the stage to the kind of spontaneous standing ovation that erupts on the spur of the moment... First it was Terraplane Blues with all it's sexual innuendo percolating into an instrumental climax, which was followed by a soul-searing interpretation of If I Had Posession Over Judgement Day. If you desire some of this kind of material for your home system check out Rory Block's '98 Rounder release Confessions Of A Blues Singer... When it was all said and done this observer couldn't help but think it was one of the finest mini-concerts ever turned in at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival." - Peter North

SCOTLAND

The following is excerpted from a review of the show in Aberdeen, Scotland:

"The woman who walked out on stage did not fit any of my stereotypes, but her music had the soulful passion of someone who had always known the blues... For such a tiny lady her stage presence and the force behind her music was quite awesome... At the end you felt almost as if you were the only one in the concert hall. She was so personal and down to earth and each song became more than a song... this woman was sheer genius... So many sounds and feelings emanated from the stage that it was hard at times to imagine only one woman on the stage. Her amazing acoustic guitar was matched by her great lyrics. Without being trite, she was able to touch deep and very human issues in her songs. When I hear music that touches my soul the way Rory Block's did, I feel like I have just won the lottery."

ENGLAND

At long last I found myself back on the bonnie shores of England, and from the moment we arrived it was pure excitement. Starting in Sunderland, and ending in London, I felt as ready to play as the audiences seemed ready to listen, and the level of enthusiasm was unprecedented. Having English and Scottish ancestry on my mother's side, I always have a sense of walking on ancient familiar ground, and on this tour there was a particularly strong sense of connection. Not only did I thoroughly enjoy every moment, but every night I met illustrious local blues musicians and went home with an impressive collection of cds. One is repeatedly made aware of the great talent that continues to come out of this part of the world.

The following is excerpted from a review by Maurice Hope:

"Impassioned blues act New York born singer/songwriter/guitarist Rory Block, although greeted by a typical chilly, grey winter's day on her arrival at Sunderland's Ropery, didn't have her fire dampened as she almost set alight the atmosphere charged venue... the level of anticipation neared fever pitch as Rory Block, exponent of Delta blues in its purest form, appeared. Seated, an acoustic steel-strung guitar in hand, rocking to and fro, her high heeled shoes stomping as her fingers belted out a gut thumping beat and sound waves vibrated round the room. Her raw firey style, passed down by such masters as Son House, Mississippi Fred McDowell and the mystical Robert Johnson, was always in evidence as the music rained down - thunderstorm fashion. Whether delivering nerve tingling, self-penned songs from her own emotional experiences or authentic unshaven heart-rending smoking interpretations of the aforementioned plus Kansas Joe McCoy, Tommy Johnson ('Canned Heat') and Buddy Boy Hawkins, this erstwhile student of the blues not only rattled along the rails but ripped some of them up. Her pounding rhythms, the unashamed honesty, and her own standing in music (arguably best viewed by others - Bonnie Raitt citing her as being a 'great inspiration', typical of the esteem in which she's held by her contemporaries). Versions of 'Big Road Blues', 'If I Had Posession Over Judgement Day', Robert Johnson's curtain closer 'Come On In My Kitchen', and with her son, the talented Jordan Valdina (for confirmation hear Rory's latest album "Confessions Of A Blues Singer"), lending harmonica/vocal harmony on 'Gypsy Boy'."

We have just completed another thoroughly enjoyable tour of the UK. Booked by my son Jordan, we did fourteen shows across the country for the most wonderful and enthusiastic audiences. Just as Holland became a second home after the success of Best Blues and Originals, England is becoming a favorite place to play, familiar and very welcoming. Given that the British Isles have been experiencing severe flooding in many areas it is nothing short of miraculous to me that the fans were able to come out despite the worst weather. Due to heavy winds and rain I thought we'd never make the ferry ride to the Isle Of Wight, but the hardy mariners and seasoned locals took it all in stride. A great big thank you is in order along with best wishes for blue skies!

ITALY

This has been one of the most relaxing tours I have done in a while- wonderful people, beautiful sights, the freshest food, and performances by the sea. Special thanks to Blue Sky Promotions, Luca and Christina, Vanya (the ever-patient and charming translator/road manager), Claudio, our tireless driver, my son Jordan, who booked the whole European tour in collaboration with local promoters, and Jennie, who took care of details and helped the whole tour move smoothly. We were all there... it was a family affair.
Jordan and Claudio have no problem communicating in two separate languagues.

FRANCE

The Passion Blues Festival

After Polermo we headed to Cognac, France, to perform at The Passion Blues Festival. While riding on a canal boat in Cognac, I looked up at the incredibly blue sky. As two boys cranked open the water gate at the lock, I wondered aloud if it was fair for me to get paid for this... it almost made me forget the grueling side of touring and the fact that within five minutes I had a show to do. It seems that the recent tours have been planned with sanity in mind, unlike the tours of yesteryear where all I ever had the time to do was sleep, play and travel. Now there is a real sense of gratitude and joy for the priviledge of being able to perform. And of course the festival was a special pleasure, with a tremendous lineup of guests including the all-time classic headliner, Ray Charles. Special thanks to Noelle and Nadege for their kind assistance and graciousness, Guillaume and the other drivers who patiently shuttled us from place to place, the good folks from French National Television who honored me repeatedly with their presence, and also to the many journalists who made me feel welcomed with a press conference and numerous interviews. And finally, thanks to the charming elderly couple who recognized me at the train station saying they had seen me twice on TV.

Paris

Two days off in Paris was a decidedly brilliant idea! We found the ultimate small hotel in The West Bank area. We were able to walk to the Louvre and various other incredible monuments, although the walk back took some endurance. There are always cabs.
Rory contemplates the artistic genius of the human race.

NORWAY

When we crossed the border into Denmark I found myself feeling that strange kind of excitement I always get when I see a place for the first time. Our train came to a stop near the border, and then with incredible smoothness it rolled onto a boat with everyone still in their seats. The doors opened and we were able to get off and walk around the largest ferry I have ever seen. It didn't even rock as this solid steel giant took its place on-board.

Nottoden Blues Festival

The Notodden Blues Festival was a lot like Greenwhich Village in the sixties... practically every influential musician I ever met in my life was there! Taj Mahal, Keb Mo, John Sebastian, Bernard Allison, Wilson Pickett... the place was all about blues. There were signs pointing to places like "Blues Camp," scholars giving lectures on the roots of blues, and local artists singing every word of every Tommy Johnson song ever written. I even signed a brick for the foundation of a building dedicated entirely to blues. So much love, so much reverence for this magnificent music that once all but disappeared.

Very special thanks to Ole, who brought his own car and for three days, drove us everywhere we wanted to go. Also thanks to Nils, the festival coordinator, who dropped everything several times to help us out in the most gracious way, and to the Norwegian fans who made the festival a success (I never felt so welcomed or had my hand kissed so many times). Thanks to the man who had every LP and cd I had ever recorded since 1966, including "How To Play Blues Guitar," which I recorded when I was sixteen- of course I signed them all- it was the least I could do! I thank the press and the Norwegian Radio, NRK, who broadcast my concert live, and also the friends from Radio Woodstock back in the USA for filming my show for internet webcast.