Thirty-some-odd years ago, a simple but dazzling LP record album called Home in Sulphur Springs announced the arrival of Norman Blake as a solo artist. Norman Blake was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee March 10,1938. He grew up at Sulphur Springs, Georgia which is near the Alabama/Georgia line and also near Sulphur Springs, Alabama. Norman attended school at Rising Fawn School in Rising Fawn, Georgia. Norman quit school at age 16 to play mandolin in a band, and music has been his life every since.
His first band, The Dixie Drifters, played the Tennessee Barn Dance on KNOX Radio Knoxville, TN. Later, they went to WDOD Radio, and from there to WROM-TV in Rome, GA where they stayed until 1956. Norman then worked with banjo player Bob Johnson as The Travelers. They joined with Walter Forbes in making two records for RCA. In 1959, Norman left those groups to go with Hylo Brown and the Timberliners, although he continued as a duet with Bob Johnson in making several guest appearances on WSM’s Grand Ole Opry.
At that time, Norman was drafted and stationed in the Panama Canal as a radio operator. There he formed the Fort Kobbe Mountaineers, a bluegrass band in which Norman played the fiddle and mandolin. They were voted Best Instrumental Group of the Caribbean Command, with Norman voted Best Instrumentalist.
Upon returning to the United States, Norman taught guitar to as many as 150 students weekly, and played the fiddle in a country and western dance band three and four nights a week. He also made frequent trips to Nashville to play sessions and, for a time, played as a member of June Carter’s road group.
In 1969, Norman moved to Nashville to the Johnny Cash Summer TV Show, in which he played guitar and dobro as a member of Cash’s group. Along with country and western sessions, Norman recorded with Bob Dylan on the Nashville Skyline album. He toured and recorded with Kris Kristofferson and then Joan Baez. Norman recorded with both groups. Then he joined with John Hartford’s Aeroplane Band. Norman toured with John Hartford as his accompanist for 1 ½ years, during which time he recorded his first solo album, Home in Sulphur Springs. He also received a gold record for his participation on the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s legendary, Will the Circle Be Unbroken album.
Then there was “O Brother, Where Art Thou,” – Movie and music that are synonymous with Norman Blake, at least with the people who know him. He was part of a live presentation of the “O Brother” music in Carnegie Hall along with Alison Krauss, Ralph Stanley, Dan Tyminski, the Fairfield Four, the Whites, The Cox Family and Emmylou Harris.
There was a girl named Nancy Short, a native of Independence, Missouri, who also had this same kind of love for music. Nancy began studying cello at age 12. She moved to Nashville following high school graduation and played for a season with the Nashville Youth Symphony under the direction of Dr. Thor Johnson. At that time, Nancy became aware of ‘other’ Nashville music, playing first in Everything in the Garden, Then in Natchez Trace.
About a year after hearing Norman’s Home in Sulphur Springs, Nancy was part of an opening act for Norman’s group at the Exit/In in Nashville. Their meeting that night became the basis for a life-long relationship in marriage and music that has taken them around the world and garnered multiple Grammy nominations and overwhelming critical acclaim. Norman introduced Nancy to fiddle music. Nancy’s love for it inspired her to seek as many of the cello parts as she could then learn the rest in the true country fashion – by ear.