— Come join us to celebrate the reissue of Tia Blake’s classic record Folksongs and Ballads (1971). The Tia Blake Collection is part of the Southern Folklife Collection. Transfers from the original master tapes were conducted in the SFC studios. —
In the early spring of 2011, SFC curator Steve Weiss asked me to create an inventory of a small collection he had recently accessioned. Water Music, a record label based in California, was planning a reissue of Folksongs and Ballads by Tia Blake and her Folk Group. The producer was searching for photographs and other media to include as part of the release. The box of materials included few photographs, some open reel tapes, a flier for the group’s single performance (see below), some business correspondence, a copy of her LP, released in 1971 by the tiny French label SFP (Societe Francaise de Productions Phonographiques).
After some initial research, Tia Blake remained a mystery to me. She recorded just the one album in 1970 as a teenager living in France, had one performance (above photo), and left France never to perform publicly again. Blissfully unaware the the album I held is considered a lost gem of psych folk music–a rare collaboration between a young American woman living in France and European musicians enamored with American traditional music–and highly sought after by collectors, I was struck by Tia Blake’s warm, deep and and powerful vocals. The arrangements are sparse and very skillfully arranged, accentuating the intimate sadness of Blake’s voice. Made up entirely of traditional tunes in the public domain, the album feels familiar but the casual grace of Blake’s vocals and the acoustic accompaniment make for a remarkable and lovely listening experience.
Along with a copy of the album were two open reel tapes: one including outtakes and rehearsal demos from the initial recording session, and another with three tracks performed by Tia Blake solo and recorded at a CBC studio in Montreal in 1976. All of these tracks are included on the CD reissue. A composition about her father (with whom she lived in the Amazon in 1975) remains one of our favorites.“My Father is a Lonely Man” by Tia Blake, CBC recording 1976
Ms. Blake became a writer and eventually settled in North Carolina. The Southern Folklife Collection is honored to be the repository for the Tia Blake Collection and very pleased to have contributed to reintroduce her music to the world. Please join us on Saturday, June 23 at All Day Records in Carrboro to celebrate the release of the album.
Two important things you should know about this event:
1. The reissue is CD-only at this time, there will be CDs for sale
2. Tia Blake will be present, but will not be performing
— Please welcome our summer student guest writer, Emma Lo. Emma will be writing about her experiences exploring the SFC this summer. Her first post remembers North Carolina’s beloved Doc Watson. A symposium and concert celebrating Watson’s life and music will take place at the NC Museum of Art on Saturday, June 30. Details are on the NCMA website. —
Legendary guitarist Doc Watson, born in Deep Gap, North Carolina, passed away at age 89 on May 28th, 2012, in Winston-Salem, NC. Watson is often described as embodying the sound of the Blue Ridge Mountains. In addition to his champion flatpicking guitar skills, Watson mastered the banjo, mandolin, and boasted a warm, honest voice to complement his picking. Although Doc Watson acquired fame through his performances in clubs and universities in Greenwich Village, Los Angeles, and Rhode Island, North Carolina stayed at the heart of his music. He began his musical career as a regular performer on a radio show in Lenoir, NC, playing traditional music of Appalachia, and after the loss of his son Merle in 1985, he cofounded the successful traditional arts festival, Merlefest, in Wilkesboro.
Watson’s most notable contribution to the folk guitar style was his adaptation of fiddle solos for flatpicking guitar. He was known for being a humble, introverted man who requested that the phrase “Doc Watson: Just One of the People,” be engraved beneath his likeness in sculpture in downtown Boone, N.C. Nevertheless, he brought the guitar to center stage by utilizing the guitar as a melody instrument. Watson played a unique fusion of musical styles that included a broad spectrum of Appalachian folk, old-time, bluegrass, and blues. On Merlefest’s website Watson titles this mixture “traditional plus.” According to Watson, “When Merle and I started out we called our music `traditional plus,’ meaning the traditional music of the Appalachian region plus whatever other styles we were in the mood to play.”
For his first public performance, in 1941, 18-year-old Doc Watson played the song “Precious Jewel” at the Boone Fiddler’s Convention. Appalachian State’s Digital Collections contains a field recording of this performance (Watson’s bit begins at 1:36).
After a stint playing in various country bands for square dances, Watson joined a folk band headlined by Clarence “Tom” Ashley, Clint Howard, and Fred Price.
Along with the band, Watson was discovered by musician and folk music promoter Ralph Rinzler and record collector Eugene Earle. Earle and Rinzler made the initial recordings that officially introduced Watson into the folk music industry in 1961 with the recording, Old-Time Music at Clarence Ashley’s, one of many live recordings in Watson’s wonderful catalog. Another live recording from 1963 documents Watson’s first true solo concert at Gerde’s Folk City in Greenwich Village and was later released as an album titled Doc Watson at Gerde’s Folk City Live. This CD, call no. CD-1604, is available at the Southern Folklife Collection. Listen here for a clip that captures the intimacy Doc shares with his audience as he plays “The House Carpenter,” a song he learned from his father.
The House Carpenter
Many more recordings and photographs of Watson are housed at UNC’s Southern Folklife Collection and can be located using the UNC Library online catalog.