Special Guests
Saturday, May 16, 2009

Norman and Nancy Blake

Norman and Nancy Blake's engaging brand of roots-based music has made them a favorite with fans worldwide and earned them multiple Grammy nominations and overwhelming critical acclaim. Born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and raised in the north Georgia town of Sulphur Springs, Norman Blake was only 16 when he left home to play in his first band, the Dixie Drifters. Over the past five decades, he has become one of the best traditional guitarists to ever wield a flatpick, not to mention his skill on mandolin, fiddle and dobro. As session player or sideman, Norman has worked with everyone from June Carter and Johnny Cash to Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, John Hartford and others. His first solo album, Home in Sulphur Springs, was released in 1972. Meanwhile, Missouri-born Nancy Blake began studying cello at age 12. After high school, she moved to Nashville and played for a season with the Nashville Youth Symphony. But she was developing a liking for traditional music. She and Norman met at Nashville's Exit/In — her band was booked as his opening act. Soon after, their relationship (musical and otherwise) blossomed. In addition to cello, Nancy plays mandolin, fiddle, guitar, bass and single-row accordion. Between the two of them, Norman and Nancy have recorded some three dozen albums. Their latest CDs are 2005's Back Home in Sulphur Springs (Plectrafone Records) and Shacktown Road (Plectrafone Records), recorded with Tut Taylor and released earlier this year. Joining the Blakes are fiddler James Bryan and his daughter Rachel Bryan on guitar.

Jake Fussell

When blues guitarist Jake Fussell was growing up in Columbus, Georgia, he liked to tag along with his dad. Lucky for Jake his dad, Fred Fussell, is folklorist and documentary photographer who specializes in the study of the traditional culture of the American South. When Fred sought out musicians in the area, young Jake began to pick up the guitar styles of the lower Chattahoochee Valley of Georgia and Alabama and other areas of the rural Deep South. By the time he reached his teens, he had teamed up with a Columbus bluegrass band, but he continued to soak up blues technique from the likes of blueswoman Precious Bryant (with whom he has recorded and toured), Alabama guitarist Albert Macon and others. Now living in Oxford, Mississippi, Jake is enrolled in the Southern Studies program at University of Mississippi. In his spare time, he plays in various bands and does solo gigs around Oxford.

Robin and Linda Williams and Their Fine Group

“Individually their voices can melt cheese, and in duet they can do all-purpose welding,” Garrison Keillor has said of Robin and Linda Williams. And while their fans might not put it quite that way, they'd certainly agree. Singing the music they love, be it bluegrass, folk, old-time, or acoustic country, these two have carved out a three-decade career that has taken them from Carnegie Hall to the Hollywood Bowl. Buena Vista (Red House) is Robin and Linda's latest recording. Their Fine Group: Jim Watson (bass, mandolin) and Chris Brashear (fiddle).


Taking their name from the old Hee Haw TV show — it was the phone number of Junior Samples' car lot — BR549 got their start doing four sets a night in the store window of Robert's Western World, just behind the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. A little more than a decade later, they have toured the world and amassed a rabid following. The New York Times called them "without question, one of the best groups to ever walk out of the roadhouse circuit and record an album"; they call themselves "the hardest-rocking and hardest-working, here-to-stay band in Country today." Their latest CD, Dog Days, is on the Dualtone label. BR549 is Chuck Mead (guitar), Shaw Wilson (drums), Mark Miller (bass), and multi-instrumentalist Don Herron.

Jearlyn Steele

Jearlyn Steele first sang with her siblings (as The Steele Children) in churches, concert halls and on radio and TV. After she left Indiana and moved to Minnesota, one by one the rest of the Steele kids followed. They started singing together again as The Steeles. Now music is the family business. Jearlyn is the entertainment reporter for Twin Cities Public Television's public-affairs program, Almanac, and she hosts Steele Talkin', a Sunday-night radio show that originates on WCCO in Minneapolis and is heard in some 30 states nationwide. Steele Praising Hymn is her most recent CD.

The Guy's All-Star Shoe Band

Richard Dworsky, who week in and week out leads A Prairie Home Companion's Guy's All-Star Shoe Band, is a classically trained pianist and composer who rocks, swings, plays great blues and gospel, tears it up on Hammond B3 organ, and keeps up with world-class pickers playing his unique "bluegrass piano” style. He writes all APHC's script themes and underscores, and during his 16-year stint, he has accompanied guests from James Taylor to Renée Fleming. His latest CD is So Near and Dear to Me (Prairie Home Productions).

Chet Atkins called Pat Donohue (guitar) one of the greatest finger pickers in the world today. And he writes songs too — recorded by Suzy Bogguss, Kenny Rogers and others. Freewayman (Bluesky Records) is the most recent of Pat's nine albums.

Gary Raynor (bass) has performed with the Count Basie band, Sammy Davis Jr. — with whom he toured for several years — and the Minnesota Klezmer Band. He teaches jazz bass at the McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul.

Peter Johnson (percussion) has played klezmer music with Doc Severinsen and jazz with Dave Brubeck. He was a drummer for The Manhattan Transfer and for Gene Pitney. He has toured the world, but he always comes back to home base: Saint Paul.

Andy Stein (violin, saxophone) definitely has far-flung musical leanings. He collaborated with Garrison Keillor to create the opera Mr. and Mrs. Olson, and he has performed with artists such as Itzhak Perlman, Eric Clapton, Smashing Pumpkins, Billy Joel, Tony Bennett, Ray Charles and Bob Dylan.

Old Sweet Songs: A Prairie Home Companion 1974-1976

Old Sweet Songs

Lovingly selected from the earliest archives of A Prairie Home Companion, this heirloom collection represents the music from earliest years of the now legendary show: 1974–1976. With songs and tunes from jazz pianist Butch Thompson, mandolin maestro Peter Ostroushko, Dakota Dave Hull and the first house band, The Powdermilk Biscuit Band (Adam Granger, Bob Douglas and Mary DuShane).

Available now»

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