“It’s still sinking in.” Greg Blake is still trying to wrap his head around being honored by the International Bluegrass Music Association as its Male Vocalist of the Year. “That was so not expected. I didn’t prepare a speech or anything!”
Ketch Secor (Old Crow Medicine Show) and Molly Tuttle hosted the 34th annual IBMA Bluegrass Music Awards Show in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Thursday, September 28, in the Martin Marietta Center for the Performing Arts to a nearly sold-out house. The event was a long time coming for Blake, who grew up “in the holler,” a good fifteen-minute drive from town.
“I was born and raised in a small community called Davis Creek,” says Greg. “Our mailing address was South Charleston, West Virginia.” He managed to make it out of the holler, and his music now allows him to travel around the world.
Greg’s love for music probably came from singing to records on his grandparents’ front porch or living room. “I sang to Johnny Cash, Buck Owens, Loretta Lynn, and Lefty Frizzell, to name a few, all while I was busy playing with my Tonka trucks, G.I. Joes, and Matchbox cars. I would sing at the top of my lungs, and folks pointed out that I could actually carry a tune.”
Greg asked for a guitar when he was age seven. “It was just a little $10 guitar from the local five and dime, but I loved it. I picked at it all the time and taught myself to play.” Greg sang in church when he got older, which he credits as a more formal music education. After high school, he left West Virginia and moved to Overland Park, Kansas, just across the border from Kansas City, Missouri.
“I went to a small Bible college there, and I continued studying music.” To help pay for college, Greg sang in a Gospel quartet that represented the college. “We traveled all over the United States, raising money for the school and recruiting students.” Greg met his late wife, Tracey, while they were both in college. Two other important things happened in Greg’s life while living in Overland Park: he entered the ministry and met some bluegrass folks in Kansas City. “I got into a band called Bluegrass Missourians. The band started in the 1970s and is still going strong. I joined them about 30 years ago. I played with the band for 15 years. We played at festivals throughout the Midwest on weekends. We all had nine-to-five jobs during the week.”
Greg had an offer to join The Special Consensus, a band formed in 1975. “They wanted me to come on board full-time, but I was a young husband and father. Their touring schedule would have meant too much time away from my family.” While living in Colorado, Greg met Jeff Scroggins and joined his band, Jeff Scroggins and Colorado. “His son, Tristen, was 14 at the time,” recalls Greg. “He was getting really good on the mandolin, and we had a great time playing together.” By then, his children were older, and Greg saw an opportunity to go full-time into music. Greg had opportunities to travel around the country, Canada and 18 other countries, playing with both the group and as a solo act.
He recalls an interesting meeting at a festival in Denver. “Claire Lynch and Mark Schatz were playing. It was a big indoor festival at a Ramada Inn. All day and well into the night, there were jam sessions in every nook and cranny of the hotel lobby. As Mark was headed back to his hotel room, he said he heard a voice float above the others in the various jam sessions. He sought me out, and during a break, he said, ‘I like how you sing. Let’s get together and jam.’ Claire and the rest of the band came down, and we jammed for several hours. About six months later, they came through Colorado, and they took the time to tell me they thought I had what it takes to have a solo career.” That was the validation Greg needed to pursue on his solo LP. Released in September 2015, Songs of Heart and Home featured several strong musicians, including Claire Lynch and Mark Schatz. “That was the deciding mark for me. I stepped away from the ministry and into full-time music.”
After over thirty years, Greg retired from the ministry, and the family moved back to Overland Park. Greg has been doing solo work and assembling a Midwest band for festivals with smaller budgets. He successfully pulled together a band of all-stars for larger festivals and released an album, People, Places and Songs, on Turnberry Records in early February 2021.
The last few years have been rough for Greg. Covid slowed things down, and Greg had to say goodbye to his best friend and soul mate, Tracey, who passed away in February 2022.
Now things are looking up for Greg, who admits the Male Vocalist of the Year win has helped him realize he has “arrived” in his musical career. “I think things will begin moving at a much faster pace now. I’m just grateful that I have the opportunity to do what I love.” Next July, he’ll walk down the aisle with his new bride, Joy Sue. “We look forward to having all our picking friends at the wedding.”