People, Places, Songs...and Greg Blake
by Susan Marquez
For a kid who grew up a fifteen-minute drive out of the holler just to get to town, Greg Blake has managed to not only make it out of the holler, but he has traveled around the world. “I was born and raised in a small community called Davis Creek,” says Greg. “Our mailing address was South Charleston, West Virginia.”
It was in that area that Greg got his love for music.
“I’ve been singing as long as I can remember,” he says. “I used to sing to records on my grandparents’ front porch or in their 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 seven years old. “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.” When he got older, Greg sang in church, which he credits as being 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 wife, Tracey, while they were both in college. Two other important things happened in Greg’s life while he was living in Overland Park: he entered the ministry, and he 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, Greg’s children were older, and he saw an opportunity to go full-time into music. Greg had opportunities to travel around the country, as well as Canada and 18 other countries, playing with both the group and as a solo act.
One February, Greg had 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 says 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 just the validation Greg needed to pursue on his own 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.”
Greg retired from the ministry after over thirty years and the family moved back to Overland Park. Greg has been doing solo work and put together a Midwest band for festivals with smaller budgets. He has been successful in pulling together a band of all-stars for larger festivals. He released a single, People, Places and Songs on Turnberry Records, in early February.
“I’ve been fortunate,” Greg says. “The hardest part of touring for any musician is traveling. Music has given me a love for travel. Some years we spent 225 to 250 days on the road.”
Tracey is a physical therapist and is perfectly content staying at home. The couple has two grown children.