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Kerry Blech Introduction by John Schwab

 

While Kerry Blech (1947-2023) was an accomplished musician on fiddle, banjo, and guitar, his enduring legacy will be as a scholar and documentarian of traditional old-time music, and as a mentor. Kerry had a unquenchable passion for the old tunes, the old styles of playing, and for the old-timers who left us their musical gifts. He was constantly learning about tunes and players, searching out both the minutiae and the big themes.

Until Parkinson’s Disease caught him in its downward spiral, Kerry was the go-to guy when questions arose regarding a tune source or who it was that played the definitive version of some tune. He was constantly networking with folks who shared his passion, and if he didn’t know the answer to a question, he would get it soon enough and report back. Kerry was always willing contribute authoritative notes for a friend’s new album, and his record reviews were consistently insightful.

Kerry played a major role in shaping the Kent State University Folk Festival, making sure that their programs were diverse, of high quality, and featured authentic traditional artists along with younger interpreters of the older styles. When he moved to the Pacific Northwest, he had a similar influence on the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes.

Immediately after Kerry’s passing, I was asked to put together an obituary. It is based on stories, testimonials, and anecdotes contributed by many close friends from all stages of Kerry’s life. Everybody stressed Kerry’s authenticity, generosity, and humility. He never hesitated to engage with anyone who showed an interest in what he knew. I, along with so many others, received countless home-burned CDs from Kerry, usually with a set of field recordings spotlighting a lesser-known musician whom Kerry figured I might want to know about. As a fiddler, he had an immense repertoire of unusual tunes and unusual versions of better-known tunes, which he delighted in sharing with folks who showed interest.

Over his lifetime, Kerry assembled a massive collection of recordings — both commercial and noncommercial, spanning the entire range of recorded sound, from cylinder recordings to vinyl, cassettes, and CDs — as well as books, newspaper clippings, photographs, and other artifacts pertaining to traditional old-time music and musicians. When I managed to visit Kerry I was always blown away by the physical size of his collection — wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling bookcases, and box after box — not to mention what was stored (and meticulously organized) on his computer. Kerry was fastidious about crediting the artists as well as to those who had made the recordings, and he always documented this information, as well as dates and locations of the recordings, when these could be determined.

As he approached the latter stages of his life, Kerry knew that the fate of his collection was in the balance. He decided that the physical collection would stay in Florida (he had moved to Gainesville in 2005), but he was insistent that it be accessible to anyone who might find it useful. Following discussions with Annie Orlando and Susan Staton, I wrote to Larry Warren to see if he might be willing to make it available through Slippery-Hill, despite knowing that it would be a huge task. Larry wrote back immediately, saying, “I think Kerry’s material would be perfect for S-H.” We concur! - John Schwab

 

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