Homage to Allan Block

by

Jack Elliot (in hat) and Allan Block (fiddle)

edited from Gordon Peery, Rory Block, and Ralph Lee Smith:

In 1948  Allan found himself in New York, married and having children to support.  He found that he had a fine coordination between eye and hand. He.could look at a piece of leather, wood or metal, see what needed to be done, and do it. He could see something that was already made and figure out how to make another. In 1950 a Greenwich Village leather shop came up for sale and Allan borrowed the necessary $1,200 to buy it.

Musicians started hanging around the shop. Old timey musicians, folk musicians. Ralph Rinzler, John Cohen, Woody Guthrie, Pete and Mike Seeger, Lee Hays, Freddie Hellerman and Cisco Huston – the shop became a place for these people and many others to come and jam when they were in town. After a while Allan joined in with guitar, banjo, and sometimes fiddle. John Cohen, Mike Seeger and Tom Paley formed the New Lost City Ramblers, and Allan frequently joined them, absorbing, and waking up to a heritage that went beyond his childhood.

When the New Lost City Ramblers were forming, John Cohen had loaned Allan a tape of the Ramblers’ music.  Allan was soon fiddling, playing the banjo, and singing the material in his shop.  Saturday became folk music time at the shop.  There was no singer-songwriter music and scarcely any bluegrass.  It was old-time mountain music, played in a style that approximated the original.

Bob Dylan dropped by several times during his early days in new York.  He sat on the high work counter, smiling, saying very little, and soaking everything up like a sponge.

Allan eventually became the reigning impresario of the incredibly vital folk revival scene in the West Village, hosting regular Saturday afternoon jam sessions in his sandal shop after music in Washington Square was banned (something about a “no loitering” law). Bursting with enthusiastic musicians and fans, the players and spectators literally spilled out onto the sidewalk while the center of the room steamed up from the intensity of the music as Allan held court and directed.

Everyone knew his thing was “holding down the beat”, and from time to time an excited musician would receive a gruff reprimand as Allan snapped, “Speeding up!” while casting a grave eye at the offender. One then had to pay sharper attention to his stomping foot, which pounded out the beat like Big Ben, seemingly setting the standard for worldwide time.  If Allan was a bit imposing with his fiddle and his watchful eye, he was also a catalyst for those eager to share in a truly historic musical transformation that was to be part of the wider phenomenon of renewed interest in American roots music.

In 1969 Allan moved to New Hampshire, native land of his new wife, Fleur. Allan left his now thriving sandal shop to his children (who ran it until 1979) and set up shop in a barn adjacent to the old Cape that he and Fleur had bought.   Soon Allan was going to dances, and it was in New Hampshire that the fiddle really came out. Allan would sit in with the band, and once Dudley Lauffman found out he could read music  he provided him with the scores for all I the old dances; HulI ‘s Victory, Rory O’More, Ladies Walpole (or Lady Walpole’s) Reel, Chorus Jig, and Petronella. Soon Allan became a regular sight (and sound) at dances.

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3 Responses to “Homage to Allan Block”

  1. Hub Mahaffey Says:

    Oh, to have been able to hangout at that sandal shop. Until time travel becomes a reality, there’s always Youtube. Lovely version of “Yellow Barber” with some of my favorite back-up guitar, to boot!

  2. Trudie Lakus Says:

    Small Town Man Big World

    Traveling through New Hampshire there is a small town filled with dirt roads and lots of country charm. Other small towns that surround this town which is named Francestown, are equally small or smaller.
    In this old town of Francestown I have vivid memories of an old worn down home on a less traveled road. I do not know how long this road is or where it even goes to. The road is Bible road is is it? I think maybe that is the road’s name. A peaceful quiet road indeed. That I can say.
    This home with all it’s country charm holds memories of from when I was a teenager. Here lived an extraordinary man named Alan Block. I call him this title for I remember I was fascinated with not only the home but what was inside. There inside was the oldest looking refrigerator I had ever seen.
    The walls were all filled with old stuff including instruments hanging all over the place. dust and all. Leather pieces and rolls of this leather of every color was scattered about. Alan Told me he made sandals and lots of them. I was only at his home less then a dozen of times. Yet every time he had stories to tell of his past.
    Alan was friends with Stephanie Hinkle my mother’s friend who lived st first in Hillsborough around the corner on County Road next to the home I grew up in. Some year or another Stephanie moved to Peterborough moving in with her beau Bill in his home. (Bill another unique famous of sorts man) Some how from time to time, we being often my mom and Stephanie and I, or just me and my mother wound up there at Alan’s home. My mom was hired to clean Alan’s home from time to time and hated the refrigerator. I remember her telling me that fact.
    One memory I have to say that is to be remembered by me always is about my sister Julie who married her first husband he being only 19 years old name being Steve. The wedding was at my mother’s Hillsborough home. Now picture four chairs lined up in the livingroom in front of a closet door. Alan Block was sitting next to me as was the one and only town famous good or bad. Rephrase that bad-ass Arthur Pavelick (he is another long winded story) And also there was my mom’s friend Roz Mclean’s beau-I do not know if they were married David Lavine for he was sitting in the row with us.
    Arthur I’m sure was half in the bag. Well during the most important part of the ceremony I trying to be ever so serious minded and trying to superradd myself and pay attention to the “I do” stuff kept being poked in the ribs, back, or head. I turned and hit Arthur. He said something like “What?” I found out after a round of giggles it was Alan poking me and David snickering too. Later that day I recall my memory that in the kitchen there was dueling fiddle playing for David played fiddle as well. The wedding was fun indeed. what a nice day everyone will recall that was there that day.
    I think of Alan for was nice but weir/different in a sort of way, strange in customs would be the exact words to use. Alan told me he taught Bobby Dylan how to play guitar, back then I didn’t believe it. But then again maybe he did.
    Our family knew Alan in the 1980’s. Last time I had seen and talked to Alan 1997 to be exact for My son Brandon arrived into the world and Alan’s wife’s car had broken down and two people I knew along with me offered to go to Francestown and fix her car. Sadly she died of cancer a few years after. Alan died October 28, 2013 at the age of 90.
    I for one will remember my teen years good bad sad and all. But for now I am glad to have memories of Alan, the first fascinating man I have ever had cross my life’s past. So I will now close this chapter.

  3. Bob Leal Says:

    I first met Alan Block in 1969 when I was 19 and a young and eager leather craftsman. He was very nice and I remember he complimented me on my guitar playing. He was a fantastic fiddle player and excellent craftsman as well. I last saw him at a craft fair he was doing up by Lake Winnepesaukee maybe 20 years ago. Sorry to hear of his passing. He was a kind and gentle soul and an inspiration to me. Bob Leal

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