Greg Blake grew up near the mountains in West Virginia. His young life was filled with the sounds of old country, mountain bluegrass, and gospel harmonies so prevalent in that part of the country. Some of his earliest memories are of himself sitting on the front porch of his grandparents’ southern West Virginia home, playing with his Matchbox and Hot Wheels die cast cars, tonka trucks, and G.I. Joe figures while listening to and singing along with the classic country music coming from his grandmother’s record player.
“Grandmother was an avid fan of Charley Pride, Johnny Cash, George Jones, Merle Haggard, Buck Owens and many other country stars of the late 50s to the mid-60s,” Greg recalled. “I guess, since that’s what I had to listen to, I also took a liking to country music. As folks would stop by to visit, and have to step over me to get into the house, my grandmother told me that almost every visitor would comment on how surprised they were that I was actually ‘carrying a tune’ as I sang along.”
Greg and his granddad loved watching the Johnny Cash show on TV together too. “I remember how granddad would make an announcement that the time was approaching for ‘Johnny on the TV.’ and ‘… if you’re stayin’, you’re welcome to hush up and watch with him …’; otherwise, your visit was over,” Greg added. He’d sit down in his big easy chair and pull it a little closer to the TV set; then I’d plop down on the floor and sit crossed-legged between grandpa and Johnny. To me, just like my grandpa, Johnny was larger than life. I admired how he, and other country stars would play the guitar while they sang. Since I had the singin’ part down, all that was left was a guitar.”
A Guitar For Christmas
When Greg turned seven years old, he started asking for a guitar for Christmas. One Saturday in November, his parents took him to G.C. Murphy’s Five and Dime store in South Charleston and told him to pick out a guitar. “I chose a full sized one (just like Johnny’s),” Greg recalled. “But they said it was ‘too big for me’ and that $30 was a little more than they wanted to spend. So I chose the smaller one instead for $10 and they put half down and dropped it off in the lay-way department until the week before Christmas.”
Music was always never far from center of Greg’s life. After graduating high school, he decided to leave West Virginia to attend Kansas City College and Bible School (now known as Kansas Christian College). While there, he was selected to travel during the summers with a male quartet representing the college. “Looking back, it was probably those three consecutive summers traveling miles each day and singing every night that prepared me to be the “road warrior” that I am today as a full time musician.”
Many offers to join various musical endeavors came and went in Greg’s 20s and 30s, but his calling as a minister prevailed, and he spent 33 years involved full time in Christian ministry as pastor of local churches, administrative leadership, Christian school education, and even a bible college professor. Still, music was a part of his life in some fashion, either through church situations, or local weekend groups.
A New Mission
“I didn’t become a full-time, traveling musician until I released my debut solo CD, Songs of Heart and Home, in September of 2015, after turning 51,” Greg said. “After the kids got older and less dependent and started moving out on their own, I made the decision to step away from the ministry in a full-time capacity as I had done for over 30 years, and pursue music professionally. I prefer to say ‘step away from … a full-time capacity’ as opposed to, ‘left’, or ‘retire.’ I still have occasion to give a sermon or bible lesson, do some pastoral counseling, perform weddings and funerals, etc. I kind of look at it as a lateral career move instead.”
The Pay Off
Greg has since been nominated twice for the SPBGMA’s Traditional Male Vocalist of the Year, and won the Guitarist of the Year five times. He also won the Kansas State Flatpicking championship. After a move to Conifer, Colorado, he joined the all-star progressive bluegrass band, Jeff Scroggins & Colorado as the lead vocalist. They went on to record four, full length CDs and be named the 2016 Emerging Artist of the Year by the California Bluegrass Association and nominated the following year IBMA for that same title.
As members of that band began to move away from Colorado, it became harder to maintain the bands momentum. They played our last show February 14, 2020 at the Joe Val Bluegrass Festival in Boston to two standing ovations.
Now, Greg is poised to undertake is career as bandleader. With his new band, Greg Blake and Hometown, and his solo career, Greg just signed with Turnberry Records and heads into the studio in October. “I’m going to work on a handful of singles that will be the foundation for my sophomore solo album, People, Places and Songs. I also have the week before Christmas on the calendar as when the Hometown band will lay down tracks for its debut album.” Greg said. “I’m really stoked about getting back into the studio!”