Allan Block

(1925 - October 23, 2013)

An Appreciation

By Leo Kretzner

Allan Block in sandal shop

Allan Block, fiddler and human being extraordinaire, legendary sandal maker of Greenwich Village back in The Day (1960s), recently passed away at the age of 90. Good run, Allan!

Alan Block was one of the most joyful people I’ve ever met. He was warm and welcoming of anyone with a song or tune, or who wanted to learn one. I moved to southern New England too late to have gone to his legendary folk-Mecca/sandal shop. His central role in the burgeoning folk scene there would have made him famous even had he done no more playing after that, a prospect impossible to imagine.

I had the great fortune of meeting and playing with Allan a handful of times in the 1980s at festivals and parties around New England, where his making of music and fun was completely infectious. I hate to admit that he was the age I am now, but he had more stamina for late night sessions than I had then. My excuse was being a circadian ‘lark’ - but Allan was obviously both lark and owl. Joyful and energetic!

He must have known hundreds or more tunes. Someone more expert in fiddle styles could comment on the exact variety of “old-time” that he played, but Allan was no purist. As his extensive discography shows, he played plenty of Celtic-influenced New England contra dance music in addition to Appalachian tunes. All these he played in a spirit and style that belied his original childhood training in classical violin.

He must have known hundreds or more tunes. Someone more expert in fiddle styles could comment on the exact variety of “old-time” that he played, but Allan was no purist. As his extensive discography shows, he played plenty of Celtic-influenced New England contra dance music in addition to Appalachian tunes. All these he played in a spirit and style that belied his original childhood training in classical violin.

In addition to his recordings, there are many fine examples on YouTube of him playing and occasionally singing at various festivals, often with accompanist and old-time maven Martha Burns. Although Allan was happy to share his knowledge of fiddle tunes in festival performances, he was in his preferred, natural element in jam sessions. There he could always be found, smiling broadly and encouraging anyone at the periphery to “come on in here and give us a tune!”

I’d like to say that you just can’t have too many people like Allan Block around, but he was an original and one of a kind. His joy and energy were never about himself, but totally centered on the music he loved and shared so generously.

Links used:

NY Times Obituary by Bruce Weber

Discography

Leo has himself been one of the "latter-day hippies from the 70's" he mentions in the article. He started playing dulcimer in 1975, having been a drummer who dabbled in guitar. His first albums, Dulcimer Fair and Pigtown Fling, have been described as "modern classics" by knowledgeable people (working on actionable intelligence) in the dulcimer community. He long ago abandoned the full time pursuit of poverty through music but still does the occasional performance along with teaching workshops here and elsewhere. He also waters his cacti and plays tunes with The Old Grey Cats stringband in Claremont. www.leokretzner.com