When The Bus Breaks

Linda Burton posting from Helena, Montana – “Our bus broke down in Cheyenne,” she explained. “It was something about the compressor, and my husband drove to Denver to get the part. They didn’t have it either.” So Rory Block got to Helena by renting a car and driving 700 miles to sing for us tonight. “I kind of got into the groove for that Montana speed limit,” she confessed. Rory Block is sitting mid-stage in the Myrna Loy Center and I’m sitting 40 feet away in Seat #2, with a straight-line unobstructed view. She’d walked onstage precisely at 8 PM, a long, tall drink of water, in long legged slender slacks, long blond hair brushing the center of her back, some sparkly bracelets her only flash. This 5-time Blues Award Winner, heralded as “a living landmark,” “a national treasure” and “one of the greatest living acoustic blues artists” was here with us now, chatting to the house of 250 as though we were sharing our living room. The New York Times once declared of Rory “her playing is perfect, her singing otherworldly as she wrestles with ghosts, shadows and legends.” The evening took it one step more; she manages finicky sound systems and broken down buses with equal aplomb.

Rory Block gave us Delta blues tonight, a little Robert Johnson, a little Muddy Waters, a lot of Son House. She wove stories of her life and her approach to life between songs as she re-adjusted the mike, re-tuned her guitar, re-zipped the zipper on her shoe; an easy flow of authenticity and charm. She told of meeting many of the Delta blues greats at a young age, falling in love with their style, studying their technique; she learned to play in the 60’s when their music was coming out of the shadows. Raised in Manhattan by bohemian parents (according to her bio), musicians such as Bob Dylan hung around her father’s sandal shop; at age 15 when the family split she was on her on, traveling cross-country and learning more of music, and life. She wound up in California, and a unique musical career began.

Sometimes something broken leads to greatness. Myrna Loy’s life changed at 15 too. Born near Helena, she moved here when she was 7. She was Myrna Williams then, and made her stage debut when she was 12 at Helena’s old Marlow Theater, dancing a dance she choreographed herself. After her father’s death from influenza her family moved to Los Angeles; she was 15 when she began performing in local stage productions to help support the family. Fate put Mrs Rudolf Valentino in the audience one night, which led to some motion picture parts. Myrna took the professional stage name of Loy in 1925 and went on to make 129 movies (including The Best Years of Our Lives); she was voted “Queen of the Movies” in 1936 (Clark Gable was King) and received an honorary Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1991. She died in 1993 at the age of 88 and is buried in Helena’s Forest Vale Cemetery.

So here I sit in the Myrna Loy Center tonight, amongst legends and legacies. Helena has always been a center for performing arts; it was a convenient railroad stop for great vaudeville acts traveling between Chicago and Seattle from the 1880’s through the 1920’s; several vaudeville/movie houses hosted touring companies through the 60’s. Read about the development of the Center; it’s a dazzling story of community commitment, NEA grants, and continuing growth. In 1991 the Center expanded to its present location, the former Lewis and Clark County Jail; there is a 250-seat proscenium arch theater and a smaller 50-seat screening room; a small art gallery adjoins the box office. In the past 13 years over  650 live performances have been presented; daily films and arts and media education are provided to local schools and residents. http://www.myrnaloycenter.com/aboutmlc.htm

The Myrna Loy Center at 15 N Ewing, just off Broadway, is governed by a 21-member Board of Directors; sponsors and donations welcomed, call 406-443-0287 to donate, or to get information about upcoming events.   http://www.myrnaloycenter.com/

Learn to Live, Helena Montana, check in for What To Do, Where to Eat, Events, http://www.helenamt.com/

Follow Rory Block and see upcoming Tour Dates; buy her book When A Woman Gets The Blues; buy her music I Belong to the Band, a tribute to Rev Gary Davis; Blues Walkin’ Like A Man, a tribute to Son House; The Lady and Mr Johnson (2007 Acoustic Blues Album of the Year); read interviews and stories at http://www.roryblock.com/index.html