Americana King Billy Block Dead at 59
Americana music has lost one of its greatest supporters. Billy Block has passed away at the age of 59.
Block was an avid champion of American roots music for nearly 20 years, with a weekly live showcase in Nashville and a long-running radio show that presented the best singer-songwriter talents in the format that came to be known as Americana.
He came by his love of the music naturally growing up in Texas, where according to The Tennessean he was playing drums in a Houston night club six nights a week by the time he was a senior in high school. He began drumming on Freddy Fender's records before he was 20, and a few years later in 1978, he played with Billy Joe Shaver on a tour that included Willie Nelson and Emmylou Harris.
Block moved to Los Angeles in 1985, where he played drums in the house band at the Palomino night club and made many musical connections. He met his wife, Jill, in L.A., and the couple moved to Nashville in 1995. Block launched his first Western Beat Barn Dance at a local venue called the Sutler in 1996, which provided a showcase for up-and-coming roots and alternative country artists.
That turned into the Billy Block Show, which was one of the longest-running live radio shows in Nashville, after the Grand Ole Opry and the Midnight Jamboree. Over the years Block gave exposure to roots artists like Jim Lauderdale, Buddy Miller and Elizabeth Cook, and supported future stars including Miranda Lambert, Kacey Musgraves and Florida Georgia Line.
"Billy was a creator: He created a musical scene, he created hope, he created opportunities, he created many friendships and, most importantly, he created a beautiful family with his wife, Jill," Lauderdale tells The Tennessean. "Billy was all about helping people reach their goals. He wanted you to succeed. He made you want to dream big. He cared. He was probably the most positive person I knew, [and] he wanted you to have a good time. At the end of his voice mail message, he said, 'If you see somebody that's not smiling, give 'em one of yours.' "
Block was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic melanoma in 2013 after doctors discovered cancer in his lymph nodes, spleen and liver. It was his third bout with melanoma, which he had battled in his twenties and again in the 1990s. He went into hospice care on Tuesday (March 10) and passed away on Wednesday (March 11). He is survived by his wife, Jill; sons Rocky and Grady Block, Micheal Hughes and Shandon Mayes; sisters Francine Beckman and Nancy Block; and his brother, Jay Block.
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