Author: Varner, Mark

Light, Blacklock
Dear friends,

We’ve had more friends pass from our midst lately. Allen Light was such a fine man and musician. The outpouring of emotion from his friends in the CBA not only speaks of the kind of person he was but the kind of relationships that we share in this community. Everyone has fond memories of Allen. I like to remember the time he and I both participated in Wintergrass’s Bluegrass Karaoke a few years ago. They put the Grascals on stage as your back up band (Heaven!) and gave you a mic and a song choice and there you were, playing your favorite with some of the best in the business in front of friends and strangers. I remember Allen’s face when was up there and if you thought he was a fun and enthusiastic person in general you should have seen him beaming with pride as he absolutely nailed his song. The Grascals gave him some real appreciation because they could see the talent and life in this guy.

Another loss, though not someone known to as many as Allen was Bay Area musician Charlie Blacklock. Of course he was a saw player and I got an email from Morgan Cowan, who many of you know from jamming at Grass Valley, with his perspective on someone he was close to:

I am saddened to inform you of the passing of a GIANT in the world-wide musical saw community... Charlie Blacklock died early Friday morning, April 18th, 2008 at the age of 91. Charlie’s grandson and IMSA Secretary Treasurer Kenny Blacklock called me this morning to tell me. I have talked also with Art Peterson, our IMSA Vice President and major contributor who was a VERY close friend and musical associate of Charlie’s for MANY years – and he is as devastated as Charlie’s family, myself, and his many friends in the musical saw, fiddlers, bluegrass and harmonica communities.

In case you don’t know the history, Charlie was an excellent saw player, who in 1991 started the California Saw Players Association (CSPA), and produced the annual Saw Festivals in and around Santa Cruz until his health began to fail at the end of 2002, when I (as Vice President) took over. With Charlie’s approval, we changed the name to the International Musical Saw Association in early 2003. Charlie (with Viola’s help) also designed, produced and sold his own line of musical saws – the C. Blacklock Special saws (still available through Lark in The Morning & Elderly Instruments.

Charlie was inducted into the American Old-Time Country Music Hall of Fame on September 5, 1999 and attended many music festivals around the U.S. including the annual fiddler’s gathering in Weiser, Idaho.

I will be putting a brief announcement in the upcoming issue of the Saw Player News, and a major article about Charlie and his lovely wife Viola in the following issue (after the Saw Festival).

Our hearts go out to Charlie’s family, including his sons Rodney, Kenneth & Paul, and his many grand children and great grand children.

He will be fondly remembered and missed.


ALSO, Art Peterson requested that I send you the following as a personal note from him:

"Charlie Blacklock 02-15-17 – 04-18-08

Charlie Blacklock passed away last night after being admitted to Alameda hospital during the day. He'd been in a care facility for a few years and while his strength was low his spirits were always high.

When asked about how he started playing the musical saw he'd tell the story of how he'd heard the saw on the radio as a young man, played by a group called "The Crosscut Boys", and that he'd never heard anything so beautiful before and knew then and there that he wanted to play the saw. He had a musical background, having played the clarinet in high school (on an old "Albert System" clarinet) and also played the harmonica. He'd tell how, as a young boy, he'd made a harmonica holder so he could play music while running the tractor on their small farm in Hollister, California, so, naturally, he used his harmonica rack and harmonica to help with finding the melody as well as playing backup to his endeavors on the saw. Charlie eventually became an internationally known sawyer, designing his own line of musical saws available through Elderly Music ( ), and Lark In The Morning Music ( ); his cd "Old Favorites" and his musical saw instruction video are also available through these outlets. Charlie (and his lovely wife Viola), helped start the California Saw Players Association, and continued to be active in the International Musical Saw Association ( ) until very recently.

Charlie's grandfather came to California after the civil war, eventually establishing the farm in Hollister. Their main crop when Charlie was growing up was prunes, but they also had a vegetable garden, some turkeys, chickens, ducks and sometimes a cow. Charlie used to tell how his dad had him go out and, basically, sleep with the turkeys during thunderstorms to keep them from injuring themselves. His pet peeve had to do with prunes when manufacturers, for advertising purposes, started calling prunes "dried plums". You see, prunes have more sugar in them than plums so a dried prune is good, but a dried plum... well, it just doesn't work. So Charlie would tell the story, ending with, "a prune's a prune and a plum's a plum."

The depression made things tough for the Blacklock family and so young Charlie started working as a picker 'n pruner 'n whatever else he could find and eventually joined the "Fruit Picker's Union" and became involved in union organizing, which at one point landed Charlie in front of a government committee with Harry Bridges at his side. The tough times eventually took the farm from Charlie's family so Charlie studied and took the test for the Electrician's Union and made a career as an electrician. He and his wife, Viola, moved to Alameda and raised three boys, Kenneth, Rodney and Paul.

For a stretch Charlie worked for Henry Kaiser. He remembered how once Henry's son asked him if he could put in a switch and a light for the swimming pool area that would look like a moon for dark nights. No problem for Charlie, but he sure got a kick out of telling that story. He also told one where they had ordered this special ceiling lamp for Henry's bedroom which took a while to arrive and Charlie could tell Henry was getting impatient. Rather than simply telling Henry when it did arrive Charlie positioned his men with the lamp around a corner, with lookouts to check for Charlie's signal. When Henry asked about the lamp, Charlie raised his hands (the signal) and said, "Well... I don't know, I hope it arrives soon." Turning and glancing out the window, Charlie then exclaimed, "why, I think it's coming right now."

Always his own man, and with Viola's support, Charlie led a full life. He was always tinkering with some project in his "workshop" under their modest home and, through the years, working on his motorcycle and cars. The motorcycle had a side-car so once he actually traveled to Yosemite with Viola and his two sons at the time, all loaded onto that motorcycle and side-car. At one stretch, in that little workshop, he helped me make a loft bed; that bed is currently a guest bed in a paraplegic friend's apartment. Charlie eventually started making saw mallets and cutting out vinyl for Viola to make cases for his line of musical saws - the "C. Blacklock Special."

While during the last few years he was unable to play the saw anymore, he always had his full range of diatonic harmonicas with him; he had a deep love of family, people and music and will be fondly remembered and missed.


On behalf of the IMSA, thank you for knowing Charlie, and keeping his spirit alive!

Morgan Cowin

P.S. By the way, if anyone is thinking of sending flower
Posted:  4/22/2008

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