Archive for the ‘Doc Watson’ Category
by Kent Gustavson (from http://www.kentgustavson.com):
As I prepared for a memorial concert after Doc Watson’s passing last year, I thought about what I could offer the discussion about Doc and his life. I paged through my biography of Doc, dog-earing various pages and passages, but I felt uncomfortable sharing anecdotes from the book, because they had little to do with my personal feelings about this great man. Instead, I decided to note a few things I had learned from Doc besides simply his music.
I came up with the following five Doc Watson Principles — things that, as I researched and wrote a book about him over six years of my life — Doc Watson taught me about my own life.
Doc Watson Principle #1: Honoring Tradition
Doc respected and honored his parents, his culture, his religion, and the people around him, both in Deep Gap — his home of 89 years — and around the country, where he played music on both little and big stages. He honored his fans by always coming out after shows, signing hats, shirts, records and CDs for anyone willing to wait in line to shake the aging bard’s hand. But most importantly to me, he honored his traditions.
As a Swedish-American, I grew up eating Swedish cookies at the holidays, and hearing my grandmother sing Tryggarye Kan Ingen Vara (Children of the Heavenly Father) in dulcet tones when she would visit. I will pass those traditions along to my children someday. But the audience for those traditions is only a few people; my work every day has less to do with my heritage than it does with my interests. But Doc was different; he brought the heart of his Appalachian family to the world in his seven decades on stage.
A great illustration of this is the great story Doc always told about his granny’s old cat. Doc told the story so many times in his countless interviews through the years that he often forgot a detail here or there, and other times would add a precious snippet I hadn’t heard before. I did my best to compile the entire story into one cogent narrative in my book. The following is my feeble attempt to create a cliff notes version of that narrative.
Doc’s grandmother had an old, ailing cat, and she wanted the Watson boys to put it out of its misery. She gave them a coin for their effort, and they humanely killed the animal, then — following the careful instructions of General Watson (Doc’s father’s given name, not a rank), they skinned the cat. General worked on the tough hide, and tanned it until it was paper thin. Doc had a banjo at the time that his father had made for him, but its drum was covered by a groundhog hide, and it didn’t make much sound — the skin was too tough. General took the tanned catskin and pulled it taut over the banjo head and secured it in place. Doc swore his entire life that this little catskin banjo was the best sounding banjo in the world.
That catskin banjo infused Doc’s playing as a boy with the blood of the land, the ancient stringiness of the hills, and the sound of the mountains. He never could shake that sound, whether in his hip, rocking electric guitar in the 1950’s (listen to the new Milestones compilation from Nancy Watson, Doc’s daughter), or in his incredible, blistering steel-string guitar solos in the 1960s and beyond. Doc always honored the sound of that humble catskin banjo, whether on stage in front of presidents or during living room jam sessions with famous pickers who would stop by his home.
That should inspire us to look back at our roots, talk with the old-timers in our own lives, bring out dusty old volumes and take another look. I need to do a better job of honoring my true self and my traditions. (more…)
See Kickstarter description about the Watson Family’s “Milestones” box set here.
from Jody Stecher:
“Milestones” is the most moving and stirring collection of recorded music I have heard in a decade. I co-wrote the liner notes with Roy. “Milestones” is a book of Watson Family photo collages, assembled with scissors and glue over a 10 year period by Doc Watson’s daughter Nancy. And it’s four CDs of music.
The recordings are extraordinary musically but also historically as they comprise a major document of a local musical tradition that was made from within the tradition itself. Some of the music was recorded by Nancy as a girl. Her familiarity to the musicians she recorded gave her access to a side of the singers and players that a folklorist or “collector” from “outside” would be unlikely to ever see or hear. This includes gentle loving renditions of beautiful traditional songs and tunes by her grandfather Gaither Carlton, sacred songs recorded at home prayer meetings and at Mount Paran Church, and recordings of her parents, together and separately.
There is no aspect of “performance” in these extraordinary recordings, no embodying of what the collector recordist might be perceived to be expecting. This is the Real Deal. And it’s way better than parodies and self-parodies. Other recordings were made by Doc Watson on good quality home equipment and some of this is multi-tracked so we get to hear a Band-o-Docs. These were done mostly in the 1950s and they present a truer picture of Doc Watson as complete musician rather than the recordings that were aimed at the folk revival of the 1960s.
Some of these recordings were done entirely on a Les Paul electric guitar and an electric bass, both played by Doc. Where else will you find “Groundhog” and “Stardust” on the same recording, sung and played by the same artist, and both done entirely credibly to say the least? Other bands-o-docs are of vocal, banjo and harmonica. There are also studio recordings by Doc done at Rich-R-Tone studios in Johnson City, Tennessee. That’s where the Stanley Brothers first recorded.
There are some great songs sung by Rosa Lee Watson and some written by her too. And some songs written by Doc. Both are great writers and singers. Other highlights are recordings of other family members. Doc’s mother, his brothers, his cousins, all make memorable music. There is even a banjo duet by Willard Watson and Doc Watson which I have listened to dozens of times and still hear new things each time.
“Doc & Merle” reaches deep into the relationship between Doc and Merle Watson. It gives an historical overview of their evolution as musicians and explores the special bond between them and the North Carolina mountains they call home. It presents an entertaining and enlightening look at their lives and their music. During their 21-year career, the Watsons’ mastery of guitar and their unique blend of traditional, bluegrass, country and western, blues and gospel music won them an international audience and numerous awards.
This documentary is a rich mixture of music, informal interviews, old photographs and rare film footage. The wide range of musical influences the Watsons’ embraced is clearly shown through concert footage and less formal at-home picking sessions.
Sixteen songs are presented ranging from Black Mountain Rag and Wabash Cannonball to Blue Suede Shoes and Freight Train Blues. Doc is reunited musically with Jack Williams, his partner from the early 1950s, for a rare rockabilly performance of Step It Up And Go. He also performs with Clint Howard and Fred Price playing Fire On The Mountain and Daniel Prayed and with his wife Rosa Lee for a moving rendition of Wandering Boy.
Doc Watson, the guitarist and folk singer whose flat-picking style elevated the acoustic guitar to solo status in bluegrass and country music, and whose interpretations of traditional American music profoundly influenced generations of folk and rock guitarists, died on Tuesday in Winston-Salem, N.C. He was 89.
Mr. Watson, who had been blind since he was a baby, died in a hospital after recently undergoing abdominal surgery, The Associated Press quoted a hospital spokesman as saying. On Thursday his daughter, Nancy Ellen Watson, said he had been hospitalized after falling at his home in Deep Gap, N.C., adding that he did not break any bones but was very ill.
Mr. Watson, who came to national attention during the folk music revival of the early 1960s, injected a note of authenticity into a movement awash in protest songs and bland renditions of traditional tunes. In a sweetly resonant, slightly husky baritone, he sang old hymns, ballads and country blues he had learned growing up in the northwestern corner of North Carolina, which has produced fiddlers, banjo pickers and folk singers for generations.
His mountain music came as a revelation to the folk audience, as did his virtuoso guitar playing. Unlike most country and bluegrass musicians, who thought of the guitar as a secondary instrument for providing rhythmic backup, Mr. Watson executed the kind of flashy, rapid-fire melodies normally played by a fiddle or a banjo. His style influenced a generation of young musicians learning to play the guitar as folk music achieved national popularity.
“He is single-handedly responsible for the extraordinary increase in acoustic flat-picking and fingerpicking guitar performance,” said Ralph Rinzler, the folklorist who discovered Mr. Watson in 1960. “His flat-picking style has no precedent in earlier country music history.”
Arthel Lane Watson was born in Stoney Fork, N.C., the sixth of nine children, on March 3, 1923. His father, General Dixon Watson, was a farmer and day laborer who led the singing at the local Baptist church. His mother, Annie, sang old-time ballads while doing household chores and at night sang the children to sleep.
When Mr. Watson was still an infant an eye infection left him blind, and the few years of formal schooling he received were at the Raleigh School for the Blind. His musical training, typical for the region, began in early childhood. At the age of 5 or 6 he received his first harmonica as a Christmas gift, and at 11 his father made him a fretless banjo with a head made from the skin of a family cat that had just died.
Arthel dropped out of school in the seventh grade and began working for his father, who helped him get past his disability. “I would not have been worth the salt that went in my bread if my dad hadn’t put me at the end of a crosscut saw to show me that there was not a reason in the world that I couldn’t pull my own weight and help to do my part in some of the hard work,” he told Frets magazine in 1979.
By then, Arthel had moved beyond the banjo. His father, hearing him plucking chords on a borrowed guitar, promised to buy him his own guitar if he could teach himself a song by the end of the day. The boy taught himself the Carter Family’s “When the Roses Bloom in Dixieland,” and a week later he was the proud owner of a $12 Stella guitar.
Read entire article here.
John Herald, quoted in the notes to “Friends of Old Time Music,” Smithsonian Folkways CD SFW40160:
Ralph came down to help me paint my apartment, and he brought down all these old-timey tapes. It was my introduction to old time music. One of the people he played me was Clarence Ashley. We wanted to study the real McCoy, and we went to a place called Union Grove, which was one of the oldest and the biggest fiddlers’ contests in the South. What they would do at Union Grove is they would assign each act to a classroom at the Union Grove High School to warm up. When we had warmed up, I said to Ralph and Bob, “I’m going to go see some of the other players.”
We were at one end of a long hallway, and I went from classroom to classroom until I finally got to the other end of the school. And I walked into this room, and there was a crowd of people watching this banjo player sitting in a chair. And I asked them who it was, and they said, “It’s Clarence Ashley.’”
Now I remembered—from Ralph helping me paint my apartment—he had told me about Clarence Ashley. I went back to Ralph and I said, “Was Clarence Ashley one of the guys that you played for me?” and he said, “Yes.” And I said, “Well I think he’s down at the other end of the school.” Ralph’s jaw dropped, and he said, “Really?” and he went just tearing down to the end of the Union Grove school, and made a date with him immediately.
I guess he had carte blanche with Folkways Records to record whatever he might have wanted to, and he came back later to record Clarence, and that’s how Doc Watson was discovered in Clarence Ashley’s band. Ralph came back from that recording session, and said, “John, I found a guitar player who’s going to set the world on fire, who the world is not going to believe.”