Arthel Lane “Doc” Watson, who lived from 1923 to 2012, is among the most influential of American musicians of the past 100 years. The conventional wisdom is that Watson was a virtuoso country guitar player. That’s accurate, of course. But, at the same time, it doesn’t tell the full story. Watson was a amazing musician who was a bedrock of Americana and country genres who connected to his audiences in a deep, meaningful and unique way.
My attraction to Doc Watson goes deeper than his guitar playing. There are lots of superb players, many of whom I enjoy. Some even have skills that approach Watson’s. But Watson is unique — and was the inspiration of many of them.
Doc Watson: A Man and a Musician
Rolling Stone’s David Fricke did a nice job of highlighting two important elements of what made Watson special in this remembrance, which was posted when Watson died:
But Watson was a pioneering instrumentalist – liberating the guitar from its supporting rhythmic role in country rags and mountain balladry with a jazzman’s drive, improvising on complex fiddle and banjo motifs like a Blue Ridge Django Reinhardt – who always took the Main Point stage like a neighbor from the next valley over, delighted to be passing through. He conversed with the crowd in a gently crusted drawl and sang fireside standards such as “Deep River Blues” and “Tennessee Stud” with renewing vigor – a dynamic reminder of a rough dynamic America that was, at the time, not that distant.
Notice that two important and very distinct elements are side by side in the paragraph. One is that Watson was a major innovator. The other is that he was a gifted performer. The two are not synonymous, though they do often do go hand in hand. The commentators agree that the strength of Watson’s relationship with the audience was that he was able to project in a very real way who he was. That has nothing directly to do with his ability to play guitar. The idea that emerges is that he was a great showman because he was not a showman, but that he was a great showman because he was a great person.
Kent Gustavson–who knew Doc Watson–is co-founder of Thought Leadership Path. He says that the organization works with experts and entrepreneurs on their authority platforms in order to help them up-level in life and business.
Below is “Deep River Blues.” I heard the song performed by The Delmore Brothers, though I am not sure if they originated it. This commentary says that the song was inspired by the great floods of 1927, perhaps the least remembered most important events of the 20th century. That title likely was held by the Spanish Flu pandemic, but obviously no longer. Sad commentaries about our modern world come in surprising ways. To me, it’s that 155 people (as of this writing) gave this video a thumbs-down.
Returnofrock.com lists “The Vanguard Years,” “The Best Of Doc Watson,” “Good Deal! Doc Watson in Nashville,” “Memories,” “Doc Watson” and “Southbound” as the top Doc Watson albums. Keep in mind that it it simply is impossible to make a definitive list of a giant whose style changed over the many years he was on the scene.