Arthel “Doc” Watson

DocWatson sadly notes the death of one of America’s greatest folk singers of all time. God bless Doc Watson! May his music live on forever.

Here is a player that will delight any blues aficionado, if you only give him a chance. A wonderful musician with a wide repertoire of traditional blues songs, Doc Watson is a truly iconic folk musician and world-class flat-picker, who has defined American roots music for many decades and has always had one leg deeply steeped in the blues.

The favorite day of this country musician and farmers son was when he wrote a letter to the “Aid to the Blind” organization advising that he no longer needed their charity, as he was now making a sufficient living making music. Arthel “Doc” Watson is not only a superb musician, but he is generally an all around “can-do” guy, who can build chairs and even built a shed with his own two hands. The term “cross-over” seems to be coined just for him. Beloved by country, bluegrass, folk, and blues, and even rock audiences, his appeal transcends boundaries and styles. Essentially, Watson is a typical rural Appalachian mountain musician playing the old traditional regional songs, some of which date back to the early 19th Century. He is a superb harmonica player, excellent on the banjo and a world-class flat-picking guitarist. His gentle tenor singing and wide repertoire are instantly appealing to anyone who loves music, whether they knowingly like roots music or not. It is not unusual for people who say they don’t like country or bluegrass but acknowledge that Watson is the exception – often with the assertion “But he’s really not country.”

As a deep folk music player his music is the amalgam of styles that form Americana. His music is rich with the influence of the white mountain-banjo players (many of whom were influenced by the traveling black songsters and minstrels), and the black Appalachian community. Watson had his ear to rock and roll, country, ragtime and old-time folk, but also to the Mid-Atlantic and Piedmont blues. It is not unlike the repertoire of black regional folk singers, like the late John Jackson. The two men, both from working class families in the mid-Atlantic, one white the other black, share the same musical foundations and have much in common, with both playing the music that blends their regional culture. The South has always been a melting pot of music, and while society was separate and unequal, there was an undeniable merging of language, heritage and culture.

Some will argue that Watson’s blues is not purely “Blues”, and while that is true in the absolute purist sense, an equal case could be made that this is essentially irrelevant. If you like the acoustic blues, rejoice, because it doesn’t get better that Doc Watson.

Recommended Starter:
The “Country Blues Collection 1964-1998” on Sugarhill Records, issued in 2003. This is a sweet collection of old-time music, mostly traditional blues songs like “Sitting on Top of The World”, and “Deep River Blues”, but also traditional mountain songs like “Little Sadie”.

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