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Doc Watson’s Long Journey

June 3, 2012

“I would rather be remembered as a likeable person than for any phase of my picking. Don’t misunderstand me; I really appreciate people’s love of what I do with the guitar … But I’d rather people remember me as a decent human being than as a flashy guitar player.”

We all have our heros and Doc Watson (1923 – 2012) was one of mine.  It’s a sad business to be writing about the passing of so many great musicians and other notable people of late but this is sort of a personal appreciation rather than another long-winded tribute to Doc.  We all know he was a good musician and an exemplary human being.

I first heard Doc’s banjo playing right about the time I became interested in the banjo, on the LP, Old-Time Music at Clarence Ashley’s (Folkways Records Album # FA2355, 1961).  The song, ‘Georgie Buck’, as sung by Doc was among the first things I learned and still sticks with me.  Doc’s arrangement of the Delmore Brothers’ song, ‘Deep River Blues’, was among the earliest things I learned on guitar, and I always enjoyed his fingerstyle playing and honest singing even more than the incredibly clean and flashy flatpicking.

Speaking of Doc’s singing, particularly poignant is the song, ‘Your Long Journey’, which was written by Doc’s wife, Rosa Lee Carlton.  Rosa Lee’s father, Gaither Carlton, was a fiddler and banjo player whose recorded version of ‘Little Birdie’ on the old County Records Clawhammer Banjo still grabs me after all these years.

‘Your Long Journey’ can be heard on the Smithsonian Folkways recording of the Watson Family, and in its entirety, along with seven other gems from Doc’s repertory courtesy of online radio KDHX in this very well-done tribute.  And you can read a tribute with other song links in The Independent.

Thanks to our friend in the know, Peter Fraissinet, you can hear Precious Jewel, the very first recording ever made by the teenaged Doc Watson as recorded by W. Amos Abrams in 1941, and available courtesy of the Appalachian State University digital collections.

Perhaps the most fitting way to remember Doc Watson is seeing and hearing him in his element, playing music for the fun of it at the Watson home with Earl Scruggs and family.

Thank you, Doc, and Godspeed on your long journey.

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