May 31, 2012
The passing of Doc Watson a few days ago is symbolic in that he's one of the last of the genuine grassroots musicians from the early days of folk and country music, at least before it got all slicked up and city-fied. He was the real thing, and represented our state and the mountain culture in the best way imaginable. I have live records of his dating back to 1963 at a small venue in New York City. His demeanor and his humor never changed any time that I ever saw him perform, and that was well over a dozen times through the years. A woman who grew up in Boone told me that he used to be a fixture on the main street of Boone, picking his guitar on the sidewalk and hoping someone would drop a dollar or two in the case for his effort. I also thought it was unusual and interesting that he wired his house in Deep Gap for electricity way back when Blue Ridge Electric first made it available. How many blind men would attempt that? I met him once in 1976, backstage at a concert he and Merle put on. We sat around after the show with a couple of other guys, drinking beer and talking. I remember how comfortable they seemed to be, and how they made a few young college kids feel special, like we belonged there. I ask Doc what city he most liked to travel and play. Having already gotten an LP of the NY concert from a dozen years before, I was surprised by his answer. "Son, he said, "I don't like to go to any city. It's very hard to travel because the sounds are all different and confusing. It's frightening just to cross the street. I like being at home." Doc and Merle are up there playing together again, making music fit for angels. He was blind, but he certainly had musical vision. If you want to hear some of his finest work, tap into the classic album "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. It's a classic for a reason.