Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Doc(torate) of Music

Although our hometown university, Appalachian State, never presented him with a Phy.D., most everyone in Boone would agree with the rest of the world that Doc Watson was a true master of the art of music.

Now, I've only lived in Doc's hometown since 1980, but my unforgettable first connection with his music began in 1972. I was a junior, maybe a senior, at LSU then. My friends Bruce and Bob turned me on to an album that would become a classic of southern folk music--the Will the Circle Be Unbroken album by Nitty Gritty Dirt band.

Doc's pickin' and singin' shone out on that studio gem like a Blue Ridge sunrise peeking over the mountain in Deep Gap. Doc's raw Appalachian clarity grabbed the attention of this Louisiana boy like a turkey on a night-crawler.

Later, after I had moved here, at a concert in Farthing Auditorium in Boone, I heard his music introduced as the "fastest, cleanest flat-pickin' in the world. No doubt about it. The man was a local legend; we've got a sculpted bronze likeness on a park bench here that, at first glance, seems to be an actual occurrence of Doc serenading the passersby in downtown Boone.

Which is something that he did do, with regularity, back in the day, before and after the world discovered his unique contribution to world music at the Newport Folk Festival in 1963. The old-timers 'round here tell tales about this.

While I was painting an apartment today at work, I listened to an intimate interview between Doc and Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air. I recommend you hear it, here:

But the tune that really started it for me was Tennessee Stud.

As Doc sings the story in the song, some adventurer from the way back took a journey on the Tennessee Stud over to Arkansas, and on down to Mexico, but Tennessee and a pretty little gal eventually drew him back home. That's a little bit like how this Louisiana boy ended up here in the North Carolina mountain town where Doc used to sing on the street, about ten miles from the Tennessee line.

Thanks for your amazing life and musical legacy, Doc.

Glass half-Full

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