The Day the Music Died

Rest in Peace, Arthel “Doc” Watson, 3/3/1923–5/29/2012.

This was supposed to be a post about enjoying a beautiful day.

My husband and I were supposed to head to Cape Vincent, NY to spend a weekend with a few aunts, uncles, and cousins. But Life intervened. The weather couldn’t be nicer here in North Texas, and I’m taking it as a consolation prize. Sunny, warm (not hot!), with a nice breeze blowing. Made me think of one my favorite tunes, “Windy and Warm,” as performed by Doc Watson.

Hardly anybody really knows about Doc Watson, outside hardcore bluegrass/old-time music fans. We live in a world where razzle-dazzle often trumps true talent, and the two (Lady Gaga notwithstanding) are seldom found together. Doc’s humility precluded razzle, although to hear him play “Black Mountain Rag” you could only be dazzled. At 89, Doc was still traveling and performing, not missing a lick on his hot guitar.

In the interest of widening musical horizons, and celebrating a beautiful day, I decided I’d add a youtube vid of Doc, along with a few lines to describe him. And in the search for some information to share (eight-time Grammy winner–the eighth a life-time achievement award; the man who virtually invented flat-picking fiddle tunes on a guitar–making even intimidating tempos appear effortless; recipient of the National Medal of the Arts)–I came across his obituary. And I teared up.

His music has been there for me since I was in grade school. Good times, and bad. A lot of family memories are wrapped around his music. I’ve tried to learn how he plays “Deep River Blues”; my brother and my niece do a better job of it!

But words are nothing compared to Doc himself. Here are two samples of his work.

The first, Doc in his prime at the 1963 Newport Folk Festival. I saw him perform the second tune, “Black Mountain Rag” at a little tavern in a Philly suburb back in the mid-’90s, and he had us all pounding the tables with his blistering pace. (Faster even, than this recording).

The second is a video from last year. Doc kicks off the gospel set with “Beautiful Golden Somewhere.” In this one, you might notice he’s blind. He lost his sight at the age of one, due to an eye infection.

Doc has found where Somewhere is…may he rest in peace.