Arthel Lane "Doc" Watson - vocals, guitar, harmonica; Merle Watson - guitar
This sublime performance was recorded at Los Angeles' historic Ash Grove, one of the great bastions of folk music on the West Coast. The club, named after a Welsh folk song, opened its doors in 1958, and for the next 15 years many of the greats of folk, bluegrass, and rock 'n' roll graced the stage. On the 6th of May in 1967, the iconoclastic Doc Watson, aged 44, performed an intimate, lively set, flanked by the virtuosic talent of his 18-year-old son, Merle.
The recording captures the North Carolina native at his jovial, upbeat best. While many of the numbers feature the signature whiskey-soaked woebegone that connects so many to Watson, his infectious energy, undeniable joy, and jocular banter keeps the audience engaged. Watson's voice is full and powerful, and it perfectly assimilates with the duo's complex, melodic picking. The performance is a virtual clinic on nuance and technical proficiency, as can only be exhibited by true masters of folk and bluegrass picking.
The recording is crisp and technically flawless. The crowd is attentive and captivated, without interfering in the group's performance.
The highlights of the show are a rousing version of "Gambler's Yodel," which sees a pining, soaring vocal effort from Doc. Also, the show features brilliant, reworked versions of "The House of the Rising Sun" (called "Rising Sun Blues") and "Milk Cow Blues," essential pieces of Americana. Lastly, Doc's hilarious "Doc's Talking Blues" is perfect, as the elder Watson warns his young son about the perils of matrimony.
This recording is a testament to the prodigiously talented, Merle Watson, who would perish in a tragic tractor accident roughly 18 years later.
Arthel Lane "Doc" Watson was born on March 3rd, 1923 in Deep Gap, North Carolina. He was the sixth of nine children, born to Annie Greene and General Dixon Watson. He was stricken with blindness at age one, as he had a birth defect in the blood vessels of his eyes, which lead to an eye infection that robbed him of his vision.
Watson fell in love with music at an early age, and quickly became interested in playing the guitar. In the late '50s, interest in folk and bluegrass grew in the U.S., as did Doc's star. He became known as one of the best guitar and banjo players in the country. Throughout the course of his 50-plus year career, Watson has come to be seen as one of the key architects for the sound that would be called American folk music. He has won eight Grammys, played sold-out venues all over the world, and released well over 20 albums. However, his greatest achievement is his ability to attract a rampant, diverse fan base, while gaining the widespread respect of critics and, more importantly, other musicians.
Doc also got the luxury of performing with his son Merle for over 15 years, and recording with many of his other family members. Watson, now in his 80s, continues to perform and play music. He remains among the greatest of American musicians, and an inspiration to many, as he staunchly refused to let his physical disability stop him from fulfilling his goals and aspirations.
Written by Alan Bershaw