Then and Now: Doc Watson

Doc Watson, despite being blind since childhood, was a bluegrass visionary in all the right ways. He walked the line between centuries-old Appalachian musical traditions—owing to his upbringing in rural North Carolina—and pushing bluegrass forward alongside contemporaries like Clarence White and John Hartford. His guitar picking style is one of the most unmistakable in all of bluegrass, and one of the most oft-imitated.

While his imitators may be many, the recordings on this playlist from artists including Billy Strings, Mike Compton, David Grier, and Tommy Emmanuel show a deep understanding and reverence for Doc and his vast library of classic tunes and songs. Enjoy this playlist of Doc Watson: Then and Now!

David Chernack

David Chernack is a fiddler, mandolinist, and guitarist from the Hudson Valley. Trained as a classical violist, David found out about bluegrass music in high school and despite his best efforts has been unable to kick the habit in adulthood. He picked up mandolin and guitar in college in Boston, where he studied environmental science and music. While not at his day job or pickin' 'grass, David also enjoys birdwatching and wrenching on cars.

3 Responses

  • Back in the 1960s I sure loved Doc Watson’s early LPs. I liked his material, his voice, his guitar (especially finger picked) and especially his wonderful harmonica! Rain Crow Bill might be my top fave. I liked his singing on really old songs like Matty Grove, and old country songs from the Delmore Bros. I made myself learn Deep River Blues on my guitar.

    My mom and dad took me to the Univ. of Maine when I was in high school to see a show by Doc and Merle. It was great, and I really like Doc’s joke about the Quaker and the troublesome cow.

    Dad, being quite “forward”, took me (and my banjo) right into the green room (locker room) during intermission and we sat with Doc and Merle for a few minutes. Doc asked me to pick a tune on my banjo, then he asked for Merle to play it a little. I handed it to Merle and he tried to tune one of the strings, but it tuned backwards to what he expected from playing his Vega. (Mastertones then had squirrely tuners on the 3rd and 4th strings compared to EVERY other banjo.) Doc instantly said “that must be a Mastertone, Merle, tune it the other direction!”. I really enjoyed my one interaction with Doc and Merle.

    In recent years I read a book about Doc’s career, and was surprised to learn he was generally an unhappy camper when “on the road”.

  • This Quaker had a cow. One night he milked it and the cow kicked over the bucket. The Quaker of course didn’t let his temper get away. He looked the cow in the face and said “I wish thou would not do that! But I shan’t strike thee!” and went in the house. Next morning, the cow did the same thing again. The Quaker was now upset about losing the milk and glared at the cow and said “I’ll not strike thee cow! But don’t do that again!”

    That night he milked the cow and she knocked over the bucket again. This time he was really furious. He jumped up and yelled at the cow “I’LL NOT STRIKE THEE COW! BUT SHOULDST THOU DO THAT AGAIN I’LL GIVE THEE TO A BAPTIST AND HE’LL BEAT THE HELL OUT OF THEE!!!!”

    Doc got a huge laugh from the big crowd.

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