Arthel "Doc" Watson was my inspiration to flat-pick on acoustic guitar, and just about everything I've learned about taking lead breaks can be traced back to him.
Doc was born in 1923 in Deep Gap, North Carolina, and though an eye infection at age two cost him his eyesight, that didn't stop him from being one of the greatest guitar players and innovators to ever take up the instrument.
"In 1953, Watson joined the Johnson City, Tennessee-based Jack Williams' country and western swing band on electric guitar. The band seldom had a fiddle player, but was often asked to play at square dances. Following the example of country guitarists Grady Martin and Hank Garland, Watson taught himself to play fiddle tunes on his Gibson Les Paul electric guitar. He later transferred the technique to acoustic guitar, and playing fiddle tunes became part of his signature sound. "
By the late 50's Doc had already been recorded on a few iconic old time records, specifically,
Old Time Music at Clarence Ashley's, and by 1961 his career was taking off in the midst of the folk music revival that was centered in New York City.
The picture that accompanies this post was taken backstage at the 2000 National Folk Festival in Lansing, Michigan where I was working as a volunteer. Doc was there performing with his Grandson, Richard Watson, as well as the incredible guitarist, Jack Lawrence. I had the pleasure of meeting Jack, and though I was close enough to introduce myself to Doc, I refrained, in fear I might startle him, so instead I just stood back in awe, and watched him perform from the side stage. I had lots of great memories that weekend (props to by buddy and fellow Clampoon, Mike Fitzpatrick, for driving me down to Lansing to attend and volunteer at the festival), but seeing Doc Watson play from that close up was something I'll never forget.
That summer I was working near Grand Marais, Michigan as an intern for the Nature Conservancy, and my cabin was at an old Saw Mill about halfway between Seney and Grand Marais in the middle of a swampy pine barren. I had hardly any neighbors, and there was so little traffic on Highway 77, I'd often wander around the yard and out in the middle of the highway practicing flat-picking licks to pass the evenings. My goal that summer started out with the thought that "if I could learn to play one fiddle tune on guitar" I'd be happy, and that would be enough. I figured out some licks, got hooked on bluegrass music, and within a year would form my first bluegrass band, Frostbitten Grass.
Salt Creek is one of the first flat-picking fiddle tunes I ever learned, and the version off Reflectere is modeled loosely after a version Doc played with his son Merle Watson. I play three guitars and a dobro on the track, and my great friend and band mate, Rick Clemens, plays up-right bass. Rhythm guitar and bass were recorded in Ventura, California, and the final lead tracks and dobro were tracked in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.
This Wednesday, May 13th, I'll be releasing the 12th song on Reflectere, "Wind's Gonna Blow My Blues Away." More on that tune in a few days...