Doc Watson died in 2012 just one month after I saw him at the 25th anniversary of MerleFest, the music festival named in memory of his son Merle. Everybody’s guitar hero, Doc would have turned 100 on March 3rd of this year. To celebrate the enduring and wide-ranging legacy of this American treasure, I Am a Pilgrim: Doc Watson at 100 is being released on April 28th. You can preorder the album today.
In the pre-releases posted to YouTube, Rosanne Cash and John Leventhal play a simple version of the title track, with a tasty guitar break by Leventhal in between verses.
Dolly Parton reimagined Last Thing on My Mind, a Watson concert staple written by folksinger Tom Paxton in the 1960s. While Parton has recorded the song on several occasions, most notably with Porter Wagoner, she sticks most closely to Doc’s version on this new album. Parton and Watson performed the song together at MerleFest 2001.
“Doc Watson is everyone’s hero and a great guitar player,” Parton said in a statement. “Some say he is the absolute best, and I was honored to get to work with him a few times in my career.”
Here’s the full track list:
1. “Shady Grove” – Jerry Douglas
2. “The Last Thing On My Mind” – Dolly Parton
3. “Am I Born to Die” – Nora Brown
4. “Alberta” – Jeff Parker & Matthew Stevens
5. “Make Me a Pallet” – Steve Earle
6. “I Am a Pilgrim” – Rosanne Cash
7. “Florida Blues” – Jack Lawrence
8. “How Long Blues” – Corey Harris
9. “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” – Ariesen
10. “Handsome Molly” – Valerie June & Bill Frisell
11. “Doc’s Guitar” – Yasmin Williams
12. “Little Sadie” – Chris Eldridge
13. “Reuben’s Train” – Lionel Loueke
14. “The Lost Soul” – Marc Ribot
15. “Your Lone Journey” – Bill Frisell
There are many top-notch musicians involved in this project, but I’m especially looking forward to hearing the young Washington-area guitarist Yasmin Williams play her version of that finger-busting classic Doc’s Guitar. Here’s the blind guitarist playing the 1960s original version.
A number of other musicians have been performing concerts and posting special videos in honor of Doc’s 100th.
Fiddler Mark O’Connor released a video of The Last Thing on My Mind, featuring O’Connor, Doc and Merle Watson, and T. Michael Coleman on bass and harmony vocals from the 1980s. Merle has a wonderful finger-picked guitar break, and O’Connor adds some sweet fiddle in another break and in backing up the vocals.
The Fretboard Journal also got into the act, posting the Billy Stings version of Doc’s classic Tennessee Stud with the following note:
Back in 2017, Billy Strings came by the Fretboard Journal to perform a pair of classic Doc Watson songs. Strings’ take on “Tennessee Stud” has since become the most-watched video we’ve produced with 3.5 million views.
It’s staggering to think of how many people first heard this tune when Doc played it on Will the Circle Be Unbroken…and now how many young people have found it through Billy and this YouTube video. If you somehow missed it, give it a listen.
The Fretboard Journal also added this gem to the mix:
Doc didn’t write “Sittin’ on Top of the World” but he definitely raised its profile when it appeared on his self-titled debut album in 1964. This old Mississippi Sheiks song has since been covered by everyone: Cream, Jack White, and this all-star group of performers at our first-ever Fretboard Summit in 2015. Trust me when I say this is the only time you’ll ever hear Bryan Sutton, Courtney Hartman, Matt Munisteri, Joe Henry, Bill Frisell, Scott Nygaard, and Blake Mills jamming together. Thanks, Doc.
Of course, Doc is well known for his long association with Gallagher Guitars, and I’ve written about Gallagher here on More to Come. I own a G-50 — serial number 954 with a Sitka spruce top and mahogany back and sides — that I bought from J.W. Gallagher on November 21, 1977. G-50 #954 cost me $540! The hard-shell case was another $100. Throw in the tax and I took home this beauty for $676.30. Today’s retail for a G-50: $4,100.
The company has changed ownership, but the new owner — David Mathis — uses all the original forms, many of them built by J.W., and he’s dedicated to keeping the brand alive and well. Here’s a video tribute concert by J.P. Cormier that includes a short history of the Gallagher’s by David Mathis.
I’ll close out this remembrance with a live version from 1979 of Doc’s most famous work, the fiddle tune Black Mountain Rag, played here by Doc along with flatpickers Norman Blake and Dan Crary and fiddler Sam Bush.
Doc, your friends and fans still love you and miss you. Rest in peace.
More to come…
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