Doc Watson’s magical guitar-picking

Photo by Lee Tanner. 1969.

Photo by Lee Tanner. 1969.

Today is the birthday of Doc Watson, so in his honor I dug down on Youtube to find some examples of his genius guitar playing. According to Wikipedia: “Arthel Lane ‘Doc’ Watson (March 3, 1923 – May 29, 2012) was a blind American guitarist, songwriter, and singer of bluegrass, folk, country, blues, and gospel music. Watson won seven Grammy awards as well as a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Watson’s flatpicking skills and knowledge of traditional American music are highly regarded.”

I first heard Doc Watson while living in Washington, D.C., where old-time, bluegrass, and flatpicking guitar has a very strong tradition, with it being so close to Virginia and other southern states where these styles developed. I used to listen incessantly to WAMU and their various bluegrass and old-time music shows. I’m not sure the first time I found out about Doc Watson, but he is surely someone anyone who loves American music should know about. He has influenced so many guitarists and he also lived a long life and had an amazing career. This style of guitar picking inspired me to take guitar lessons where I focused on the finger-picking country blues styles.

Here he is with “Southbound” written by his son Merle Watson, who died young and tragically in a farm accident:

Doc plays one of my favorite old-time songs “Darlin’ Corey”:

Doc shares the stage with bluegrass legend, banjo-player Bill Monroe playing “Sally Goodin”:

With the blues tune “House of the Rising Sun”. So many amazing versions of this song, here is Doc’s contribution:

I have listened to this song on repeat on my iPod for weeks at a time, honestly. “Country Blues”:

Traveling the Americana music highway with Sturgill Simpson, John Fullbright, & Jason Isbell

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Every generation talks about the dearth of genuine, good music being made by “real musicians” as compared to days gone by. However, I find that premise a fallacy. When I was a kid, I just had to dig a little deeper to hear some great music being made (usually being played way left of the dial on college radio), and I escaped the vapid pop of the day. Today is no different. I present to you some talented, soulful, creative, real-deal musicians making real-deal music. Hailing from Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Alabama respectively, Sturgill Simpson, John Fullbright, and Jason Isbell are some of the most lauded roots musicians making music today.

Sturgill Simpson has been gaining a lot of popularly lately with his old-school country sounds and soulful vocals. He recently played an NPR Tiny Desk concert and was nominated for a Grammy Awards for best Americana album for his Metamodern Sounds in Country Music. His sound harkens back to the likes of Waylon Jennings while still sounding new and original. (I found out that I am not the only one that makes that comparison). Here he is with “Life of Sin”:

 

John Fullbright was born and raised on a 80-acre farm in Oklahoma. His debut album, From the Ground Up, was an homage to the farm house he grew up in and it was nominated for a Grammy in 2013. He was a critical success. And his latest album, Songs has also been well-received. Here is “Gawd Above” from the first album:

 

Jason Isbell, a former band member of southern rock band Drive-By Truckers, made one of the most acclaimed albums of 2013. After several solo albums, Jason Isbell hit big with his fourth solo album, Southeastern. This song really choked me up. Here is “Traveling alone”:

My reintroduction to dancehall reggae

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When I first heard dancehall reggae as I understood the sound, it was the early 1990s and every club was playing “Murder She Wrote” by Chaka Demus & Pliers. I hit the dance floor every time a DJ played it. Because that was the sound I was used to when I heard dancehall, I associated it with loud shouting vocals and heavy beats. Recently, I’ve was given a lesson on the true history of dancehall and it sounds much different than I realized, much more soulful and mellow with some echo or reverb, I would almost mistake it for roots reggae. When it comes to Jamaican music and musical history, there is so much variety, from rocksteady, ska, roots reggae, dancehall, dub, etc. It really is quite incredible. Forgive me for those who are steeped in this music, as I am just a beginner. I already did a post on ska and another post is in the works about an enlightening documentary I saw called The Legends of Ska. The following songs are just a small sampling, but please add your favorites in the comments. Some other notable artists are Yellowman, Tenor Saw, Brigadier Jerry, Charlie Chaplin, Beenie Man, among many others.

The following song immediately grabbed my attention. If I heard this and wasn’t told, I would have thought it was some type of roots reggae, but this is an original dancehall classic by well-known singer Sister Nancy. “Bam Bam” was released in 1982 and has been featured in movies, video games, and sampled by other artists:

A mellow and soulful classic dancehall tune by the prolific Barrington Levy is “Murderer” released in 1984:

I heard the following song in the clubs and on the radio in the early 1990s, but had no idea it was a dancehall tune. Dawn Penn’s “You Don’t Love Me”:

One of the most famous dancehall artists is none other than Eek-A-Mouse. Here he is with the classic “Wa-Do-Dem”: