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Folkways Records (#110 of 1)

Doc Watson: A Bluegrass Guitarist Born Old

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Doc Watson: A Bluegrass Guitarist Born Old

Vanguard Records

Doc Watson: A Bluegrass Guitarist Born Old

In retrospect, the greatest achievement of Doc Watson, who died yesterday at 89, might have been his endlessly curious middle-aged brand. Discovered in the early ’60s, when the Old, Weird America was experiencing a toasty revival in youth-riddled garages across the country, Doc was one of the few bluegrass musicians to gain prominence during that era with a putatively wholesome, down-home demeanor. Incredibly, his and John Hartford’s debuts came only a few years apart from one another—but Hartford was in his mid 20s, while Doc was in his mid 40s. The former would conquer Nashville as a songwriter and spiral off into a scorched-earth path of string-band cubism; the latter was cherished as an atavistic relic even while his career was in its infancy. Doc had, in fact, only been making records for about 10 years when he made his “comeback” alongside earlier country giants like Merle Travis and the Carter Family on the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Will the Circle Be Unbroken. His age, along with the enormous confidence of his playing, allowed him to seamlessly integrate with the crowd whose licks he’d been practicing in perpetuity.