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Doc Watson: “Freight Train Boogie”

Doc Watson is one of the most important people in the history of American music. Clearly, his technical mastery is deep. I am not capable of commenting on it, but people who know revere the guy. That only is the start, however. Watson also chose great songs and had a clear, very American voice and overall presentation.

Doc Watson is a hero to many listeners. More tellingly, he is a hero to generations of musicians. His playing is incredible. Beyond that, there is an earnestness and decency that comes through. It’s ineffable, but it definitely is there – and it definitely is a significant part of his appeal. Here is a set list from 1963, which is a bit of a time capsule. A recording recently was released of the date, which was at Club 47 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “Wabash Cannonball,” “The House Carpenter,,” “I Wish I Was Single Again,” “Little Darling Pal of Mine,” “Train That Carried My Girl from Town,” “The Worried Blues,” “Old Dan Tucker,” “Sweet Heaven When I Die,” “The Talking Blues,” “Little Margaret,” “Sitting On Top of the World,” “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down,” “Blue Smoke,” “Deep River Blues,” “Way Downtown,” “Somebody Touched Me,” “Billy in the Low Ground,” “Boil Them Cabbage Down,” “Everyday Dirt,” “I Am A Pilgrim,” “No Telephone in Heaven,” “Hop High Ladies the Cake’s All Dough,” “Little Sadie,” “Black Mountain Rag,” “Blackberry Rag” and “Days Of My Childhood Plays.” Click here or on the image for more from Amazon. Here is “The Essential Doc Watson” from iTunes.
Here is a great Doc Watson site. The home page of “Doc’s Guitar” credits Watson for his expertise in the flat picking and finger picking styles and for being influential in traditional, folk and bluegrass styles.

Here is an excerpt from a bio linked to from the site. It was written by Dan Miller and edited by Steve Carr:

However, Doc’s influence extends far beyond the small niche of guitar players who try to faithfully reproduce his guitar breaks because Doc Watson is not just a guitar player and singer – he is an American hero. To be recognized as a “national treasure” by President Jimmy Carter, honored with the National Medal of the Arts by President Bill Clinton, and given an honorary doctorate degree from the University of North Carolina calls for being more than a fine musician and entertainer. Doc Watson received these accolades not just for his talent, but for the honor, integrity, humility, grace, and dignity which he has displayed throughout his long and distinguished career. While there are many, many great guitar players and singers; there is only one Doc Watson.

What comes through most clearly for me when I watch Watson — besides how well he plays — is his authenticity. He looks the part. However, it seems to go beyond that. There is a quiet authority that he is tied to the music and what it represents about the American past.

I am not sure that the song above, “Freight Train Boogie,” is the most representative of Watson’s style. It’s great, though, and any YouTube video featuring old pictures of trains is hard to pass up.







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Duke Ellington brought class, sophistication and style to jazz which, until that point, was proudly unpolished and raucous. His story is profound. The author, Terry Teachout, also wrote "Pops," the acclaimed bio of Louis Armstrong. Click here or on the image.


What else is there to say? Here is the story behind every song written by The Beatles. Click here or on the image.


The Grateful Dead don't get enough credit for the profound nature of its lyrics. Many of the band's songs are driven by a deep and literate Americana ("I'm Uncle Sam/That's who I am/Been hidin' out/In a rock and roll band" and "Majordomo Billy Bojangles/Sit down and have a drink with me/What's this about Alabama/Keeps comin' back to me?").

David Dodd's exhaustive study tells the story, song by song. Click here or on the image.