In May of 2012, one of the preeminent figures of American Roots Music, Doc Watson, died at 89 years of age. This summer, Sugar Hill Records will unveil a career-spanning collection, The Definitive Doc Watson, that is an expansive tribute to the Appalachian music legend. An anthology that showcases Watson at his finest, the two-disc, 34-track project highlights the best of his solo work in addition to exploring the many albums he recorded with his son, Merle, as well as select guest appearances he made on the recordings of other artists.
The Definitive Doc Watson serves as either an introduction for the uninitiated or as an overview for the previously enlightened. This set is the first compilation to jointly anthologize the Vanguard Records and Sugar Hill Records periods of Watson’s discography. Watson recorded many of his top albums on the Vanguard and Sugar Hill record labels, so there is a vast catalog of music available to choose from when it came to putting together this rich collection. Covering the years 1962-2005, this compilation allows one to experience how singular a force of American music he was.
Classic Watson songs on The Definitive Doc Watson include “Black Mountain Rag,” “Greenville Trestle High,” “Shady Grove,” “Blue Railroad Train,” “Little Sadie,” “Tennessee Stud” and “Your Lone Journey.” “Your Lone Journey” was originated and co-written by Doc’s wife, Rosa Lee Watson, who died on Thanksgiving morning, six months after his death.
Watson is considered one of the best acoustic guitarists in the long history of the instrument. Blind from an early age, Watson learned to play the harmonica and banjo as a child while living in the mountains of western North Carolina. Eventually, however, Watson gravitated toward the guitar.
Sam Bush, the King of Newgrass, first performed with Doc and Merle Watson in the 1970s. “Now, more than ever, his legacy is secure as the most influential guitar player of the last 60 years of acoustic music,” comments Bush on Watson’s guitar playing. “He is the reason that a lot of people wanted to learn to play lead guitar. And, he is certainly still, to me, the most influential flatpicker–the Godfather of the Flatpickers.”
While Watson was best known for his flatpicking prowess on the guitar, prime examples of his singing, his banjo, harmonica and fingerstyle guitar playing are also highlighted in this compilation, as well as his uncanny ability to transform traditional ballads hundreds of years old into the definitive renderings of that material.
“It’s hard to describe, but Doc has always been a legend, even when he was alive,” says guitar great and Watson admirer Bryan Sutton. “The way I feel now is that even though Doc is gone physically, his influence is so strong, it is hard not to recognize that his influence is there in some way.”<
The Definitive Doc Watson will be available on July 16.