Review by Dan Miller
Flatpicking Guitar Magazine
May/June 2002 issue
If Doc Watson has had an influence on your life; if you are a fan of his music, his singing, his guitar picking, harmonica playing, or his banjo picking; if you like to hear him tell stories; or if you have any interest in Doc Watson at all; you have to buy this new three-CD set. You will be very glad that you did.
On the first two CDs David Holt interviews Doc and you are given the rare opportunity to hear Doc’s life story in his own words. The conversation is interspersed with Doc playing various instruments and performing the songs in the order he learned them during his life. On the first CD, Doc talks about his early years growing up blind in the mountains of North Carolina. He talks about his early musical influences, the songs his father taught him and how the old Victrola changed his life. As the story unfolds, Doc performs the tunes that were of the greatest significance in his life. You get to hear his first harmonica piece, the tunes his dad taught him on the cat skin fretless banjo, and his first guitar tunes.
On the second interview CD, Doc looks back over his career from performing on the streets of Boone, NC to becoming a National Treasure and multi Grammy-Award winner. He talks about how his career got its start, the ”folk boom” era, life on the road with his son Merle, and highlights of his career. Once again you hear Doc tell of how he learned the tunes that he has made famous and you get to hear Doc play them as the story unfolds. He plays everything from tunes that he played on the streets in Boone to the ones that propelled his career forward, like “Tennessee Stud.”
Of special interest to readers of this magazine, Doc talks about how he learned to play the guitar and why the guitar became his instrument of choice. He talks about how he learned chords, how he learned how to hold a pick, and how he learned how to play fiddle tunes on the guitar. He also lends advice to young pickers about how they can best go about learning to play the guitar.
On disc number three Doc and David Holt perform live in Asheville, NC. The disc contains 18 tunes, some of them never before recorded by Doc, and it is Doc Watson at his best. As Doc said of the concert, “Everything came together for us that night.”
As if the three CDs weren’t enough, the folks at High Windy Audio went the extra mile and provided a 72-page companion book that is filled with historical photos, stories and interviews from Doc Watson, and dozens of quotes from Doc’s family and friends.
All told what you get on these three CDs is a chronicle of Doc Watson’s life told in his own words, a live Doc Watson concert, Doc performing a total of 34 songs, and a wonderfully designed 72-page booklet. Short of a private lesson at Doc’s house, what more could a Doc Watson fan want?
Doc Watson has made a lot of recordings during a recording career that spans nearly 50 years. Most people who subscribe to this magazine no doubt own dozens of them. However, I think that this project will immediately rise to the top of Doc’s long list of recordings as it is the only one that chronicles the life and music of a man who has been named one of America’s true National Treasures. It is Doc Watson telling his own story. You can’t get more authentic than that.
Review by Ed Bumgardner
“Still, even the most devoted fan must wonder what makes Legacy the Watson album to own – if a law were ever passed that allowed only one Doc Watson per household.”
Ultimate Doc three-CD set shows why Watson’s king.
A timely, and somewhat unusual, CD set recently arrived in the mail. It was a three-disc compilation of performances by the great Doc Watson – the catalyst behind the annual Merle-Fest festival and one of North Carolina’s greatest living musical treasures.
For the uninitiated, MerleFest is one of the top roots-music festivals in the world. It is a four-day celebration of the memory of Merle Watson, Doc’s late son and musical partner – and it is running this weekend at Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro. That’s why the release of the Legacy CDs proved particularly timely.
Funny how that worked out.
There is no shortage of previously released recordings by Watson, who has been making music for more than 50 years. No one of his discs was any better than the rest – until now.
Such is the quality of the man’s talent as a singer, guitarist and interpreter of song.
There probably isn’t a mountain tune, a folk song or an old-school country song that he doesn’t know. Remarkably, Doc, though in his 70s, has not lost a lick; his singing and playing remain sure and strong.
Making music, for Watson, is as natural as breathing. He doesn’t think about it; it just flows out of him.
That a performance or disc by Doc Watson will be filled with exquisitely performed, personable and honest music is one of the few things a person can count on in this otherwise unpredictable world.
Still, even the most devoted fan must wonder what makes Legacy the Watson album to own – if a law were ever passed that allowed only one Doc Watson per household.
The first thing that makes Legacy so righteous is the quality of the performances by Watson and David Holt, a fine singer, songwriter, banjo player and guitarist in his own right – and a transplanted Tarheel, to boot.
Holt takes a mean solo from time to time, and scoots up to the microphone for a tune on occasion, but the focus remains firmly on the performances that Watson pulls from his vast repertoire.
Doc picks up a storm and hypnotizes with a lyric, making Legacy less a musical performance than a force of nature.
The onstage relationship between Holt, a down-home musicologist, and Watson, a living, breathing repository of American song, is almost familial. Their friendship is clear, and listening to them play, sing and tell stories is a joy.
Good though the music is, the real meat of this package is the two discs of Watson interviews, done by Holt, that are given added oomph by the inclusion of the odd song.
Including an in-depth interview along with a performer’s music is an intriguing use of the CD format, and one that, when used to its fullest extent, sheds light on the music made by the performers.
Legacy is a grand investment that boasts a combination of information, mountain wisdom and down-home humor, truth and revelations that will never wear thin.
And the format, well, it’s good enough to make a print journalist nervous.
Review by Stephen Ide
The Patriot Ledger
Putting Doc Watson together with David Holt is a natural match.
Holt, a multi-instrumentalist and storyteller, combines music with the story of Arthel Doc Watson’s career on “Legacy,” a 3-CD set on Holt’s High Windy Audio label.
Watson has entertained for more than half a century. His down-to-earth stage presence, his appreciation for heartland-bred songs and his overall sense of musicality have endeared him to audiences everywhere.
Known as a country-folk guitar flat-picking impresario, Watson is much more. He’s a country gentleman steeped in old-timey values who’s inspired musicians and fostered the tradition all of his life. He’s picked up numerous awards along the way, including five Grammys.
Watson, 79, is in every sense pure Americana. Born in Deep Gap, N.C., his musical roots were cultivated by a father who loved music – and God-fearing gospel music. Blind from an early age, Doc was not treated as if he had a handicap.
In interviews with Holt, Watson tells of his childhood days. Some of this has been covered before in articles, like the story of the banjo drum his father made from the family cat. But so much of it is conversational – interspersed with song – the listener gets a good feel for Watson’s beginnings on banjo, guitar and harmonica, his career, his family, the folk revival and more.
The first two discs contain interviews and song, while the third is called The Legacy Concert, featuring Watson and Holt. The set also includes a comprehensive booklet, with quotes from people close to Watson to lend perspective to the songs and the man.
The songs on the first two discs are ones Watson has played for many years. Signature tunes like “Deep River Blues,” the fast-picked “Beaumont Rag,” finger-picked “Freight Train” or harmonica on “Sittin’ On Top of the World.”
But it is the stories that inspire, as Watson reveals the aspects of his life that shaped his music. The concert disc is a pure listen for lovers of folk, bluegrass and traditional music. Delightfully informal, the show is rich in stories (like how and why they used a Craftsman socket as a slide), and some songs were rehearsed only once the night before.
The music, with Holt on banjo and Watson on guitar, banjo, harmonica or “gitjo” (a banjo/guitar amalgam), is characteristically musically complex, but the presentation is natural, warm and welcoming. They include classics like “Shady Grove,” which Watson sang for his wife, Rosalie.
Holt plays buoyant blues in “Walk On,” with Watson singing backup. Holt’s musical enthusiasm is matched by Watson’s on banjo in “Black-Eyed Susie.”
Holt is an ideal interviewer. His music also has been steeped in the tradition, and he understands its roots. He met Watson in 1972 and was so inspired by him and the music that he moved to Asheville, N.C. the next year. Over the years, they performed together, and Holt developed a close bond with Watson, which became even deeper since both had children who died tragically (Watson’s son, Merle, and Holt’s daughter, Sara Jane). The unspoken bond gives Holt the ability to draw more of an interview from Watson, and it just feels right.
Unlike a “best-of ” box set of Watson’s work, this collection is as informative as it is entertaining, and fans of Watson or old-timey music will consider it a treasure from the heartland.
Review by Steve Ramm
In The Groove
The Doc is In – Speaking of legends, North Carolina’s own Doc Watson is on a roll this year too. He’s on the Circle III album, as well as others worth pointing out, and one that’s essential for any one interested in American music. Guitarist David Holt reveres the legendary 80-year-old Watson and spent years researching the man. He then convinced Doc to sit for extensive interviews while surrounding him with his instruments.
The result is the extraordinary album Legacy (High Windy Audio).There are three CDs in the package, along with a 72 page book of of photos interviews and stories.
The first two discs contain the interviews, during which Watson and Holt trade songs to illustrate points in Doc’s career. We learn how he got his first Victrola and what blues 78s came with it in his mountain hometown of Boone, NC in the 1920s. We find out that Doc really loved the songs of popular music of the 20s too. (Crooner Gene Austin was a favorite.)
The third disc is a concert given by Doc and Holt. The interview discs are nicely “indexed” so you can just listen to the songs on subsequent playing. How they pulled off this package for under $25.00 is beyond me but it’s gotta be the folk music bargain of the year. It may be hard to find, but you order on line at www.highwindy.com