This carefully selected set of Doc Watson recordings are mostly drawn from a series of albums released during his initial peak period of 1964-1966, following his great reception at the Newport Folk Festivals of ’63 and ’64. As such, it works as a great sampler of his best recordings and sits alongside his highly influential first album and his work with members of his family on “Treasures Untold”.
Doc Watson was already in his early 40s when he found success in the early 1960s as America’s premier folk guitarist. His guitar work made him stand out from the majority. As musician and scholar Ralph Rinzler noted, “His flat-picking style had no precedent in earlier country music history.” Doc’s life before the 60s was spent soaking up a rich repertoire of folk, country and mountain music songs and tunes. As he put it, “There’s a lot of nostalgia in many of the songs I sing.” During the 50s he spent time playing electric rockabilly guitar in bar-room bands such as Jack Williams & His Country Gentlemen. Being largely unaware of the growing folk music revival, he was surprised when Rinzler tried to persuade him to go back to an acoustic instrument for his early recordings.
The opening track ‘Muskrat’ is one of five cut with his young son Merle playing second guitar taken from the 1964 album “Doc Watson And Son”. Merle also appears on the majority of the other tracks alongside players such as Russ Savakus, but one song Doc and Merle deliver on their own in a fresh and controlled way is ‘Rising Sun Blues’ (aka ‘House Of The Rising Sun’), on which they breathe an effective and quite different form into the song that was a huge hit for the Animals at the time. Other traditional song re-workings include Doc’s fine unaccompanied singing of ‘Down In The Valley To Pray’, the story-song ‘Otto Wood, The Bandit’ and the sparkling guitar playing on ‘Dill Pickles Rag’. From the 1965 album “Southbound” come the Alton Delmore-written ‘Blue Railroad Train’, John D Loudermilk’s ‘Windy And Warm’ and Jimmie Driftwood’s ‘Tennessee Stud’. Later on Doc and Merle worked on the Nashville-recorded “Good Deal” album, released in 1968, which featured top session players such as guitarist Grady Martin, fiddler Buddy Spicher and pianist Floyd Cramer. From this work comes the well-known ‘Shady Grove’ and ‘The Train That Carried My Girl Away From Town’. Also added are four at the time unreleased tracks, including the intricate instrumental ‘Doc’s Guitar’, making this a wonderfully varied collection showing Doc Watson at his very best.