REVIEW: Doc Watson & Gaither Carlton on Smithsonian Folkways Recordings October 1962 is Invigorating


Doc Watson & Gaither Carlton – Smithsonian Folkways Recordings October 1962

This collection may be suited for purists & archival completists than the average music lover. Though I’ve been wrong before.

Recorded at 2 NYC concerts (Oct. ’62) – at the NYU School of Education & West Village’s Blind Lemon’s folk club, folklorist Ralph Rinzler debuted Appalachian roots musicians Doc Watson & his shy, retiring father-in-law Gaither Carlton (fiddle). A young Peter Siegel, barely 18, recorded the live historical shows & produced this LP.

Doc Watson was “discovered,” by Rinzler in the early ’60s near his home in North Carolina & convinced Doc audiences would be interested in his music. But it was his flat-pick guitar playing that inspired many.

These 15-never-before heard live tracks – many from the ’20s — capture 2 musicians’ brilliance. The shows document the dramatic meeting of rural Appalachia & a young urban NYC audience. All prior to The Beatles when youth was driven by The Kingston Trio.

But this was the real thing.

The guitar often used as a folk accompaniment until Doc Watson made an indelible impression that made us realize Doc didn’t even play with the virtuosic powerhouse ability he later became known for. Many tracks feature Doc on banjo. The interweave of banjo, acoustic guitar & fiddle – the stately performances of the Scottish/Irish melodies — all invigorating.

Released May 29 the 36-minute CD Doc Watson & Gaither Carlton (Smithsonian Folkways) comes with a stitched 32-page insert. Watson learned from radio tunes; Gaither learned the traditional way: passed down by family.

Track 1 is the intricate interaction of Gaither’s modern signature tune “Double File.” Doc’s baritone on “Handsome Molly,” — both surprisingly well-recorded on primitive equipment. Doc’s personality shines on this LP. This is not Hee-Haw country music. It’s genuine folk music from the mountains & it found its way from the soil of Scotland, Ireland & old England.

Some may not even have an author since many were handed down.

The 12-bar blues “Corrina,” introduced in New Orleans (1928) is banjo rich. Watson’s vocals show the grains of R&R. The interplay between banjo & fiddle is remarkable. Doc started to play at 16-17 on a Sears-Roebuck guitar after he heard The Carter Family. These songs in America are as influential as the blues. They affected the blues by cross-pollination of traditional British & African folk music.

“Groundhog,” (1924) is a banjo scorcher with a phone ring at the end & Watson pronouncing some words the Appalachian way. Jerry Garcia may have raised an eyebrow as a young man listening to this.

“Goin’ Back to Jericho,” is fiery & “Reuben’s Train,” is exceptional. Today, 100 years later & the recording 57 years old, it’s amazing these musicians who appear as farm or grocery store workers can play this proficiently, with feeling, & expertise — can ultimately turn their performance into a historical one.

In order to appreciate where we are – we must understand where we’ve been.

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