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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Thinking about Doc Watson, who died yesterday

One of the most educational records I ever bought was The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's 1972 double album Will the Circle Be Unbroken. The idea of putting a bunch of hippies in the studio with the old time country artists that they admired seemed rather controversial at the time. The performances were beautiful and they kept an additional tape running throughout to capture the respectful exchanges between the youngsters and the older, shorter-haired musicians like Mother Maybelle Carter, Merle Travis, Earl Scruggs, Roy Acuff and Doc Watson.

Watson, the guitarist and singer from North Carolina, seemed an even older and more venerable figure than the rest, maybe because he was blind. In those days there seemed to be an immense gulf between the ancients and the revivalists. In fact he was only forty-nine, the same age as Johnny Depp is today. "Will The Circle Be Unbroken" helped introduce him to a new audience and ensured that he had an even longer career reviving his music than he did playing it in the first place. He died yesterday at the age of 89.