Doc Watson: Sittin’ On Top of the World

I remember the first time I really heard Doc Watson. It was the winter of 1994 and I was living in the snowy Sandia mountains just east of Albuquerque. I was vaguely aware of him before that in sort of a broad brushstroke kind of way: blind folk singer, guitarist, flatpicker, legend. I was in some sort of existential crisis and voraciously reading and rereading John Steinbeck and Jack London novels while wrestling gods and demons while only wanting to hear a man and his guitar, an acoustic guitar. Duets were one person too many. Bands were cacophony. Hemingway was shit. The whole thing lasted maybe six months.

Dylan had just released World Gone Wrong. The album’s cynical and gloomy blues did little to relieve me of my funk. It might have even extended it by a month as I practiced hard to clumsily master every song on the album. Someone had given me a cassette of Norman Blake’s Whiskey Before Breakfast, but I didn’t quite get it yet. It would take another year or so for me to find my way into Blake’s world. Leo Kottke’s 6 & 12 String Guitar album was killing me. It wasn’t personal though, it sounded exotic and seemed to live somewhere else. California, maybe. Then I bought a copy of Doc Watson’s self titled Vanguard Record album from 1964. I never looked at a guitar the same way again.

Doc’s flatpicking was tonic. He played clear and strong and knew exactly where he was going and what he was trying to say. The music was deep eastern well songs: Sittin’ On Top of the World, St. James Infirmary, Tom Dooley. These were songs I knew and he played them how I could only have hoped for. them to be played. I still listen to it in times of particular trouble and I still listen to it on Sunday mornings while cooking eggs and bacon and potatoes. And isn’t that exactly what a troubled soul needs?

Doc Watson, Sittin’ On Top of the World

Doc Watson & Bill Monroe, Midnight On the Stormy Deep

Below is what I believe to be the earliest recording of Doc Watson. It comes from the extraordinary Dr. W. Amos Abrams Collection from Appalachia State University. The voice you hear introducing the piece is Dr. Abrams. Longtime KBCS DJ Larry, who made me aware of this recording, corrects Dr. Abrams assertion that Watson was 14 years old during the recording. Doc Watson would have been 17 or 18 in 1941.

Doc Watson, Precious Jewell


About Iaan Hughes

Iaan Hughes is a deejay on 91.3 KBCS in Seattle. He plays country & western music.
This entry was posted in Bluegrass, Country, Folk, Honky Tonk, Music, Oldtime, Radio, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Doc Watson: Sittin’ On Top of the World

  1. Bruce says:

    Excellent post! It’s not necessarily what music the artist creates that makes a difference but how it touches us.

  2. Pingback: No One Here But Us Lone Pilgrims « The Real Mr. Heartache

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