Legendary Guitarist Doc Watson

Doc Watson & grandson
Doc Watson & grandson performing at the Suwannee Springfest in Florida (photo by Donna Green-Townsend)

Doc Watson, the Grammy award-winning guitarist who has influenced and been revered by virtually every great bluegrass flatpicker in the country died on May 29, 2012. The 89-year-old musician, who was blind from age 1, had undergone abdominal surgery at a hospital in Winston Salem, N.C., but died a few days later. Donna Green-Townsend had the opportunity to interview Watson on a couple of occasions at various festivals across the country and prepared this feature.

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Walnut Valley Festival 19820002
(from left to right) David Sylvester, T. Michael Coleman and Doc Watson at the 1982 Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, KS (photo by Donna Green-Townsend)

The interview segments in the feature above came from Donna’s first meeting with Doc Watson in September, 1982 at the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, KS.  The station she was working for at the time, KHCC-FM at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas, was in its second year of recording the stages and performers at the festival.  The material eventually became, “The Walnut Valley Festival Series,” broadcast on public radio stations all across the country.  There were 26 one-hour programs in all.  Below is the 35:50 segment that included the set performed by Doc Watson, T. Michael Coleman and David Sylvester and the full interviews from that series.  (Merle Watson had taken a few days off from touring).

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Production assistance on the above recording in 1982 was provided by Dan Skinner and Steve Brown of KHCC-FM and KANZ-FM.

CD cover of Riding The Midnight Train
CD cover of Riding The Midnight Train
Doc Watson's autograph
Doc Watson’s autograph on the CD he dedicated to his son, the late Merle Watson

On March 25th of 2008, Clawgrass banjo player Mark Johnson and Donna Green-Townsend had the opportunity to sit backstage with Doc Watson and folk icon Norman Blake at the Suwannee Springfest near Live Oak. It was one of those rare opportunities to swap stories and share some tunes. When the special hour began you can hear Peter Rowan and company in the distance performing on the main stage. Meanwhile backstage Donna began chatting with Johnson as he played Ashokan Farewell and demonstrated his style of picking called clawgrass, a combination of bluegrass and clawhammer styles.

Ashokan Farewell was used throughout the popular PBS Series, “The Civil War.”  Before long folk icon Norman Blake jumped into the Civil War discussion and shared an acapella version of an old song, “Faded Coat of Blue.” When Doc heard Mark’s banjo, he asked if he could play it. In the three recorded segments below you’ll hear the spontaneous conversation and music from that afternoon that can only be described as “magical.”

In Part 1 (running time 4:35) Donna talks backstage with Clawgrass player Mark Johnson:

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In Part 2 (running time 5:16) Donna and Mark begin an interesting music dialogue with folk icon Norman Blake and share an acapella version of “Faded Coat of Blue.”

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In Part 3 (running time 32:24) Doc Watson hears Mark Johnson’s banjo and asks if he could hold it and then begins sharing his inside knowledge of some of his favorite banjo tunes, banjo styles and personal stories):

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