Doc Watson and Gaither Carlton – Doc Watson and Gaither Carlton

Album Review | Smithsonian Folkways | Review by Allan Wilkinson

There was a time in the early 1980s when I saw no need to listen to anything other than Doc Watson LPs after hearing Red Rocking Chair, an album he made with his son Merle and double bassist T Michael Coleman. That album opened the floodgates to a wealth of material that the legendary flat-pick guitar player recorded from the early Sixties onward, a good deal of them with Merle, one or two with his extended musical family and other such collaborations. Blind from an early age, the Deep Gap, North Carolina musician was more than proficient on both guitar and banjo and became a much loved figure on the Old Time music and burgeoning folk scene, his soothing fatherly voice being familiar to many up until his death in 2012.

Despite being twenty-two years his junior, Doc seemed to have no problem in referring to his fiddle playing father-in-law accompanist Gather Carlton as ‘son’ midway through “Corrina”, which I’m sure would have put a smile on the faces of those present. These original tapes, which represent some of Doc’s earliest live recordings from New York City’s Greenwich Village, are raw, unpolished and precisely as it happened, emphasised at one point during “Groundhog (Blind Lemon’s Version)” by the clearly audible ringing of a landline telephone, perhaps an early indication of the presence of mobile phones we have to put up with today, but somehow being rather less irritating. With one or two familiar folk staples of the Old Time canon, such as “Reuben’s Train”, “Handsome Molly” and “Bonaparte’s Retreat”, Doc Watson and Gaither Carlton is an essential release for Watson completists, with plenty of background information and vintage photos included.

Choice Track: He’s Coming to us Dead (NSV 497)