I work 12:30 – 8:30 today, so I slept in (until all of 8 o’clock), spent way too long perfecting my Netflix queue, then decided to check out videos of Doc Watson on YouTube. My introduction to Doc Watson was the NPR live concert I listened to on the All Songs Considered podcast, which I caught in spare moments the week before last – and was really impressed by. How had I never heard this guy play before? He’s awesome, and I like that he has had his kids in his band for decades. While I think my main affinity is for fingerpicking (which he can do masterfully as well), his flatpicking is great.
So last night I was recording some really basic guitar stuff on GarageBand with the little $25 toy guitar I bought a week ago, and was dismayed at how the things I came up with that were interesting to listen to were somewhat defeated by my slow or awkward fingering. I know that is cured only by practice, but I thought seeing some video of Doc playing would be inspirational. From the video-surfing, I got to this great video of Doc and his son playing with Earl Scruggs and his sons. Earl has this weirdly wonderful slow talking intro, and Doc sings.
That video led to this one, of Earl Scruggs and Friends on Letterman playing Foggy Mountain Breakdown, one of the friends being Steve Martin on banjo. That’s right, comedian, author, and actor Steve Martin can pick the hell out of a banjo too. There’s time for a solo from nearly 10 different players, and they’re all awesome, even Paul on piano. I forget sometimes that Paul can actually play, since I usually find his banter with Letterman annoying and his compositions often cliché. This performance reminded me in a way of John Coltrane’s Ascension, where each new solo and return blows my mind. It just keeps rising, but this being an old timey folk tune and not bogged down in 60-70’s rhetoric, it doesn’t get lost or become a cacophony.
Here’s a good post-ending video of Doc playing Sixteen Tons and Shady Grove in 2006, Sixteen Tons a good example of where country can mix blues that pleases the ear and then still speak out about socio-economic problems (and then Shady Grove is just a good dark Appalachian tune).