Friday, April 19, 2024

Doc Watson at Soap Creek Saloon 1984

Growing up in Honolulu- at least a six-hour-flight from anywhere- limited the array of music I heard as a teenager and young adult. We’d get the big acts on the way to Japan- Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart and Faces, Beach Boys, Lynyrd Skynyrd – and the Bay Area funksters like Lydia Pense and Cold Blood and Tower of Power were regulars. But most of the acoustic music was in the Cat Stevens/ Eagles/ Jackson Browne vein.

Very soon after I moved to Austin in April 1984, I got dragged to see Doc Watson at the Soap Creek Saloon (third and final location on S. Congress Ave.) and it completely opened a new world of music to me. Sitting 10 feet from the master, I was amazed at his flat-picking, but it was Doc’s singing that really put it over the top. The music flowed from this blind man’s soul like he was a hillbilly Solomon Burke. I told Rollo, who bought our tickets, that it was the first time I’d been to a concert that made me proud to be a white man. When Doc sang an a capella  “Down In the Valley To Pray” my mind had an orgasm. No country boy could sing the spiritual blues like Doc Watson.

So this is what you can do with simple music?

I’d never before been transported to such a special place by the talent of a man with an acoustic guitar. After that concert, I went on a tear of mountain music appreciation, discovering the Louvin Brothers, Bill Monroe, Dock Boggs and many more in quick succession. That intimate Doc Watson show, which found a part of me I didn’t know I had, was one of my top five of all time. And I barely knew who he was at the time.

I just found out, at the speed of Facebook, that Doc Watson, a true American folk hero, is in critical condition after falling at home. He’s 89 and may not make it through the weekend. Our prayers and memories may not be enough.

Levon Helm, Duck Dunn, Donna Summer, Chuck Brown, Adam Yauch, Tony Offender, Robin Gibb- we of a certain age and station are losing musicians who made a huge impact on our lives. Which makes us fear our own mortality. (And wonder what death was like before social media.) But the fact of inevitable death is favorably scented in these great artists by the work which will live on forever. They inspire us to also make a mark.

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