Doc Watson R.I.P & The Sunglasses of Freedom

This is a blog about Buddhism, but sometimes I drift off course to some of my other interests, like music. I love music. My musical tastes run the gambit from Al Jolson to the Clash. Although, I have to say that I’m not too crazy about classical or jazz music. That’s because they are instrumental, and I’m mainly into singers. I’d rather hear Louis Armstrong scat “Dinah” or Cyndi Lauper belt out “Shine” than listen to Rossini’s “Sinfonia Di Bologna” or “Watermelon Man” by Herbie Hancock.

One guy whose voice I admired greatly was Doc Watson. Doc passed away on Tuesday in a North Carolina hospital at age 89. He’d been in critical condition since having colon surgery on Thursday.

He was a powerful singer, blessed with a rich baritone voice. Being a guitar picker myself, his instrumental chops were not lost on me. It was his flatpicking style that really made him a legend in American music, and influenced several generations of guitar players. Doc went blind before his first birthday. He always said that’s what caused him to turn to music. He never set out to make it big, he just wanted to be a good picker. He started playing for money in the 1940’s but it wasn’t until his performance at the 1963 Newport Folk Festival that he got any wide-spread attention.

I had the pleasure of seeing Doc Watson way back when he and his late son, Merle, were a team. It was a pure delight.  I regret that I did not avail myself of the opportunity to see him play more often.

You can read Doc’s obituary here at the LA Times, and if you’ve three minutes and 25 seconds to spare, you can watch Doc do Jimmie Rodger’s “Peach Pickin’ Time in Georgia,” a song that showcases both his voice and guitar playing.

Now, Bob Dylan was crowned the “King” of Folk Music at Newport in 1963. Today at the White House, he was given the American equivalent of knighthood when he was awarded the Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama. I’m willing to bet that Bob is to the only person in the history of the medal to receive it wearing sunglasses.

Although, he is no stranger to receiving awards, I think Bob is a bit nervous at these kind of events. He probably wore the sunglasses so he wouldn’t have to make eye contact with anyone. During the ceremony, he fidgeted in his chair a lot and messed with his hair. Then when his name was called to get the award, well, you can see how he reacted in this short clip:

Doc Watson photo by Joe Giordano


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