Musicians Doc Watson and Sam Bush play area stages

January 08, 2004|by KATE COLEMAN

Fingers and strings will be flying Friday, Jan. 9, at the Weinberg Center for the Arts in Frederick, Md.

Doc Watson and Sam Bush will perform at 7:30 p.m.

Watson, born Arthel L. Watson in 1923 in Deep Gap, N.C., has become an icon. President Jimmy Carter called him a "national treasure," and President Bill Clinton awarded him the National Medal of the Arts in 1997.

Watson's mother sang traditional songs; his father played the banjo, and it was the son's first instrument, as well. Watson picked up the guitar and delighted his father by teaching himself the chords to "When the Roses Bloom in Dixieland." His father bought him his first guitar - a $12 Stella - when he was 13.

The young player learned some chords from a fellow student at Raleigh School for the Blind and listened to records and radio, combining the music he heard with the music he knew - the music of his traditional Appalachian roots.


Watson didn't play for money until he was 30, performing with a rockabilly swing band for seven years. He continued to play traditional music with his family and neighbor Clarence "Tom" Ashley. When producers came to record Ashley's music in 1960 during the folk revival, they heard Watson and recorded his sound, too.

In 1961, Watson was invited by the Friends of Old-Time Music to perform in New York City. His first solo performance in Greenwich Village a year later kicked off his full-time professional career.

Watson played and traveled with his son Merle, a virtuoso slide guitarist, from 1964 until Merle Watson's death in a tractor accident in 1985.

Doc Watson stopped performing for a while, but he eventually ventured from his Blue Ridge home to again share his warm voice and legendary picking.

The 80-year-old artist played Wednesday, Jan. 7, at The Birchmere in Alexandria, Va., and is scheduled to perform there tonight, sharing the stage with Sam Bush.

Bush is credited as the founder of New Grass Revival. The band, which included banjo master Bela Fleck, featured traditional bluegrass instruments playing a fusion of gospel, rock, pop, reggae, jazz, country and bluegrass.

Bush was 19 when New Grass Revival came together in 1971. He had his recording debut at 17, after holding the title of National Junior Fiddle Champion for three years.

Bush, who plays mandolin, guitar and fiddle, has recorded plenty of bluegrass standards. He also has left his mark on songs not usually heard in the genre - Kool and the Gang's "Celebrate" and Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put a Spell On You."

He's performed and recorded with a range of artists including Steve Earle, Garth Brooks, Lyle Lovett, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt - even Ringo Starr.

And he'll perform with Doc Watson on Friday in Frederick.

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