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Doc Watson - Doc Watson Sings Songs for Little Pickers

Flatpickin' Genius Makes Classic Kids' Music Album

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Doc Watson - Doc Watson Sings Songs for Little Pickers

Doc Watson - Doc Watson Sings Songs for Little Pickers

Courtesy Sugar Hill
Doc Watson stood shoulders above most of his guitar playing peers, widely regarded as one of the greatest flatpickers of all time. His extensive discography includes this gem, recorded live over two dates, one at a 1990 gig in Atlanta, and another at the Newport Folk Festival in 1988. The result was Doc Watson Sings Songs for Little Pickers, a collection of songs Watson remembered learning as a child, and, luckily for us listeners, performed for an appreciative crowd.

The Artist

Arthel Lane "Doc" Watson was born in Deep Gap, North Carolina on March 3, 1923. Watson was stricken with an eye infection early in his life, causing him to lose his vision before he was a year old. Despite his impairment, Watson taught himself to play acoustic and electric guitar, performing with the Jack Williams' band from Johnson City, Tennessee. Watson later decided to perform exclusively on acoustic guitar and banjo, setting a standard for flatpicking that still stands today. Some of his classic album releases include his 1964 self-titled debut on the Vanguard label; 1966's Southbound, also on Vanguard' The Doc Watson Family, released on Smithsonian Folkways in 1990; and the 1961 compilation album Old Time Music at Clarence Ashley's. Doc Watson died at the age of 89 May 29, 2012.

The Music of 'Doc Watson Sings Songs for Little Pickers'

On Doc Watson Sings Songs for Little Pickers, Doc is accompanied on acoustic guitar by Jack Lawrence, while Doc himself plays guitar, banjo, jaw harp, and harmonica, while singing these old tunes in his comfortable, well-worn vocal style. The album kicks off with "Talkin' Guitar" (aka "Muskrat"), and Watson immediately creates a rapport with the crowd by asking them "Whadda ya think?" in reference to his picking. He follows with "Mole in the Ground," a tune that has a great many and varied verses, recently covered by The Boogers in a punk rock style on their kids' music album Let's Go!.

"Mama Blues" features Watson's impressive harmonica skills, manipulating the harmonica into saying "maaa maaaa." Then comes a folk music standard, "Froggie Went A-Courtin'," embellished here by Martin's character voices and sound effects. Then follows "Shady Grove," one of the prettiest mountain songs you'll ever hear. Many, many stanzas exist for this old tune, and many, many artists have covered it, as well, including The Everly Brothers, Jerry Garcia and David Grisman, Clarence Ashley, and Ricky Skaggs. Most of us remember "The Riddle Song" as "I Gave My Love a Cherry," but it's a classic nonetheless, performed by Watson in a quiet, contemplative style.

More Music from 'Doc Watson Sings Songs for Little Pickers'

The quick-tongued "King Kong Kitchee Kitchee Ki-Mi-O" is a silly, fun song most famously performed by Chubby Parker on the Anthology of American Folk Music, and recently covered by Laura Viers on her album Tumble Bee. Watson tells the story of "John Henry" before breaking into this familiar tall tale tune. The brief "Sally Goodin'" features Watson's skills on the jaw harp, while "The Crawdad Song," sometimes better known by its first line "You get a line and I'll get a pole, Honey," might remind you of "Froggie Went A-Courtin'."

The cumulative song "And the Green Grass Grew All Around" was given lyrics by William Jerome and music by Harry Von Tilzer, and first published in 1912. This famous tune was covered by folk and bluegrass musician Phil Rosenthal on his 1995 album The Green Grass Grew All Around. The lively "Liza Jane" features the harmonica work of Doc Watson, while the album ends with a great version of Jimmy Driftwood's "Tennessee Stud," the same guy who wrote "The Battle of New Orleans," a Number 1 hit on the Billboard Top 40 for Johnny Horton in 1959.

The Verdict

Parents looking to introduce their little listeners to traditional tunes, bluegrass, folk music, or the sounds of great acoustic guitar playing can fill all those needs with Doc Watson's Songs for Little Pickers. This live album is fun, thrilling, and comfortably down-home. An all around winner.

Released 1990; Sugar Hill

Track Listing

  1. "Talkin' Guitar"
  2. "Mole in the Ground"
  3. "Mama Blues"
  4. "Froggie Went A-Courtin'"
  5. "Shady Grove"
  6. "Riddle Song"
  7. "Sing Song Kitty"
  8. "John Henry"
  9. "Sally Goodin'"
  10. "Crawdad Song"
  11. "And the Green Grass Grew All Around"
  12. "Liza Jane"
  13. "Tennessee Stud" (Jimmie Driftwood)
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