Music

Hear Rare Recordings from Doc Watson

See previously unreleased archival photos, and listen to an exclusive preview of a new Smithsonian Folkways album that puts fans in the audience at one of the bluegrass pioneer’s early concerts

photo: Eugene Earle

Doc Watson (left) and his father-in-law, Gaither Carlton, performing on the porch in 1960.

The late Doc Watson was one of American traditional music’s most influential torchbearers. Blind from a young age, the North Carolina native won seven Grammy awards (including a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004), mentored up-and-coming pickers, and established the beloved MerleFest in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, in 1988 in honor of his late son, guitarist Eddie “Merle” Watson. But Doc Watson & Gaither Carlton, a new release from Smithsonian Folkways, predates all of that: The album, recorded over two concerts in New York City in 1962, finds a young Watson and his father-in-law, Gaither Carlton, playing their first-ever headlining gigs outside the South. 

photo: Eugene Earle
Doc Watson, Gaither Carlton, and Merle Watson circa 1960.

“This is the family music that Doc and Gaither had been playing together for years in the tiny community of Deep Gap in Western North Carolina,” explains album producer Peter Siegel, who recorded the concerts himself as a green 18-year-old sound engineer. “It’s traditional Southern mountain music played by two master musicians…the soul of old-time music.”

photo: Eugene Earle
From left: Clarence Ashley, Gaither Carlton, Doc Watson, and his wife, Rosa Lee Watson.

Clocking in at fifteen songs, the album will delight fans of traditional music not only for its unique glimpse at an icon in the early stages of his career, but also for the warmth you can hear in the crowd—many of whom may have had little previous exposure to this kind of music. “When young city folk music fans heard Doc and Gaither, they were astonished by the virtuosity and emotional depth of the music,” recalls Siegel. “Doc himself was amazed as he began to realize that audiences across the country could appreciate and even love his family’s musical heritage.”

photo: Eugene Earle
Doc’s brother Arnold Watson (center) joins them on the porch.

Below, listen to an exclusive preview of the album with three songs: the folk standard “Corrina,” featuring Watson on banjo; “Double File,” a trademark fiddle number for Carlton; and the traditional tune “Groundhog (Blind Lemon Version).”

Doc Watson & Gaither Carlton is available for preorder now and will be released on May 29. 

Smithsonian Folkways · Doc Watson and Gaither Carlton [sampler]