Magazine article Acoustic Guitar

Black Mountain Rag

Magazine article Acoustic Guitar

Black Mountain Rag

Article excerpt

In the early 1960s, during the American folk revival, the blind North Carolinian guitarist Doc Watson stunned audiences with his virtuosic flatpicking, which was virtually without precedent. Watson did much to elevate the status of the steel-string acoustic guitar from a secondary instrument to a rapid-fire soloing voice. But before he rose to prominence, Watson in fact used a solidbody electric guitar. In the 1950s, he played rockabilly and Western swing tunes on his Gibson Les Paul, and out of necessity-he often performed at country dances without the expected fiddler-he taught himself fiddle tunes on that axe.

Master flatpicker, songwriter, and producer Bob Minner suspects that the time Watson spent on the Les Paul is what allowed him to develop his prodigious command of the acoustic guitar. "I have no way to prove this, but I believe that Doc developed certain attributes on the electric, like speed and dexterity, that he transferred easily to the acoustic guitar to become the Doc we all know and love," he says.

Watson's 1963 recording of "Black Mountain Rag" (from The Vanguard Years) is a prime example of the guitarist's exciting treatment of a traditional fiddle tune. For this particular version, a duet with guitarist John Herald, Watson plays the piece in the key of C major, with a capo at the second fret causing it to sound in D. While Herald, whose part is not shown here in notation (save for the lick in the first two bars), lays down a chugging rhythmic accompaniment, Watson plays singing leads. …

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