Doc Watson Hills and Home October 8, 2005
Doc Watson at Cerritos: a Happy Hills and Homecoming
By Glen Creason
The Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts was the place of delighted celebration of real country music done by the grand masters this last lucky Saturday. The show is called Hills and Home which connotes the music that hails from Appalachia near the boyhood roots of this night’s hero. This was planned as a musical stroll in those lands down yonder with the music sometimes called bluegrass but this evening went further than those green hills. Doc Watson, a genuine, bona fide, national treasure as in deserves to have his picture on our money, made a rare visit and spread some sweet down home sounds to the locals. Arthel Watson, mostly called Doc and his folksy approach plus tremendous musical gifts is one of the most beloved performers in America. A visit from the flat-picking guitar genius to our hall is an honor and a great privilege but he did not sport any laurels he did not earn on this night. Joined by the very talented, in his own right, David Holt and grandson Richard, Doc played, sang, told stories and gave lessons in American musical history that sink deeper than a Southern Red Oak.
The first half of the show was a polished mix of classic country, bluegrass and blues tunes performed with a precision and passion made to look easy by these maestros. It was practically the contents of the jukebox in bluegrass heaven with “Way Downtown,” “Shady Grove,” “Little Log Cabin in the Lane” and “Soldiers Joy” leading the way. Doc told fascinating tales of his education and played in the styles of his influences like Fiddling John Carson, the Delmore Brothers, Etta Baker and the superb Merle Watson while drawing out the notes on “Deep River Blues” and bending them on “Railroad Bill.” David Holt had his times to shine especially on the perfect “Steel Guitar Blues” and a rollicking “Whiskey Before Breakfast.” Just to show he isn’t one-dimensional Doc got out his harmonica and did a beautiful “Rain Crow Bill” with a dazzling body percussion accompaniment by David Holt.
I may be prejudiced but as the son of a telephone operator I loved Doc’s “Telephone Girl” he learned from the family victrola back in the 30’s. The second half was a daring mixture of blues and country but the most astounding four minutes was Doc Watson playing a stirring and very well received version of the Moody Blues pop hit “Nights in White Satin.” It never sounded so good. Mitch Greenhill joined the group along with Richard Watson and the concert took a bluesy turn toward “Bright Lights, Big City,” Willie Dixon’s “I’m Ready,” and “Big Boss Man” sandwiched around a sturdy “Workingman’s Blues.” Grandson Richard led the way on a lovely duet of “Summertime” that resonated through the awed hall. For a very solid two hours Doc Watson played with strength of voice and hand that defied his eighty-two years. His finish of “I Am a Pilgrim,” “Walk On,” “Trouble In Mind,” a sterling “Black Mountain Rag” and an encore of “I Can’t Be Satisfied” just offered further proof of Doc Watson’s towering genius and enduring dedication to his craft.