When banjo player Clarence Ashley teamed up with guitarist Doc Watson at the dawn of the 1960s, they could hardly have predicted what a profound and long lasting influence their music would have. Ashley, a veteran musician and songwriter who began pe… Read more
When banjo player Clarence Ashley teamed up with guitarist Doc Watson at the dawn of the 1960s, they could hardly have predicted what a profound and long lasting influence their music would have. Ashley, a veteran musician and songwriter who began performing on the medicine show circuit during the 1910s and 1920s, recorded his solo debut in 1929 when he cut "The Cuckoo Bird" and "The House Carpenter" for Columbia. Signing deals with both Columbia (as Clarence Ashley) and Victor (as Tom Ashley), he recorded for both labels until 1933, releasing a wellspring of American ballads, traditional folk and blues in the deep Appalachian style. Retiring from the music business a decade later, Ashley began a truck hauling business with his son, limiting his stage performing to working as a comedian with Charlie Monroe and the Stanley Brothers, but his early songs helped fuel the urban folk revival and inspired many string band instrumentalists when they were reissued in Folkways' "Anthology of American Folk Music" in 1952. While attending the Union Grove Old Time Fiddlers Convention in 1960, Ashley met folk musicologists Ralph Rinzler and Eugene Earle, who encouraged Ashley to record again and facilitated the sessions. It was for these sessions that Ashley recruited the significantly younger Doc Watson to accompany him on guitar. This decision would become a lasting contribution to American music as Watson would become one of the most influential flat-pickers of all time.
With Ashley as a mentor, Watson, who was primarily an electric guitarist in regional rockabilly and country dancehall bands throughout the 1950s, would soon be recognized for his rich voice and as one of the most gifted acoustic guitarists in America. Watson was a true melting pot of music, adept at old time mountain music and traditional folk music, but equally comfortable playing blues, bluegrass, jazz and popular music styles of the era. Watson would thrill record listeners and live audiences alike, with his flat-picking dexterity and a knack for engaging stage banter, a talent Ashley also possessed. This winning combination of talent and personality made the duo one of the shining lights of the folk and blues revivals of the early 1960s. Between 1960 and 1962, Ashley and Watson recorded a series of albums for Folkways (later reissued as a compilation titled The Original Folkways Recordings 1960-1962) that contained a wide variety of classic old-timey folk music and blues that remains a primary inspiration to Americana roots musicians to the present day.