May 30, 2012
Dad, late Chicago columnist Mike Royko, played acoustic guitar for fun, and was in a music club on Lincoln Avenue or maybe Old Town to hear Doc Watson, sometime in the early 1960s. Between sets, my father--who'd never met Watson before--went backstage to ask Doc (Dad’s guitar idol) for a few tips, which my father said Doc was very happy to provide. Then to my father's complete surprise and embarrassment, during the next set Doc asked my father ("...a special guest, my friend Mike") to come up on stage and pick a tune with him. When my father told me the story, he couldn't remember what tune it was, but that he just "slunked up on to the stage" and accompanied Doc for the tune and quickly “got the hell off” and back to his little table.
What is by far the most remarkable thing to me about all of this is that, in the mid-1990s, at the International Bluegrass Music Association’s convention in Owensboro, Kentucky, I talked with Doc for a few minutes back stage (the only time I've spoken with him), and in passing mentioned the story about my father. Now, I'd only introduced myself to him with my first name, and the "picking" with my father took place in the first half of the '60s, before my father’s newspaper column meant anything beyond the Chicago city limits. After telling him the story, and not mentioning any names, without missing a beat, Doc said he remembered the incident, and that my father “was a friendly fella.” I knew about Doc's reputation for having an uncanny memory, but I still just chalked this up to Doc being friendly, assuming that a fan getting a few tips from him backstage was common. Then he staggered me by saying, 30 years after the fact, "I think Mike was his name, is that right?"
Farewell Doc, and say hi to Dad, that friendly fella, and maybe pick a few with him. It'll make his day. Or eon.
In memory of flatpicking legend Arthel “Doc” Watson,
March 3, 1923 – May 29, 2012