David Royko Psy.D
Live at Club 47
Guitarist (multi-instrumentalist, actually) and singer Doc Watson was prolific. Even though he got a late start at bringing his down-home virtuosity to the world – he was past 40 when his first solo record came out in 1964 -- once he started, the albums poured out of him. By the time Watson died in 2012 at 89, his legacy included over fifty records and decades of being as big an influence on countless acoustic music devotees intoxicated by his fluid virtuosity with a flatpick as anyone in history.
So, at this point, any “new” Doc Watson album begs the question: Is this just more of what we already have (not that there’s anything wrong with that if it’s top-flight Doc)?
But this is different, and in fact, it’s hard to understand why it is only coming to light exactly 55 years after it was taped. Live at Club 47 now becomes the earliest solo recording of Watson, recorded live in Cambridge at a club (it’s still there, these days called Club Passim) on February 10, 1963, three weeks before turning 40. Doc was already known a bit through his recordings with The Watson Family and participation on the album, Old Time Music at Clarence Ashley’s. If timing is everything, this was perfection. The folk music boom was in full swing, and it was ready to welcome him with very open arms later in 1963 at the Newport Folk Festival, where he became a bona fide star.
Doc never transformed into what you might call “polished,” but he did become a more seasoned performer as the years went by, and it is a joy to hear him on the cusp, his stage patter full of the warmth and humor fans would soon come to love, but a touch less assured and self-aware. The repertoire is already characteristically wide-ranging (for a “folky”), and his voice and chops are fully formed, ready to captivate crowds for nearly a half-century to come.
The sound of this live set is clear as a bell, the audience frenzied in their explosions after each tune, and the sense of being present at the coming of an acoustic music giant is palpable, and riveting.
Yes, you might already have some Doc in your collection, maybe plenty, but this is essential for any fan, and for anyone else who wants to get a taste of why Doc Watson is justifiably called “legendary.”