There have been several reaches back into the past of roots music legends in recent years, as studios and labels have come to realize the power of history. The staggered release of the old Flatt & Scruggs TV shows are a prime example of celluloid gold for both sellers and buyers. There has also been a renewed interest in well-done documentaries. Bluegrass, folk, and Americana fans can be glad that Vestapol has put Doc & Merle: An Intimate Documentary on DVD.
The 21-year performing career of Doc and Merle Watson is highlighted not by slick production values, but by vintage footage dating back over forty years full of authentic voices. Viewers get a blend of history, first-hand interviews, and some wonderful storytelling by those connected to the Watsons. But, every bit as valuable is the selection of 16 songs, as well as bonus material in the form of the TV show Homewood from 1970.
The DVD opens with comments from fans attending festivals and performances, setting the down-home flavor right off the bat. Wonderful images abound, not just of the performers on stage, but also of old photographs, informal picking sessions, Doc working a hammer and nails, Merle target shooting and working on the farm. Sadly, there are also images of him on his tractor and a scene of the pallbearers carrying him away after his untimely passing in a farm accident.
Among the song selections in the documentary are “Black Mountain Rag,” “Shady Grove,” “Wabash Cannonball,” “Freight Train Blues,” and a rockabilly version of “Step It Up And Go” with Jack Williams. Doc teams with Clint Howard and Fred Price on “Fire On The Mountain” and “Daniel Prayed,” and wife Rosa Lee steps in for “Wandering Boy.” There is plenty more to enjoy; it would be tough to fit a description of richness of all the tunes and amazing cross picking in the space of a review.
Fans of the Watsons will find this DVD to be very much like a Doc performance—the quickest 85 minutes you can spend watching and listening. It is nice to see such a work of value on the market, and it is simply a must have for any fan of Doc Watson and the style of music he brought out of western North Carolina to the rest of the world. (Vestapol Productions, P.O. Box 802, Sparta, NJ 07871, www.guitarvideos.com.)MB