In May of 1989, Doc Watson was 66 years old. He was known around the world, and had already cemented his legacy, but was nowhere near the end of his achievements. With four Grammy awards under his belt, he had four more to go. He had yet to be inducted into the International Bluegrass Hall Of Honor, and was probably not anticipating that the National Medal Of Arts would be awarded to him in the coming decade. One of his great contributions to the music world had begun just the year before: the event which was born out of the tragedy of losing his son, MerleFest.
It was a time when more people were awaking to and actively participating in the culture that Doc Watson knew in his youth. Although he had been at the forefront of the folk music boom in the early 1960s, which was itself an exercise in national self-rediscovery, that music was largely ignored by the Baby Boomer generation. By the time the late 1980s rolled around, there was still a core of roots music adherents, but their numbers likely had been waning since The Beatles arrived.
Enter Taylor Barnhill and Sheila Kay Adams, then his wife. Taylor, an architect, and Sheila, an old-time performer and lover of mountain tales, took on a project to preserve and reinvigorate oral traditions of the Southern Appalachians: a live radio show they called Over Home. They had no experience being on the radio or with producing live events, outside of Sheila’s budding music career. But they had more than enough heart to make up for it, and a willing partner in a soon-to-be public radio station with a signal covering parts of six states, WNCW.
On September 28, 2020, we aired a portion of a one-of-a-kind performance from Doc Watson. However, during this episode of Southern Songs and Stories, you will be able to hear the full performance by Doc. You will also hear commentary from host and producer Joe Kendrick and his interview with Over Home producer Taylor Barnhill.
You probably know that Arthel “Doc” Watson often told stories in between songs at his performances, but during this show, he opens up even more than usual. He shares tales from his own family’s history, including stories that will make you laugh and one especially that is pretty chilling. These are stories that give you a glimpse into the world that Doc was born into almost a century ago, a world that was then not so different from the time a century before it when many of these tales took place. And maybe best of all, they are stories which give us a bit more understanding of Doc himself.