Completing the Circle
This has been an unusual year for deaths in the music world as
many artists from numerous genres passed on in 2012.
For this area, the top of that list includes North Carolina natives and legends Doc Watson and Earl Scruggs.
Last week, the folks at the MerleFest released an initial list of musicians who will perform at the festival in Wilkesboro April 25 to 28, 2013. With Doc Watson having been host and mentor of the annual get-together, the first MerleFest since his death six months ago will prove to be as emotional as it will be musically rewarding.
One of the headline acts scheduled to perform on Saturday night at MerleFest 2013 will be the legendary Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. The Dirt Band played a big part in Watson’s career when its members talked him into performing on their ground-breaking1972 all-star album, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”
In an exclusive Mountain Times interview with Dirt Band member Jimmie Fadden, conducted after the MerleFest lineup was announced, the group’s original harmonica player, drummer and vocalist had Watson and Scruggs on his mind.
“I think those two men did an awful lot with their lives,” Fadden said about Watson and Scruggs. “When you look around, there are people that aren’t contributing like people who are creative and have a creative spirit. I always tell them that this is a gift, and you need to go out and give it away. It’s not for you, it’s for you to do and to give to someone else. You have to complete the circle with music. You have to complete the circle with your art, and those guys did it in a huge way. They were two of the most influential country musicians ever.”
For California-based artists like Fadden and the Dirt Band, Watson touched their hearts with his musical gravitas and North Carolina spirit, especially after they met him in person back in the day.
“Doc was a man that, I believe, his music was pure and simple and definable, that style of white rural blues that is so hard to find in music,” Fadden said. “It got lost. There was a time where Depression-era white musicians understood these feelings, and they expressed them musically. And then it got lost as we got successful and people moved on. But Doc always played that music. And, as a flat picker, I don’t know that there was anybody that came close to him. His style, like Earl Scruggs, will always be the bottom line. It is the standard.
“I was so sad to see Doc’s son, Merle (die). Merle and I got along great. We used to have a lot of fun together when we played gigs. We were kind of the bad boys in the bunch. But with Doc, it was the clarity of arrangement and information, musically, that he delivered.”
Fadden recalled his last moments with Watson, which happened several years ago in North Wilkesboro.
“I thought Doc was so overwhelmingly genuine and uncomplicated, untouched by the status that people would have him live with,” Fadden said. “His celebrity, I really don’t believe, interfered with his life. I think that he was a good Christian man that lived his values, and he played his music, and people loved it.
“I last saw Doc at the last MerleFest we played, and that was quite some time ago. We probably talked about what a wonderful opportunity the festival provided for us to get together. We’re always on the move, and it was a chance for us to share some stories about what we’ve been doing and to just check in with one another, to pull up a chair.”
For fans of Watson, his death was a milestone in the history of American music. For musicians like Fadden, who were lucky enough to play and record with him – and, in Fadden’s case, to make history with him on the “Circle” album – Watson’s death reminds them of why they play music in the first place.
“Music is medicine for us,” Fadden said. “It is what we play when we need to feel that feeling that only music can feed, whether you want to get your heart fixed because it is broken or you want to get wound up because you’re ready to rock. That is what it is all about. You have a certain time in your life and certain opportunity to share what you get to do.
“It is kind of like having a musical driver’s license. You need to get in the car, and you need to get out on the road so people can see it, people can hear it and have a piece of it and have a taste of it. If it makes people feel good, then you did your job. We only have a certain amount of time to do this, and some get a little more than others. Life has a guaranteed exit clause, and we have to be mindful of that every day.”