The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #146252   Message #3385729
Posted By: Will Fly
03-Aug-12 - 03:56 PM
Thread Name: Ralph Rinzler, Doc Watson & authenticity
Subject: Ralph Rinzler, Doc Watson & authenticity
I've just been reading the study of Doc Watson by Kent Gustavson. An interesting, if slightly muddy book. I knew quite a bit about Doc before I read it, but I was hazy on the years when Doc got started to play out and became a figure on the national scene. I also had never heard of Ralph Rinzler and his influence on Doc's career.

What was interesting to me was the pressure that Rinzler exerted on Doc to be 'authentic' and to appeal, both in performance and on record, to the folk music community in America - a community as personified, for example, by the people who congregated in Washington Square and Greenwich Village in the late '50s/early '60s. It's quite clear, from the correspondence between Doc and Rinzler, that the persona that Doc was to adopt was the innocent Appalachian songster who learned all his material from his father's knee and his local community - no mention of the fact that Doc had actually played electric guitar in rockabilly and other bands before Rinzler got to him. No mention of the fact that Doc learned much of his material from the radio and from records. All was to be down-home, homespun, natural, traditional and authentic...

Doc toured and toured for many years under this yoke - barely making a living - until he finally broke free from it and performed just exactly what he wanted to perform. If he'd stuck to his electric style, he might perhaps have been up there in Nashville with the likes of Chet Atkins, much better off financially and with less pressure on him.

The constant wrangling of British 'folkies' about what and what isn't authentic or traditional in our folk music has always amused me. I've always considered the American scene to be much more relaxed and laid back about their musical tradition - more open-armed, if you like. When I first heard Doc's recordings - sometime around 1966 or so - I read the sleeve notes and also assumed, "Ah - he's an authentic American folk singer..." So I find it ironic that Doc, in one sense, was a far more complex musical personality than I had been led to believe - by the likes of Ralph Rinzler.

Let me be clear - Doc Watson is, to me, the Real Deal - a giant of music and a hero of mine never to be tarnished. I don't give a rat's ass where he got his music from - it was and is all utterly superb. What I do find ironic is the seeming fact that, in a way, he was just as 'packaged' as anyone else.

Any 'Catters knew Ralph Rinzler? His name is new to me. He was obviously very influential in his day - but I wonder whether, in the end, he did Doc any favours...