This important release documents the rediscovery of banjoist and comedian Clarence (Tom) Ashley in the early '60s, and the simultaneous introduction of a young and then-unknown guitar picker, the astounding Doc Watson. Ashley was one of the many musicians of the '20s and '30s whose early work appeared briefly on Harry Smith's 1952 Anthology of American Folk Music, the legendary collection that provided inspiration for much of the subsequent folk revival; as well as fueling up-and-coming urban "folk-singers" with a wealth of material, Smith's anthology ultimately led to the rediscovery and re-recording of such musicians as Dock Boggs, Mississippi John Hurt, and Ashley, who himself initiated the discovery of his neighbor, Doc Watson. At the time of the earliest recordings in this two-disc set, Ashley was some 20 years out of practice, while Watson's only outlet for performance was as an electric guitar player in a nearby rockabilly band; Watson did not own an acoustic guitar, nor Ashley a banjo. Over the course of these initial field recordings and later concert performances, however, Watson and Ashley demonstrate remarkable familiarity with local traditions, repertoire, and styles, showcasing and continually sharpening their profound skills and aesthetic senses. They are joined on various performances by a handful of fine local musicians, including Clint Howard, Fred Price, and Gaither Carlton. For much of the '60s, this loose ensemble toured colleges and festivals, also producing material for the Folkways LPs Old Time Music at Clarence Ashley's, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. This 1994 reissue includes material from those albums along with 20 additional selections from the period and excellent notes by folklorist Ralph Rinzler. Included are the very first commercially released recordings by Doc Watson, who emerges here as a formidable soloist; also featuring some of the last recordings by veteran Clarence Ashley, the set is required listening for Watson fans and for enthusiasts of old-time music, its entertainment value as strong as its historical significance. The surprising offspring of the urban revival's intersection with a traditional musical community, Watson and Ashley's Original Folkways Recordings reveals a bottomless well of tradition and a music as fresh and exciting today as it was to the college kids and festival followers of the early '60s.
Original Folkways Recordings: 1960-1962 Review
by Burgin Mathews