DOC AND MERLE WATSON
BEAR’S SONIC JOURNALS
NEVER THE SAME WAY ONCE,
LIVE AT THE BOARDING HOUSE, MAY 1974
Owsley Stanley Foundation
In 1974, Doc Watson, along with his exceptionally gifted son Merle and bass accompanist T. Michael Coleman, stood at the absolutely zenith of their music powers. Honed into a frightfully tight ensemble by thousands of gigs and who knows how many road miles together, their virtuoso skills, engaging stage presence, and command of their music showed audiences around the world the joyous sound that first emerged when young Doc left his home in North Carolina to play professionally.
Of their innumerable gigs, including multiple sets at major festivals like Winfield, a rare five-night stand at a venue in San Francisco stands out. Recorded live at The Boarding House, the same venue that gave us Old & In The Way, this seven-CD set of Doc, Merle, and T. Michael is an utter gem filled with quick wit, even quicker flatpicking guitar licks, fingerstyle, slide folk melodies and that special music magic these three created.
Special note must be made here of how this project was recorded. West Coast legend Owsley Stanley, an audio engineering genius who built the legendary “Wall Of Sound” PA system for the Grateful Dead, set up state-of-the-art mics and recording gear to capture this historic performance. As a result, there’s never been a live Doc album that has so perfectly captured every tone, every nuance from Doc’s fingers and Merle’s slide, and every sly bend or warm chuckle as Doc reacts to his partners. Imagine sitting in a perfectly intimate room, three rows back, dead center, and you get an idea of how glorious this set sounds. But what truly makes this release so special and thrilling is the music it captured.
Multiple takes of “Tennessee Stud,” “Black Mountain Rag,” and more give Doc-lovers plenty of room to compare versions from night to night (including Doc’s frequent and hilarious ad-libs). Owsley took great pains to capture the ambiance of the room and the warm spirit of the audience, and it’s a joy to hear Doc and band interact directly with such an intimate audience. Whether you fell for Doc’s music when he first hit the scene or grew to love him later, Never The Same Way Onceis an essential musical document and one of the great recording accomplishments in bluegrass music history. (www.owsleystanleyfoundation.com)DJM