The Guitar Genius of Doc Watson
Although not a blues guitar player in the strictest sense, Doc Watson's finger picking technique calls for special attention. The relaxed sounds of Deep River Blues and the intricacy of Doc's finger style creates a formidable item of guitar playing which is tough to re-produce. It is this complex, easy feel which possibly leads to a lot of teachers to over simplify the Doc's method, or worse, make it too complex utilizing two or several fingers of the picking hand. In actual fact, Doc picks with simply his thumb and one finger of his right hand to create this impressive feeling - let's take a look at how he does it.
I hope you like the guitar lesson! There are a couple of wonderful videos on Youtube of Doc Watson performing Deep River Blues. Never mind the fact that Doc didn't write Deep River ( it was published and sung by the Delmore Brothers, a Country singing partnership, who recorded it as 'I've Got The Big River') Doc undoubtedly made it his own.
Doc's Right Picking Method
Re-working the song in a Travis picking way introduced delicate
complexities, and yet produced a really relaxed feel. Many acoustic
guitarists have a variation of Deep in their list of songs, and though I
provide acoustic blues guitar lessons, even now I perform this song routinely in public.
However, not many of us perform it in really the same way as Doc. Mostly, this is due the dexterity required. A lot of guitarists try to accomodate the complex picking technique ( as they see it ) by using two or more fingerson the right hand. The resulting sound can be impressive, but doesn't really reflect accurately what Doc does.
Other individuals over-simplify the approach, which is a bit of a shame. In reality, Doc's approach on Deep River IS simple, but it's the sheer dexterity that floors us.
One Picking Finger Or More?
Doc simply plays with one finger on his right hand. As you can imagine, this one finger (his first) moves fairly quickly and the thumb also moves across to assist with the syncopation now and again. The use of just one finger was the primary factor which struck me concerning Doc's picking technique.
It reminded me of the ragtime blues guitar of Reverend Gary Davis,
who additionally used one right hand finger. 'One is all you need', he
is noted to have said! Like Watson, the Reverend's picking hand thumb
may leap across to the treble strings. Each guitarist's thumb and
finger acted quite independently, with the thumb often breaking out of
the set alternating bass form to create single string runs or
The embedded online video beneath features a complete 15 minute lesson for Deep River. It was initially posted in two parts. The first portion examines the one finger process and the basic picking structure, leading on to approaches that we might use to approximate Doc's sound, in case we can't manage to play exactly as he does! (This in all probability means most of us!) The 2nd part will take a glimpse into the 'fiddly bits'. This is where Doc's thumb produces some fascinating sounds by moving out of it's bass pattern. We look at a break and also end-tag variations.