Doc Watson sings ‘Pretty Saro’

The great American guitarist Doc Watson died earlier this year, leaving behind a musical legacy spanning half a century. He is credited with single-handedly inventing the ‘flat picking’ style of guitar playing that has become so influential in American folk and bluegrass music. Here, however, he sings the old traditional song ‘Pretty Saro’ unaccompanied in the classic Appalachian style.

Note: embedding has been disabled in this YouTube video but please click on this link to hear Doc sing this classic song.

Pretty Saro is probably originally an English folk ballad dating back to the 1700s, but it had died out in England by the mid-eighteenth century. However, it was kept alive by oral tradition in the Appalachian mountains where it was discovered by musicologists in the early twentieth century. It exists in many versions and there is a fascinating discussion of them at Mudcat Café here.

As for Doc Watson, you can find videos of him singing and playing guitar in his inimitable style all over the Internet; he was one of the best-loved figures in modern American folk music. I would particularly like to recommend his live recording with Jean Ritchie ‘Live at Folk City’ (1963), a superb collection of mainly traditional songs by two great performers. I don’t think he has an official website, but the Guardian obituary does a good job of telling his story.

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2 thoughts on “Doc Watson sings ‘Pretty Saro’

  1. Thanks for this post. I wound up following the UTubes and saw your 2010 interview with Doc as well. It was a pleasure of course. Doc Watson has long been my favorite and we remember him fondly. And we do our best to carry on the tradition of singing and picking the old songs as well as we can.

  2. Pingback: Matty Groves | Faith, Folk and Charity

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