A second preview of the forthcoming tribute album I Am A Pilgrim: Doc Watson at 100 has been released. The recording features Rosanne Cash and John Leventhal performing “I Am A Pilgrim,” and honors what would have been Doc Watson’s 100th birthday today. I Am A Pilgrim: Doc Watson at 100 celebrates the deep influence and legacy of the North Carolina guitarist, singer and songwriter and features new renditions of some of Watson’s most beloved recordings from his expansive catalog.
Listen to Rosanne Cash and John Leventhal’s “I Am A Pilgrim” here. Watson was known to perform “I Am A Pilgrim” during each of his concerts, a traditional American hymn traced back to the mid-1800s.
“Doc is the fountainhead of the deepest well of American music. He is timeless, original, and a continual source of inspiration for us, and for generations to come. We are honored to be a part of this tribute to him.” - Rosanne Cash and John Leventhal
I Am A Pilgrim: Doc Watson at 100 will be released April 28 on FLi Records / Budde Music and features Nora Brown, Jerry Douglas, Chris Eldridge, Steve Earle, Bill Frisell, Corey Harris, Valerie June, Jack Lawrence, Lionel Loueke, Jeff Parker, Dolly Parton, Ariel Posen, Marc Ribot, Matthew Stevens and Yasmin Williams. The album was produced by guitarist/songwriter/producer Matthew Stevens (known for his work producing and performing with esperanza spalding and Terri Lyne Carrington) over the past year and executive produced by Mitch Greenhill, Matthew Greenhill and Peer Steinwald.
The album announcement issued last month included Dolly Parton’s version of “The Last Thing On My Mind,” a song that was written by Tom Paxton, first recorded by Parton in 1967 and performed by Parton and Watson at Merlefest together in 2001. It was featured in stories by Rolling Stone, Stereogum, Spin, No Depression and more.
Arthel Lane “Doc” Watson earned 7 GRAMMY Awards and 23 nominations including the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004. He received the National Medal of Arts in 1997 from President Clinton and has been the subject of multiple books, boxed sets and compilation albums. He was born in Deep Gap, North Carolina on March 3, 1923, grew up listening to the Grand Ole Opry, Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family and learned guitar at a young age. Watson was an integral part of the early 1960s folk revival and became known as one of the greatest flatpicking guitarists of all time, a style that influenced the playing of countless guitarists. Watson, who lost his eyesight at a young age, was also considered a master of the banjo. He released nearly 30 albums spanning 50 years and collaborated with Earl Scruggs, Ricky Skaggs, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Del McCoury, Taj Mahal, Mississippi John Hurt, David Grisman and many others. His work embraced the regional music of North Carolina and he helped to change what people thought about mountain music through his repertoire of traditional and folk recordings. Watson also presided over MerleFest from its inception in 1988, founded to honor the memory of his son, Merle, as a fundraiser for Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, North Carolina. Taking place each spring since 1988, MerleFest has become one of the premiere music festivals in the country and I’m A Pilgrim will be released timed to this year’s festival.
I Am A Pilgrim is bursting with influence of Watson’s talent and charisma and includes a host of musicians - including Rock And Roll Hall of Fame Inductees, numerous GRAMMY Award winners, and several NPR Tiny Desk alumni - interpreting his work through a prismatic lens of folk, bluegrass, blues, jazz, experimental and rock music. Given Watson’s seismic impact on guitar playing, it’s no surprise that so many guitar playing styles are represented here, from the finger tapping style of Yasmin Williams (“Doc’s Guitar,” a Watson original) to the slide guitar of Ariel Posen (“Will The Circle Be Unbroken”) and the harmonics featured on Lionel Loueke’s version of “Reuben’s Train.” Valerie June and Bill Frisell join forces for a haunting version of “Handsome Molly,” originally released by Watson in 1961. Nora Brown, a teenager turning heads with her take on old time music, contributes a moving rendition of the hymn “Am I Born To Die.” The album concludes with “Your Lone Journey,” a song that Watson penned while mourning his son, and lovingly interpreted here by Bill Frisell.
Producer and album performer Matthew Stevens is an accomplished guitarist, composer and recent GRAMMY Award winner. Stevens has released six solo albums that have been praised by Pitchfork, Stereogum, MOJO, The Fader and beyond, and is an Associate Professor at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Executive producer Mitch Greenhill penned the album’s liner notes and is President of Folklore Productions/FLi Artists. Greenhill had a close relationship with Watson, having worked with him for decades. Greenhill is known for his book Raised By Musical Mavericks, written about the lessons he learned from meeting a number of towering figures of folk and blues music at a young age through the work of his father, Manny Greenhill, who founded Folklore Productions in 1957.