Valerie June & Bill Frisell pay tribute to Doc Watson, listen to “Handsome Molly”

Article Contributed by Shore Fire Media | Published on Friday, April 21, 2023

Valerie June and Bill Frisell have joined forces on a fresh interpretation of Doc Watson’s “Handsome Molly” featured on new tribute album I Am A Pilgrim: Doc Watson at 100 out next Friday, April 28. Valerie June is a renowned singer-songwriter with a distinct and rich voice whose soulful vocals and captivating stage presence have earned her critical acclaim, while Grammy-winning artist Bill Frisell’s innovative guitar playing has made him a legend in the music world. The collaboration showcases their fresh spin on the beloved Doc Watson recording originally released by Watson in 1961.

Listen to “Handsome Molly” featuring Valerie June and Bill Frisell here:

“Handsome Molly” is a traditional Appalachian folk tune that dates back to the early 20th century. It tells the story of a woman named Molly with lyrics that portray themes of unrequited love and longing. Watson often performed "Handsome Molly,” showcasing his mastery of flatpicking guitar. Doc Watson's renditions of "Handsome Molly" were known for their authenticity and heartfelt delivery, resonating with audiences who appreciated his ability to capture the essence of traditional folk music while adding his own unique touch.

“Doc Watson added an effervescence and spark to American music,” says Valerie June. “I’m so grateful that his music brought me together with one of my guitar idols, Bill Frisell. By covering “Handsome Molly”, we are welcoming the world to enjoy the wonder and imagination that sends a simple folk song soaring through starry skies.”

“Doc Watson. The one and only. What an honor and privilege to have been invited to take part of this beautiful project,” says Bill Frisell. "So thankful to meet Valerie June for the first time. What a joy this was. We just played. No effort. No fear. Nothing to figure out. Thanks so much to Matt Stevens for giving us this opportunity. He and Jeremy Loucas created a space and welcomed us into it. A place where we could be ourselves. Magic happens. I feel so Lucky.”

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. In addition to Valerie June and Bill Frisell, it features Dolly Parton, Rosanne Cash, John Leventhal, Jeff Parker, Matthew Stevens, Nora Brown, Jerry Douglas, Chris Eldridge, Steve Earle, Corey Harris, Jack Lawrence, Lionel Loueke, Ariel Posen, Marc Ribot and Yasmin Williams. It was executive produced by Mitch Greenhill, Matthew Greenhill and Peer Steinwald.

Previously shared songs from the album include Jeff Parker and Matthew Stevens' take on "Alberta," Rosanne Cash and John Leventhal’s “I Am A Pilgrim,” and Dolly Parton’s version of “The Last Thing On My Mind,” a song that Parton recorded in 1967 and performed by Parton and Watson at Merlefest together in 2001. The music has been covered by NPR’s Fresh Air, Rolling Stone, Stereogum, Garden & Gun and more.

I Am A Pilgrim highlights Watson’s talent and charisma and features contributions from 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.” 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.

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.