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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: 34 minutes of Doc Watson/ now with tabs

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banjered - Posted - 07/13/2012:  22:04:58  1976 with host A.L. Lloyd. Quite a bit of banjo featured. Miss you Doc. Banjered

Edited by - banjered on 07/20/2012 19:43:27

Emiel - Posted - 07/14/2012:  00:48:26

Wonderful. Watched it all. Thanks-

dmiller - Posted - 07/14/2012:  01:21:24

He was - - (hands down) one of the best ever!

Thanks for posting that.  What a treat!  smiley

janolov - Posted - 07/14/2012:  02:15:34

That was one of the best OT videos I ever have seen. And the best of Doc.

pernicketylad - Posted - 07/14/2012:  06:10:13

Great. I've seen snippets of that on a few different documentaries but it's great to see the whole thing. A.L. Lloyd was an interesting man too. We have alot to thank the bbc for.

It's amazing how much drive Doc gets in that performance of Shady Grove given that he doesn't drop the thumb. What a player.

brokenstrings - Posted - 07/14/2012:  06:27:43

What a great idea!

RG - Posted - 07/14/2012:  11:19:52

Thanks for posting that! 

oldfart - Posted - 07/15/2012:  08:13:24

That was great!!..........thanks

dbrooks - Posted - 07/19/2012:  16:56:20

This video offers such a rare opportunity to watch and listen to Doc and Merle play that I feel the need to mine it for some of its riches. I've got this notion of trying to tab the clawhammer pieces based on what is available in the video. I have finished a version of "The Cuckoo" and a PDF is attached. I always offer the caveat that this is what I hear in a tune and that changes often over time. Maybe my ear improves or gets worse -- I'm not sure. It has taken me a week or so to write this tab because of other duties at home and work. I hope to make better progress on the other tunes and will post them here. (I can't even recall the other tunes at this point, but I'll do what I can.)

Doc plays this tune in Gm (Em and D chords with capo on the 3rd fret). Merle plays in open sawmill tuning. Many play and sing this tune in Am (unless playing solo or on a fretless banjo tuned to a lower pitch) since it's more convenient for all of the musicians. Put it in a pitch that suits you.  Here are a few pointers:

  • The opening Galax lick is usually tabbed as the 4th beat of the previous measure leading into the first beat of the following measure. I have tabbed it as the first beat of the measure because I wanted the primary notes in the verse and chorus to land on the first beat. The tab is written in 4/4 time like usual, but remember to count 2 beats per measure once you get the tune in your head and under your fingers.

  • Most of the tune is accessible to beginner players, though there are some drop-thumb licks. Those who have trouble playing drop thumb can substitue a pull-off on the 2nd fret of the 2nd string to get the two notes of the drop-thumb couplet.  The drop thumbs are in the 4th and 6th measures of the verse (and also in the chorus).

  • I have a matching Midi file though most people know the tune or can watch the video. Email me through the Hangout if you need the Midi file.

  • "The Cuckoo" is played about 7:45 into the video.

I hope some folks find this helpful.  It was fun to work on.

David Brooks

Clawhammer tab eBooks for Kindle

Edited by - dbrooks on 07/19/2012 17:02:34

The Cuckoo from Merle Watson


dbrooks - Posted - 07/19/2012:  17:35:23

Well, here's a quickly rendered version of Tom Dooley based on what I hear Merle doing.  Since the same melody is used for verse and chorus, this is a short tune to tab (except for the variations Merle occasionally drops in).  Still this simple version may be helpful to some.

The key is G, and there is no drop thumb.  Only hammer-ons and pull-offs.

This weekend I'll try to take a look at Doc's version of "Shady Grove."  And someone else may want to tab their version as well.

David Brooks

Clawhammer tab eBooks for Kindle


Tom Dooley from Merle Watson


dbrooks - Posted - 07/19/2012:  18:18:35

I forgot to mention that "Tom Dooley" starts about 22:00 into the video.


RWJones1970 - Posted - 07/20/2012:  09:42:44

Thanks for this post ! 


R. Blakeslee Gilpin - Posted - 07/20/2012:  16:24:29

Many thanks for those tabs - I also REALLY enjoyed this video. It reminded me not just how much I admire Doc as an instrumentalist but as a vocalist. Direct and true - things to strive for playing for the cats and 5 month old!

dbrooks - Posted - 07/20/2012:  17:24:29

Here's some tab for "Shady Grove."  Doc plays this in the key of D minor.  I think he's using double-C tuning (gCGCD) though he has tuned up to double-D (aDADE).  In the tab, my notes indicate double-C tuning with a capo at the 2nd fret.  You can put it into the key where you're comfortable singing.

I have tabbed a brief introduction, a section for backing up the singing (used for both verse and chorus), and an instrumental where there are a few more flourishes.  I don't capture all of Doc's little touches, but who could?

There is no drop thumb here, though there is a 2nd string pull-off in the 2nd and 6th measures of the instrument break.

This tune starts at about 28:45 in the video.  I have a Midi file for the tab. Send me an email through the Hangout if you need it.

David Brooks

Clawhammer tab eBooks for Kindle


Shady Grove from Doc Watson


dbrooks - Posted - 07/20/2012:  18:10:21

It occurred to me that I probably should have said a little about how we can play C minor in double C tuning (or D minor in double D tuning).  The usual chords don't work, but you don't really need many chords in this modal style.  The usual C chord (finger on 2nd fret of first string) is modified to a minor by moving the first string note from the 2nd fret to the 1st fret.  That E note in double C tuning drops back to D#.  (In double D, the F# becomes an F to make the minor chord).

The only other chord in this tune is the Bb in  double C tuning (C in double D tuning).  And that's the chord position you see in the 2nd measure of the verse on the 3rd beat.

Sally in the Garden is the first tune I learned that was set in a minor key using this tuning.  It is an intersting variant to sawmill tuning.


banjoy - Posted - 07/20/2012:  18:12:34

Excellent. Just excellent. Many thanks for posting this.

rpmilius - Posted - 07/20/2012:  21:24:52

What a treasure. Thanks!



janolov - Posted - 07/21/2012:  00:19:26

Good work with the tabs, David!


banjo bill-e - Posted - 07/22/2012:  14:01:40

One of the greatest finds on youtube, ever! Thanks so much banjered. In my guitar days I would have been disappointed that there was not more hot guitar playing, but I was delighted with the banjo content. The way Doc and Merle played banjo is exactly what drew me into the old-time banjo world. I love that sound. There were many great moments, but Doc singing "And Am i Born to Die" at the end there, well, that was something else.

Edited by - banjo bill-e on 07/22/2012 14:02:21

RWJones1970 - Posted - 07/22/2012:  21:26:41

dbrooks...thank you for tabbing out these tunes! Will you also be tabbing out Ramblin' Hobo as played by Doc on his banjo?

dbrooks - Posted - 07/23/2012:  08:28:57

RW, I need to listen to Rambling Hobo a few more times. It didn't really sound complete or coherent to me. I'm not very familiar with the tune and that's a factor as well. I wasn't sure there would even be much interest in the tune. I'll take another look at it in a day or two.


dbrooks - Posted - 07/25/2012:  16:39:47

I have attached two PDFs with tabs for Rambling Hobo based on how Doc plays it in the video (at about the 11:00 mark).  One of these tabs uses some drop thumb and was my first effort.  Then I realized that Doc was using an open string pull (aka ASPO) of in place of the drop thumb, so I revised the tab to show that.  There have been several conversations about Doc's use or avoidance of drop thumb in his banjo playing, so I thought this was interesting.

Now a few comments and caveats.

  • This is the first tune Doc learned on the banjo, and it is rather quirky.  The version in the video has differences from the version that appears on the "Essential Doc Watson" CD where he adds comments about the hobo.  My tab is my effort at reflecting the video version.

  • The tuning is fCFCD.  Some call this Last Chance tuning, and there are similarities between the two tunes.  There are several ways to get into this tuning. I think of it as double C where the 3rd and 5th string are dropped from G to F.

  • I hear 3 parts in this tune and the tab reflects that.

  • The third part (C Part) has the up-the-neck notes. On the "Essential Doc Watson" CD, these are highly syncopated.  There is also some syncopation in the video.  To make that portion easier to learn and play, I put some notes in parentheses to indicate these can be dropped and replaced by rests.  Or they can be played to help keep the rhythm going until you are more familiar with the tune.

  • As I was working on this, I came across references to some other tabs for the tune in an earlier discussion on the Hangout.  You may want to check out that thread and the links to the tabs.  They may make more sense to you than mine do.

I hope some folks find this helpful.


David Brooks

Clawhammer tab eBooks for Kindle


Rambling Hobo - No Drop Thumb

Rambling Hobo from Doc Watson

RWJones1970 - Posted - 07/25/2012:  23:20:18

David, thanks for your wonderful efforts on tabbing out this tune....because of you I will finally learn to play it....many thanks!!!!

Edited by - RWJones1970 on 07/25/2012 23:22:17

The Mighty Ant - Posted - 07/28/2012:  15:40:48

As great as the music was, I almost got chills hearing the old folks talk about those folk songs, and the events that took place. ...because they had recieved information passed down from earlier generations of the family.

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