Willie Watson © Artist
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Willie Watson's career has already lasted over two decades. His trademark: modern folk rooted in tradition; a folk singer in the classical sense: singer, storyteller and traveller in personal union, with a catalogue of songs that bridge the gap between past and present.
The New York-born is known for the founding of the platinum formation Old Crow Medicine Show, which has been co-founder of the neo-folk revival since the end of the 90s. After several successful albums he quits in 2011 and starts his own career. A courageous step that brings some changes, because Watson is not sure where the road will lead him. He remembers: "When I stood there alone, I didn't know exactly what my future would be - should I start another band or write more songs first? So I started with new songs first, but I don't think I was really happy with them. I also wrote them just to have some more material for my solo shows, which I then mixed with a lot of traditionals. Live I finally noticed that not only was I happier with the old folk songs, but also the audience had more fun with them. I've found that these great pieces should continue to be heard by people, so I've done it and developed back in that direction."
Consequently, on his first solo album, "Folksinger Vol. 1" 2014, he uses the repertoire of old folk classics again and reinterprets them. The album will be a success.
Also on his second solo album "Folk Singer Vol. 2" in 2017 he strives to be a modern interpreter of old songs, bringing his own influences to the music written long before his time: Southern gospel. Railroad songs. Delta blues. Irish violin pieces. Music of the Appalachians: "Folksinger Vol. 2" offers space for all these styles. The whole thing was again produced by Old Crow Medicine show producer David Rawlings and continues the traditional folk tradition: sharing and swapping old songs. One knows all eleven compositions on "Folksinger Vol. 2" from artists like Leadbelly, Reverend Gary Davis, Furry Lewis and Bascom Lamar Lunsford, but these pieces don't belong to them, they don't belong to anyone. They are part of the folk canon, passed down from generation to generation by artists like Watson.
And Watson is definitely an exceptional singer. With his vibrato and vocal range he breathes a new spirit into classics like "Samson And Delilah", supported by the gospel quartet The Fairfield Four. Ballads like "Gallows Pole" fit him just as well as a blues standard brand "When My Baby Left Me", on which he uses his slide guitar skilfully and spartanly. "Dry Bones" is refined by a banjo, while "Take This Hammer" finishes the album with a church song. His regular producer ennobles him with the quote: "Willie Watson is the only one of his generation who makes me forget that these songs have already been sung by someone else."
The second part expands Watson's sound, but at the same time amplifies his strengths. Numerous guests can be found on the album: including Gillian Welch, Paul Kowert from the Punch Brothers and his old bandmate Morgan Jahnig. Despite this diversity, Watson sounded no one more controlled, self-confident and connected to the music that inspired him.
"I've never tried to prove anything," he explains, "and I'm not trying to be a purist either. There is so much beauty in old music, which touches me very deeply. It moves and inspires me. I heard Leadbelly singing with the Golden Gate Quartet and it sounded fantastic. So I thought I'd do the same. I heard the Grateful Dead with its version of 'On The Road Again' and it sounded like a dance party in 1926 - that's what I wanted to do. That brings all my motivation to the point why I wanted to make music at all: because it sounded like it would bring a lot of fun."
Watson is also successful as an actor and soundtrack composer, participating in two films by the Cohen brothers (Hail, Caesar!", 2016, and "The Ballad Of Buster Sruggs", 2018).
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