Doc Watson At Gerdes Folk City captures a snapshot of the Folk Revival as it blossomed when these live recordings were made in late 1962 and early 1963. For one thing, Folk City was the venue that sparked the folk boom more than any other. It was the place where Doc, Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, and many others took their place among the new generation of folk music stars. Then you have Doc backed on some tracks by the Greenbriar Boys, one of the first urban bluegrass bands that included Ralph Rinzler, who then began to exert his enormous impact on roots music as booking agent for Doc and Bill Monroe. Finally, these tracks come from Doc’s first important dates as a solo artist, rather than as a support musician for Clarence Tom Ashley.The 14 tracks here prove remarkable for how much they resemble the Doc Watson of nearly 40 years later. Doc Watson At Gerdes Folk City certainly supports the argument that even during what he calls “the dues paying days,” Doc was a fully realized artist already creating “tradition plus” music. Already Watson mixed older mountain music tunes with more modern material such as bluesman Kokomo Arnold’s “Milk Cow Blues” and “Tragic Romance,” a C&W hit for Cowboy Copas. Doc renders the old-time songs in his own style, employing his clean picking technique that’s clearly more complex and sophisticated than anything heard in roots music at that time. Many of the songs heard here remain in Doc’s repertoire; the surprises include “Sing Song Kitty” and a performance of the fiddle tune “Liberty” on mandolin. This is essential listening for Doc Watson fans and students of American folk music.

—-art menius