Interview: Willie Watson

Willie Watson co-founded Old Crow Medicine Show, a band known for blending traditional folk and bluegrass sounds with rock and roll energy. While busking on the street in North Carolina, the band caught the attention of bluegrass legend Doc Watson, which led to appearances at the Grand Ole Opry and other high-profile gigs. Their career took off with the release of the album O.C.M.S., which was released in 2004. Several more albums followed before Watson left the band in 2011.

Watson’s debut solo album Folk Singer Vol. 1 was released in 2014, featuring his revivalist treatments of various folk songs of yesteryear. He has also been touring with the Dave Rawlings Machine, whose namesake produced Folk Singer Vol. 1 and two early Old Crow Medicine Show albums.

This interview was for a solo show by Willie Watson at SOhO in Santa Barbara on 12/18/14. It was done by email, with answers received on 12/16/14. (Photo by monkeybird)

Jeff Moehlis: What can we look forward to at the upcoming concert?

Willie Watson: It’s a one-man show, and I’ll sing songs from my latest record, Folk Singer Vol. 1. It’ll be sort of an extended version of that, along with some new songs that I’ve been singing lately and learning. It’s a listening evening.

JM: Folk Singer Vol. I has covers of a bunch of old gems, some well-known and some not so much. What, to you, makes a song stand the test of time?

WW: I like all kinds of music, all kinds of genres from lots of eras. I think every era, both current and vintage, all have their strong points and weak points. But for me it doesn’t take too much for a song to speak to me. It’s pretty simple. It just has to have a good band with a good singer, and it has to be a good
song. That’s about it.

JM: I enjoyed your recent visit to town with the Dave Rawlings Machine. As a longtime Led Zeppelin fan I have to ask – what’s it like sharing the stage with John Paul Jones?

WW: It’s amazing! It’s something I never thought I’d be doing in my life. Early on in my musical career I started meeting renowned musicians and people I looked up to, but guys ike JPJ are kind of the last people on earth that you’d think a folk musician would get hooked up with. But he’s out there playing old time fiddle tunes, he’s always around the jam circles, you see him all over the place. It’s real cool to finally have a gig with him and be on stage with him, and we play well together as well, the whole band does. And just like every one else in the band he finds his place and fits in real well.

JM: Dave Rawlings produced your solo album, and also a couple of the early Old Crow Medicine Show albums. How has he influenced the direction that your music and your career has taken?

WW: Working with Dave early on with Old Crow, making O.C.M.S. and Big Iron World, that’s where I learned what it was like to be in a studio and make a record in a traditional and classic way, and in a real studio. And Dave likes to do things… I guess you could say “old school,” when it comes to the recording process. I really liked his stance on how to make records, and where to make records, and when to make records. And from a musical standpoint, he has a great sensibility and a great ear for what things need to sound like and what needs to happen in a song.

JM: Going way back, can you tell us what was going through your mind when you and the rest of Old Crow Medicine Show were playing for Doc Watson out on the street in Boone, North Carolina, before the band’s fortunes took off?

WW: Other than the general shock and awe of seeing a guy like that so randomly, I guess I had a sense at the time that things were moving forward for that band. It seemed to fit right in with everything that was going on at the time. Strangely enough it just seemed natural in a way.

JM: What are your plans, musical or otherwise, for the near future? And is there a Folk Singer Vol. 2 album in the works?

WW: Yes absolutely there will be a Folk Singer Vol. 2, but for now I’m just still working on the road and touring pretty steady. Just singing these songs and learning some new-old songs and taking it one thing at a time.

JM: What advice would you give to an aspiring musician?

WW: Just have fun and do things the way you want to do them.

JM: Where are you replying from?

WW: Los Angeles, CA


The Dave Rawlings Machine at the Lobero Theatre in Santa Barbara on 10/5/14 (L. Paul Mann photo)


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