This past February, I wrote a post for this blog called “Songbooks & Sheet Music.” One of the songbooks I mentioned was Jerry Silverman’s Folk Song Encyclopedia, Volume 2, a priceless publication that I purchased in Portland, Maine probably in the 1980’s. One of the many songs that I learned over the years from the pages of that collection was “Deep River Blues.”
I don’t remember how long it took, but with that lead sheet to follow and Doc Watson’s inspirational version of the song in my ears, I eventually came up with my own arrangement of this wonderful old song.
(To hear my 2004 recording of the song, click on the blue link above. Wait for it!)
I even went so far as to write out a transcription of my arrangement, thinking that it would come in handy for use in my guitar teaching. (And it has!)
As a matter of fact, a very talented young student of mine started learning my arrangement of “Deep River Blues” two weeks ago. In doing a bit of preparation for her lesson, I did some research on-line and in my home library and I learned something, too (that I probably should have known all along).
“Deep River Blues” is based on a song recorded by The Delmore Brothers back in 1933 called “I’ve Got Them Big River Blues.” In the songbook The Songs of Doc Watson (1971, Oak Publications), Doc writes about “Deep River Blues”: “This blues was introduced to me in the late thirties by a Delmore Brothers recording. When I first began to hear the tune, I was fascinated by the sounds they got out of the little tenor guitar – the four string – and the regular flattop box. I never could figure a way to get even a resemblance of the sound that they got until I began to hear Merle Travis pick the guitar.”
Here is that Delmore Brothers recording.
If you haven’t had enough “Deep River Blues,” you can watch and listen to a 1991 video of Doc Watson himself playing and singing the song as part of my May 30, 2012 post “So Long, Doc.”
As always, my motto is: “Good music doesn’t get old.”