I’m getting damage to my bedding plants, and it’s not a gopher. It’s coming from the chipmunks. I may have to go “old school” on Chip and Dale here before long.

While I was Googling “best way to kill chipmunks”, I was listening to WNCW out of Spindale, N.C. It is the most eclectic radio station you’d ever hope to listen to. The airwaves have to be just right to pick it up between the cracks in the mountains between here and the campus of the Isothermal College. It’s always available over the internet, if you can command control over a computer. Their programming is well worth the effort to find them if you can. WNCW seems to take the “Public Radio” thing real seriously, and they try to provide something for everybody. They do lean heavy towards Bluegrass, as you would surmise, but they also go to areas you wouldn’t imagine. They do a segment every Friday called, “Frank on Friday”, which is devoted to the works of Frank Zappa. You know, Frank Zappa, “Mothers of Invention”, father of Moon Unit and Dweezil. It is one of their most popular segments, which is wild when you consider the listeners are mostly of the hillbilly persuasion. You just never know.

Anyway, I was listening to WNCW while trying to figure out the best method for mayhem for Chip and his Dales. A song came on that struck a chord (ha ha), deep within. It was an instrumental, heavy guitar and bass, and sounded very familiar. I just couldn’t name it. Admittedly, with my advanced state of dementia, that occurs more and more now. This song was so familiar, though, I felt I had to know it. I waited for it to be announced after the five song play, and deduced that it was a song called, “Rumble” by Link Wray. The announcer went on to give some footnotes about Link Wray, how he was from Dunn, North Carolina, etc.

Well, now Chip and Dale were safe for a while. I dug into Link Wray and found out that he was the basis for all of the music that I worshiped as an early teen. It was his arrangement for “Ghost Riders In The Sky” that was the first instrumental I learned to play. Back in the day, our little garage band, the “V.I.P.s”, played surf music to make a little money and build a lot of ego. We followed the Ventures, Dick Dale, and The Beach Boys like they were the Second Coming. As soon as a new album came out, we set about dissecting the songs until we felt confident enough to unleash our efforts on the public. We’d replay a track on the record over and over until we transposed our parts. I swear I thought the grooves on the record would disappear before we would get the licks right.

One of my favorites, “Apache”, took a particularly long time to learn. Turns out, “Apache” was one of three songs with Native American themes that Link Wray wrote. The other two were called, “Comanche”, and “Shawnee”. Link, himself, was a Shawnee. Maybe his Native American roots were the reason that radio stations banned his most famous work, “Rumble”, from the airwaves. The song was written in 1958, and it was felt that hearing the song would cause urban gangs to riot. I’ll have to research to see if any other instrumental has been banned before or since, but none come to mind. Maybe being banned was just another area where Link Wray was ahead of his time. Being the first Native American with a hit record was another. “Rumble”  sold over a million copies when it was released in 1958.

Link Wray is credited with being the father of the power chord and distortion. His influence through out rock is legendary. Pete Townsend claims he would have never picked up a guitar had he not heard Link Wray play. I’ll put myself in that company. I just didn’t realize that Link Wray was the root of the tree, and that The Ventures, Dick Dale, and others were just the branches. My ignorance knows no bounds, but at least I’m willing to admit it. Not proud of it, but I am aware of it.

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Doc Watson

I was listening to WNCW out of Spindale, and they were doing a Doc Watson special. You really can’t think of Doc Watson too much without thinking of his son Merle and their relationship. I guess that got the whole “father and son” thing going, and me longing for something better than I had. Where would we all be now if my Daddy and I had been able to work together on something positive like Doc and Merle did? Certainly not where we are today.

It is easy for me to romanticize the Watson’s lives as being charmed, even though Doc was blind and Merle died at the age of thirty six. Arthel, or “Doc” as he would later become, lost his sight before his first birthday. He attended North Carolina’s school for the visually impaired and grew up on a farm outside of Deep Gap, North Carolina. He used his first earnings to buy a cheap guitar from Sears, which he learned to be proficient enough on to busk on street corners with his brother. Doc had “skills” as they say, and proceeded to become one of the best flatpickers of all time. Displaying a great diversity, Doc taught himself songs that were traditionally fiddle tunes to play on his electric guitar. He played piano and the banjo, and often accompanied himself on a harmonica while he sang. Doc could do it all musically, and passed it down to his son Eddy Merle.

Merle, was named after Doc’s two favorite singers, Eddy Arnold and Merle Haggard. Doc’s son Merle played on Doc’s first solo album, recorded in 1964 when Merle was just fifteen. Doc and Merle added a bass guitarist and began playing as a trio in 1974. The “Watson” trio toured around the world during the late seventies and early eighties. During this time they recorded fifteen albums and brought their unique style of country bluegrass folk acoustic music to millions of fans. In 1985, Merle died in a tractor accident on his family farm. The details of Merle’s death are like one of those insurance commercials were they portray a chain of events that seem implausible when held up separately. The gruesome details can be found here.

Two years after Merle’s death, “Merle Fest” was inaugurated by Doc in remembrance of his son. It is a country bluegrass folk alternative music extravaganza held each year at the Wilkes County Community College in Wilkesboro, North Carolina. Last year’s attendance was over 70,000 fans even though both of the headliners are now gone. It is an amazing legacy to a father son team of fabulous musicians. Through the miracle of YouTube, we can experience Doc and Merle together again doing Doc’s most famous hit, “Tennessee Stud”. That’s Merle on the other acoustic guitar.