Tuesday, October 20, 2020

David Menconi's "Step It Up and Go"

David Menconi spent 28 years covering music and art for the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., writing about everything from gospel to heavy metal. Those years in North Carolina’s musical trenches inform his new book Step It Up and Go: The Story of North Carolina Popular Music, from Blind Boy Fuller and Doc Watson to Nina Simone and Superchunk, a chronicle of nearly a century’s worth of The Old North State’s musical history.

In applying the “Page 99 Test” to the book, he reported the following:
From page 99:
That same year, Doc’s daughter Nancy also told me a story about a backstage well-wisher who had recently congratulated Doc on becoming a great-grandfather.

“Naw,” he drawled in his mountain deadpan. “I’m just average.”
It is entirely fitting that page 99 of Step It Up and Go falls within the chapter about the late great Doc Watson, who casts a long shadow across his native state in terms of both music and sensibility. One of the giants of 20th century music, Watson was discovered during the folk revival and became a beloved icon on the festival circuit – a blind man from the Western North Carolina mountains who could flatpick faster and cleaner than anybody ever had. Over the half-century before his death in 2012, Watson won just about every accolade and honor one could win in music.

But for all that, he also maintained the humble demeanor of a sideman and never cared much for people making a fuss over him. When the North Carolina town of Boone commissioned a Watson sculpture to be placed downtown, where he used to busk on the street in his pre-fame days, he would only give it his blessing if the plaque read, “Just One of the People” (which it does).

That is a mindset common to North Carolina’s greatest musicians, a roll call that includes luminaries like banjo master Earl Scruggs, R.E.M.’s early producer Mitch Easter and modern-day hip-hop producer Patrick “9th Wonder” Douthit. Across decades and styles, they all share traits including ingenuity, working-class populism and the sense that artistic independence trumps career concerns. If North Carolina seems like “The Dayjob State,” it’s because going pro doesn’t change much about the music people play there.

Elsewhere in Step It Up and Go, Watson’s sideman Jack Lawrence spoke to this when he noted that Watson had a very utilitarian view of music. Had Watson been able to see, Lawrence speculated, he probably would have been a mechanic or carpenter who just picked a little on the weekend.

“Ask Doc how he wants to be remembered,” Lawrence said, “and guitar-playing really doesn’t enter into it. He’d rather be remembered just as the good ol’ boy down the road.”
Visit the author’s blog.

The Page 99 Test: Ryan Adams: Losering.

My Book, The Movie: Ryan Adams: Losering.

--Marshal Zeringue