Deep River Blues

Author unknown. Arrangement: Doc Watson


The year 2018 left me with serious raining blues. No wonder because it rained more than 260 days in the southwestern corner of the country last year. Towards the end of the year, an apartment in our basement flooded with associated damages. Today, is the first day of summer and the weather is beautiful but the spring has been wet. Therefore it is most appropriate that the first new song I learn to play this year is a raining blues.

Doc WatsonDoc Watson was an American guitarist and singer. He was born in 1923 and was baptized Arthel Lane. He got an eye infection in his first year and lost his sight. He died in 2012. He received seven Grammy awards, along with Grammy lifetime achievement award. He gained recognition both for his ability as a guitar player and for knowledge of traditional American music.

The lyrics of Deep River Blues is about a man´s desperation because of constand rain and the troubles caused by floods in some river. I was curious about knowing when the song was composed and of what motivated the composer. I can't say I found conclusive information about this. First I found a text that stated that the trigger was a devastating flood in the Missisippi River in 1927. In these floods, levees were broken and the river flowed over 60 thousand square kilometers. Hundreds of thousands of people lost their homes and over 250 people died. The Delmore brothers recorded the song in 1933 under the title Big River Blues. They said they composed it but there are doubts about whether it is right. It may well be that the song was motivated by the disaster in the Mississippi River. But there is a reference to the town of Muscle Sholes in the lyrics song and that town stands by the Tennessee River. Therefore, I now find it more likely that the Tennessee river was the motivation.

I came across the song in the December issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine from the year 2011. In it, there is an arrangement that Doc Watson made and released in 1964. In an interview, Watson said he first heard the song played by the Delmore's brothers. He wanted to play it but said that he did not manage to make the song sound good enough with one guitar. Not until he discovered Travis picking when he heard Merle play and his thumb ran constantly between the bass notes. Watson said he had practiced it for ten years and then added the melody. No doubt he is exaggerating. Watson plays the song with his thumb and one finger but points out that it is more sensible to use all your fingers. He also recommends that you mute the bass strings. I don't do it because I would have to practice for ten years to make it sound good.

Click on the image if you would like to play Watson's arrangement.Click on the image if you would like to play Watson's arrangement.

Click on the image if you want the text and chords.Click on the image if you want the text and chords.

There are plenty of videos online where guitarists struggle to play the song. Well, it is fun to play. One of them is the Australian guitar virtuous Tommy Emmanuel. You can hear his version is below the video where I play the Doc Watson arrangement.

Tommy Emmanuel and Jason Isbell move Deep River Blues