"I feel the music is in good hands now. There are lots of fine young players. I just hope they can find a way to making a living playing music."
David Holt: Roots And Blossoms
Four-time Grammy Award winner David Holt is a musician, storyteller, artist, historian and radio and television host. For more than forty years, he as collected and performed the songs and stories of the Blue Ridge Mountains. He learned this treasure trove of music directly from musical greats including Doc Watson, Roy Acuff, Tommy Jarrell, Etta Baker and Grandpa Jones. In addition to making numerous critically acclaimed recordings, Holt is host of popular television programs including the PBS series David Holt’s State of Music, Folkways and Great Scenic Railway Journeys.
He was featured in the film O Brother, Where Art Thou and was host of the Nashville Network’s Fire On the Mountain and American Music Shop. In 2016 David was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame. From 1998-2012 David toured and performed with the legendary Doc Watson. “A highlight of my career,” says Holt. He currently tours the country performing solo, with Josh Goforth, and with his band, David Holt & The Lightning Bolts.
What do you learn about yourself from the American Roots music and culture?
I realized after 45 years of collecting and performing Southern Mountain music that there is a bottomless well of music and musicians to study and enjoy…and most importantly, I have never lost my passion for learning about it.
What does the blues mean to you?
Blues music is a perfect musical expression of what I feel when I get the blues in my gut. In a way, the blues saved my life. My 10 year old daughter, Sara Jane, was killed in a car accident in 1989. It was during the intense grieving that I took up slide guitar. The soulful blues coming out of the steel guitar helped pull me up from the depths of despair.
How do you describe David Holt sound, music philosophy and songbook?
I see roots music as a living thing, not something stuck in a museum. I play traditional music I have learned from the old time mountaineers who were born in the 1800s. I want this music to resonate with a modern audience. I use Doc Watson as my model: Present the music in an engaging way, play it the way you feel it, and always keep trying to get better.
Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences?
Doc Watson has always been my main mentor (even before I started performing with him). There were many, many others that have been important and helpful to me: Roy Acuff, Grandpa Jones, John Hartford, Earl Scruggs, Tommy Jarrell, Dellie Norton and especially an old fiddler named Byard Ray.
What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?
I asked Doc Watson for his advice on making a career last a lifetime. He said simply, “Don’t do too much.” He meant: work hard, but don’t be on the road all the time or you’ll become weary and give it up.
Are there any memories from Doc Watson, Etta Baker and Grandpa Jones which you’d like to share with us?
Doc never liked to practice so you had to be extra aware when playing with him because he never played anything the same way once.
Etta Baker was a sweet, gentle woman who loved to drive fast. She had a 1965 GTO that would go 180 miles per hour!
Grandpa Jones was not a joke teller, he just said funny things. Once when he was mowing his lawn and a lady stopped and asked for directions. After Grandpa told her how to get to where she was going she said, ‘You know you look just like Grandpa Jones”
Grandpa said, ‘Well, if you see him tell him I feel sorry for him.”
"I see roots music as a living thing, not something stuck in a museum. I play traditional music I have learned from the old time mountaineers who were born in the 1800s. I want this music to resonate with a modern audience." (Photo © by Rob Amberg / Merle Watson, David & Doc Watson)
What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past?
I miss the old timers…the musicians born in the late 1800s. They were a wonderful, strong, wise, self-reliant group of people. I loved them.
What are your hopes and fears for the future of?
I feel the music is in good hands now. There are lots of fine young players. I just hope they can find a way to making a living playing music.
If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
I lament the death of the CD. Working on the “next” CD is a way we plan for the future. It helps us focus our direction. Moreover, it was an important source of extra income.
What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues with Country, Folk and continue to Jazz, Gospel and Bluegrass?
I will over simplify my answer: Most American roots music is a combination of music from the British Isles and Africa. That creative hybrid has lead directly to all forms of American Traditional music.
"I realized after 45 years of collecting and performing Southern Mountain music that there is a bottomless well of music and musicians to study and enjoy…and most importantly, I have never lost my passion for learning about it."
What touched (emotionally) you from your trips in Asia, South America and Africa? What are your conclusions?
Most third world countries are very close to their own traditional music. They still play it, hear it on the radio and have it as part of their social lives. I was amazed at how quickly audiences in other parts of the world recognize American roots music and how much they enjoy it. Most haven’t heard it before and embrace it once they hear it. They loved it!
What were the reasons that you started the artistic researches and experiments? What characterize your artwork?
Along with music I have been a visual artist most of my life. Luckily, I took black and white photos of my mentors when I was young. I am currently using some of these photos in mixed media painting.
Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?
I would go back in time to spend a day with writer and humorist, Mark Twain. I would also love to spend the day with Grand Ole Opry star, Uncle Dave Macon. A visit with Cleopatra would also be an excellent way to spend the day.
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