C&I talks with Australian singer-songwriter and talented guitarist Tommy Emmanuel about his latest collaboration with Jason Isbell on the Doc Watson track “Deep River Blues,” from his new album, Accomplice One, available now.
In celebration of Doc Watson’s birthday (March 3), musicians Tommy Emmanuel and Jason Isbell collaborated on the Watson classic “Deep River Blues.” Their rendition of the classic tune stays true to the original, with just the right amount of country blues and nostalgia to properly celebrate the magic of the bluegrass master’s innovative style.
A longtime staple at Emmanuel’s live shows and the opening track of his new album, Accomplice One, “Deep River Blues” draws close to the heart for Emmanuel. In his video for the song, the guitar aficionado puts his fingerpicking skills on display and conjures up a gritty atmosphere in the deep backwoods to bring his soulful voice and Watson’s legacy to life.
Recently, C&I had the privilege of talking with Emmanuel about “Deep River Blues,” the new record, and the great Doc Watson.
Cowboys & Indians: Your musical diversity and raw talent really shine on your new record, Accomplice One. What do you hope your fans will get out of the record?
Tommy Emmanuel: I hope that the listeners will enjoy the performances and the spirit with which they were delivered. I wanted each accomplice to bring something special and unusual to every track. It’s a mixture of the styles of music that I love — from bluegrass to blues, country to jazz. It was recorded and pieced together over a two-year period.
C&I: How does this album differ from your others?
Emmanuel: Many of my albums are solo and all original compositions. This album features other artists in a setting that they would normally not be known for.
C&I: Doc Watson’s birthday was March 3. You and Jason Isbell rerecorded “Deep River Blues” in memory of him. How has Doc Watson influenced your career as an artist?
Emmanuel: Firstly, Jason was an obvious choice for “Deep River Blues” as he’s from Muscle Shoals [Alabama] and has the exact vocal style I was looking for for this style of song. I have been a Doc Watson fan since I first heard him in the early ’70s. Doc and I did some shows together about 10 years back and he was a great gentleman to be around. I think his influence was the fact that he always stuck to his way of doing things and never got swayed by trends.
C&I: What made you choose to do an arrangement of that specific song? What about the song drew you to it?
Emmanuel: I have always loved this song and didn’t stray too far from the original.
C&I: What was it like collaborating with Jason Isbell on the track?
Emmanuel: Jason is a wonderful singer and a great guitar player. He was well-aware of this song and was happy to be singing it. He cut the vocal in one take.
C&I: What are you most excited for your fans to hear on your rendition?
Emmanuel: The love behind our playing and singing — it’s very authentic.
C&I: What do you hope his fans take from the track?
Emmanuel: Jason is known for his original compositions, but he can sing anything and I think his feel is just right on this song.
C&I: What was the recording process like?
Emmanuel: It was easy because we just sang and played live in front of good microphones and it was truly a good feeling when we played and sang together. I always enjoy recording — it’s just as important to me as performing live.
C&I: You’re known for your amazing guitar skills and it shows in the song. How did you get involved with that instrument?
Emmanuel: It was my mother who gave me my first guitar and got me started. I was 4 years old. I’m still working on it.
C&I: What is your preferred guitar brand?
Emmanuel: I mostly use Maton Australian-made guitars. I have been playing Maton guitars since 1960. If you read the credits on my albums, you’ll notice I use a variety of guitars when I’m recording. For instance, I use a Larrivée on some tracks. I also have some handmade acoustics by luthiers that I respect. It’s really all about which guitar sounds the best for which track.
C&I: Lastly, you’re from Australia. What are some of your favorite places to visit when you’re home?
Emmanuel: I guess my favorite place is Sydney, especially Coogee Beach. I like all the capital cities and country towns.
For more information on Tommy Emmanuel and his upcoming tour dates, visit his website.