Power Pickers
of the '60's

Musicians of the Flower Generation


Doc Watson, Roy Noble and the Pyschedelic Guitar

Roy Noble, Doc and suspect Guitar. Photo below shows doodling better.

Doc Watson was playing at the Ash Grove in LA, probably some time in 1965 or ’66, and one day I took him to Roy Noble’s guitar workshop in Reseda, in the San Fernando Valley. I go 45 years back with Roy, whose guitars have been played and/or owned by Doc, Clarence White, Jorma Kaukkonen, Pete Seeger, Leo Kotke and other awesome players.

Doc really liked Roy’s guitars, particularly, as I remember it, a mahogany dreadnought Roy made to compete with Martin’s D-18. In fact, Doc played it on stage at the Ash Grove for several sets before he started hearing strange things coming from the audience; at least they were strange to him, and they would be to you, too, if you were a Bible Belt Southerner on your first visit to Hollywood.

“Far out, man,” and, “Can you dig it? Doc’s trippin’,” and, “Whoa, a psychedelic D-18,” were three jewels that I remember. After a couple of sets of this Doc asked me what was going on with the strange comments coming from the audience.

“They’re acting like I’m a hippie, or something,” he said. “You heard it, Al, things like ‘groovy’ and ‘far out.'”

“Yes, I heard it, Doc, and I don’t know what’s going on, either,” I said.  And I didn’t.

“I’m not doin’ anything different, am I?” This was said with a touch of menace. Remember, Doc is unsighted, but big and very strong.

“Not that I can see, Doc.  Roy, do you know what’s going on?” I said.  Roy shook his head, a gesture of  sheer eloquence for Roy Noble. “Roy doesn’t see anything either, Doc.”

But suddenly I did see.  It was the guitar that was different. It sounded terrific and played easy–Doc and I both agreed on that–, but it was an experimental model Roy was still feverishly working on. It was in the sealed-but-not-sanded stage, and the front was covered with Rapidographed, acid-induced doodlings contributed by workshop hangers-on. At that moment, the face of the guitar was covered with a spider web of paisley dragons, checkered stairs and soft-core pornography.

To Roy and myself, the pretend artwork was invisible. But other people picked up on it because it was Doc, a deeply religious and proper man, playing the guitar it was on. I was just about to tell Doc that I thought that might be the problem, but he beat me to the punch.

“It’s something about the guitar, isn’t it, Al?”

“I think so, Doc. Yeah, I’m pretty sure it is.”

Country Al with Guitar at Topanga Canyon Banjo/fiddle contest, '65.

I told him about the psychedelia on the guitar’s face and that Roy and I hadn’t given a thought to  what the instrument looked like, because Roy was so intent on getting it to sound and play right, and I wanted so much to get it into Doc’s magic hands. It could have been a map to buried treasure on there and we wouldn’t have seen it.

“Doc, we’re really sorry,” I said; Roy was in the dressing room, too, but as  I said, Roy doesn’t talk much and you can’t understand him when he does, so I just kept on tap-dancing. “We really are. You know we’d never play that kind of trick on you in a million years.” And we really wouldn’t.

He grumped a little before he said, “Yes, I know you boys too well to think you’d ever try to put anything over on me. Tho’ if you did you wouldn’t be the first.” Doc got some really shitty treatment being blind and poor and brought up in some sort of institution during the Depression.

He played his own D-18 for the rest of the night and the run, and people stopped asking him to play Grateful Dead songs. True story.


  1. Cardinal59 Says:

    Great to read something about Roy Noble. He made me something along the lines of a D-28, with some great inlays, around 1970. Sadly, some thief broke into my house and took it and everything else.
    When I told Roy about the theft, he got a little pale and mumbled something about not being interested in re-producing it. I didn’t blame him. It took him a long time to put that thundering box together. It never showed up in any guitar or pawn shop as far as I know. The thief probably hung it on a wall facing the sun so the inlays would glint.

    Keep the stories coming, Al.

  2. Chuck Erikson Says:

    Great stories all over this site, good job! As a minor side note to the above story, among others I was one of the people who had drawn on that prototype guitar of Doc’s, and possibly also Roy’s artist friend Peter Spoecker and Roy himself. Pete had been enjoying some success selling posters of self-drawn free-association style “psychedelic art” done with black Rapidograph pens, and had introduced Roy and a few of his close friends to the concept of all getting stoned together, doodling for a while, then periodically exchanging papers with each other until everyone had drawn something on every sheet. I still have a couple of those shared sketches, including a self-portrait Roy did where he’s got small “balloons” coming out of his mouth, each proclaiming a single word: “faith”, “pot”, “hate”, “peace”, and “love”!

  3. Rick Says:

    I have a 1967 recording of Doc playing in a livingroom. Was it your home or his? Roy has the reel to reel.

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