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The Three Pickers Live: Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs and Ricky Skaggs

The Three Pickers in NPR's Studio 4A. From left: Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson and Ricky Skaggs.
David Banks, NPR News
The Three Pickers in NPR's Studio 4A. From left: Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson and Ricky Skaggs.

Bluegrass legends Earl Scruggs, Ricky Skaggs and folk icon Doc Watson have each earned a deserved reputation as the best contemporary musicians in their genres — but up until recently, they have never recorded an album together.

The three men have known each other for decades, but it took a concert for the PBS Great Performances series to get them on stage together to record a live album. For folk and bluegrass lovers, the "supergroup" is akin to the Three Tenors of opera fame. The Three Pickers' North Carolina concert is now the subject of a best-selling CD and DVD.

NPR's Melissa Block spoke with the music legends, and they performed some of their songs in NPR's Studio 4A in Washington, D.C.

The Studio 4A session, like the Great Performances concert, was punctuated with impressive virtuosity and down-home warmth — these men obviously enjoy each others' company and revel in the sound they make together.

Their instrumental expertise is clear — Scruggs on banjo, Watson on guitar and Skaggs on mandolin — but the traditional vocals take many of the songs to a higher level. The harmonies the group reaches have a gospel feel.

On the CD and DVD performance, each member of the trio gets some time onstage to feature their own individual bands.

Watson and his grandson Richard play for a couple of tunes. Scruggs and his band Family and Friends take over, and he gets to show off a bit on banjo with the song "Earl's Breakdown." Then Skaggs joins Kentucky Thunder for two songs. Guest musician Alison Krauss, herself a bluegrass legend, joins Watson and Skaggs for an a capella version of "Down To The Valley To Pray."

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