21 January 2020

Howard Watts ('Cedric Rainwater'), 1913-70

Howard Staton Watts, born in Florida on 19 Feb. 1913, died fifty years ago today (21 Jan. 1970). One of the founding generation of bluegrass musicians, in the 1930s he was a professional hillbilly entertainer as singer, guitarist, comedian, and tap-dancer, using from 1938 the stage name 'Arizona Slim'. In 1941 he moved to Nashville, TN, where he began playing upright bass.

In 1943 he joined Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys as bass player and comedian, adopting the stage name 'Cedric Rainwater', introducing the 'walking bass' style common among western swing bassists, and 'helping to solidify the definitive bluegrass sound' (Gary Reid). From 1945 to 1948 he was a member of the 'classic' Blue Grass Boys - including Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, and Chubby Wise - and when Scruggs and then Flatt left, he joined them as bassist for their first two years and four recording sessions. He subsequently performed and recorded with Hank Williams, Hank Snow, Ray Price, Marty Robbins, and many other leading country artists.

In 2007 he was the first bass player to be inducted into the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame in his own right (Tom Gray was inducted in 1996 as a member of the 'classic' Country Gentlemen and 'Pop' Lewis in 2006 as a member of the Lewis Family). The first five lines of his biography on the Hall of Fame website have been stuck in out of context, but otherwise Gary Reid's excellent article is unaltered.

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