Malcolm Watson walks his own musical path – sans shoes | TheUnion.com

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Malcolm Watson walks his own musical path – sans shoes

Trained as a serious classical violinist at the Royal Academy of Music in London, Malcolm Watson quite literally kicked his shoes off and went his own way musically.

Known internationally as the “barefoot violinist,” the 64-year-old Watson performs with whimsical humor and deep passion. He dances around the stage in his bare feet and a white tuxedo playing a “classical crossover” of jazz, folk, rock and blues.

Watson recently moved to the San Juan Ridge by way of Abu Dhabi, Boulder, Colo., and Ojai, Calif.

“I love it here. It’s so quiet,” he said during a recent interview by the waterfall at Trolley Junction Restaurant in Nevada City.

Barefoot and fancy free

A child prodigy, Watson graduated from the Royal Academy when he was 20.

“I hated it,” he said. “They were too serious.”

He broke with tradition early. He liked jazz and loved to dance while he was playing. This led one reviewer to describe his act as like watching Russian ballet legend Vaslav Nijinsky “on acid,” Watson laughed.

But his patent leather stage shoes were not made for dancing.

Years ago, during a performance in Corning, N.Y., his feet started bleeding, so he kicked his shoes off.

“I thought the audience would laugh, but they loved it,” Watson recalled. He loved it too, and has eschewed shoes ever since.

By playing barefoot, “I started having an awareness of being,” he explained earnestly to a correspondent of satirical TV news program The Daily Show with Jon Stewart in 1999.

Of course, The Daily Show made fun of his barefoot proclivity, but Watson has had the last laugh – all the way to the bank.

Over his career, which included a 10-year detour as a petrochemical project engineer in the Middle East, Watson has sold close to a half-million CDs, mostly at his live performances, he said.

His first folk-rock album was produced by CBS records when he was 25 and still living in Europe. Watson released his next four CDs under his own label, Xcentric Recordings.

A passion for passion

By far, Watson’s most popular album is “Tears of Joy.” His Web site describes it as his most romantic CD, evoking a “deep beautiful sadness that touches and releases (the) soul. It will take you through the range of emotions from grief to joy.”

“Thousands of people have written me how their lives have been changed,” Watson said, visibly touched as he stirred his decaf coffee.

One man claimed listening to Watson’s music cured him of his addiction. A woman informed him in explicit detail how it improved her love life.

And a mother told him her 6-year-old daughter asked to listen to “Tears of Joy” on the day she died of leukemia.

“I perform with incredible passion,” Watson explained. “It’s so important to live our lives with passion, to be authentic, to be real.”

Watson’s passion for music spills over into his passion for life. He often uses his music to underscore his inspirational talks at retreats and seminars.

Speaking of his intention in both his life and his music, Watson concluded, “My mission is to bring about healing, relieve suffering and to reconnect people with joy.”

Tom Durkin is a freelance writer based in Nevada City. For comments on this article, e-mail tkleist@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4230.