Doc Watson 1923-2012 R.I.P.


Tarheel flatpicker
helped reinvent country, folk and bluegrass for the modern era.


By Fred Mills


Musical legend Arthel
Lane “Doc” Watson has died at the age of 89. He
passed away last night (May 29) following colon surgery last week that left him
in critical condition in a Winston-Salem,
NC, hospital. He leaves behind an
immense legacy, having influenced several generations’ worth of musicians and
helping to popularize old-time music in the process. From his unique
flatpicking style of guitar and his facility at making the acoustic guitar a
lead rather than a rhythm instrument to his annual MerleFest
gathering-of-the-folk tribes each spring in Wilkesboro, NC, and his I’m-not-the-star-the-music-is
personal demeanor that marked him as a true scholar and gentlemen, Watson will
be deeply missed.


Watson’s longtime musical partner David Holt, talking to News & Observer music critic David
Menconi yesterday,
said, of Watson, “Different systems were failing the last
few days. But I got to say goodbye, even though he wasn’t conscious. Maybe he
heard us. We told him how much we loved him, and how much other people loved
him. We told him about all (the) letters and emails that were coming in from
all over, just thanking him for being who he was.”


Watson was born in 1923 in Deep Gap and went blind at the
age of one due to an eye infection. He eventually began playing the banjo,
later switching to guitar and, in 1963, performed at the Newport Folk Festival
where he was a huge hit. His solo debut Doc
Watson & Family
was released in 1963 as well, and over the course of
his life he won seven Grammys and was awarded the Recording Academy’s
Lifetime Achievement award in 2004; President Clinton gave him the National
Medal for the Arts in 1997 as well.


He took part in the legenday Will The Circle Be Unbroken LP sessions in 1972, contributing an iconic version of “Tennessee Stud.” He also founded and hosted MerleFest each year – it was
named in honor of his son Merle, who died in a tractor accident in 1985 – and over
the years the event grew into a must-attend festival for fans of folk, country
and bluegrass. “I think the only way he’d retire was if he just couldn’t physically do
it anymore,” Holt told the News & Observer.  “He loves to
play. It’s what he does, and he’s still so great at it. And it’s not too
bad to have a couple thousand people patting you on the back with
handclaps. That’s always good for the spirit.”


Below, watch a few clips of Watson.




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