In Memory of Doc Watson
“Fame is a strange beast, and very few are famous for their humility… those are the ones that matter most. And Doc Watson is one of those people” ~ Henri Deschamps
I initially thought I had known about Doc Watson my whole life. After all I grew up in the south, in a manner of speaking. And while the Allman Brothers came just after the Beatles in my cherished stack of 33’s in high school, thanks to a friend named Rick Shore, Doc and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band were also there by the time I got into college. Music mattered a great deal in our lives at that time; And perhaps then, more than now, music was where we got our education.
My earliest recollection of Doc is while doing my best to be a hippie at Boston University, where knowing about Doc meant you were cool. No apologies, we all start out shallow. 42 years later, the only music I really listen to now flows from Celtic, through Old-Time, to Bluegrass and Acoustic Roots. Bill Monroe, Earl Scruggs, Dr. Ralph Stanley, The Carter Family, Blue Highway, Alison Krauss and The Avett Brothers all make a lot of sense to me, and there are so many outstanding artists in Bluegrass & Roots Music today I see little reason to seek my solace elsewhere.
And while I thought I knew about Doc before, I realized I knew very little until we moved to the Western North High Country about 7 years ago. I kept hearing in hushed reverential tones from a lot of friends and neighbors “Did you know that Doc Watson lives here?” It was said in much the same way folks would ask if you knew The Dalai Lama or Albert Schweitzer lived here.
Although I met and spent some time with Doc, and once spent a few hours alone with him chatting about all kinds of things, I cannot say I knew him well. He was actually quite hilarious, much like Dan Tyminski, with “out-of-the-blue” quips followed by explosions of mirth that you never saw coming because you were in the middle of something serious. But then again I knew him very well for two reasons. First and foremost, with Doc what you see is what you got in every way, and second, his spirit was so present in our world, it’s almost like you felt he was just out of sight, just over yonder, but right there.
And for me, because Doc embodied so perfectly so much of what I love about Western North Carolina, I was with him a lot every day. Ask almost anyone who knows our mountain region and villages, and knows Doc, and they will tell you the same thing. That is no minor matter. At least for us. But it is very hard to explain or describe because it is so personal and intimate. While I don’t think he ever farmed, he grew up like all here surrounded by small family farms. So to me, clear as day, Doc was a North Carolina Mountain Farmer… farmer in the sense that you can take the artist out of the farm, but you cannot take the farm out of the artist. And if you know a North Carolina Mountain farmer, you know someone a lot like Doc.
I compiled a collection of resources below so you can see for yourself what Doc’s about. He was about a lot of things, but what I remember most today is his humanity, compassion, his humility and simplicity. It was not his image or brand, it is who he was.
There is a simplicity that comes from ignorance, like the simplicity of a young child, but there is a simplicity like a farmer’s that comes from profound understanding. Chopin said of music what can also be said about people and their struggles to become all they can be:
“Simplicity is the final achievement. After one has played a vast quantity of notes and more notes, it is simplicity that emerges as the crowning reward of art.” ~ Frédéric Chopin
In that respect, Doc was a simple man, much like Charles Church, Tommy Walsh, and John Cooper are simple men.
A poet’s job in this world is to say everything about something in a phrase; To help us see how the proverbial drop contains the entire ocean. And what did Doc have to say about himself; “Doc Watson, Just One of The People”, and he meant it in ways more profound than one might garner at first glance. He meant a lot to us here, and he will always be with us, just over yonder. While his music will continue to speak for itself, here we have a profound and intimate affection for Doc, and we are above all grateful for who he was as a man.
“In Memory of Doc Watson”
Valle Crucis, North Carolina
June 6, 2012
“My brother pointed to an older man with a guitar, and he said “that’s Doc Watson”. “Oh yeah, Dad had that old record”, I said not realizing that my life was about to change. Jack helped Doc to his chair, which happened to be 3 feet directly in front of me. Remembering that old album cover which was burned in my memory from my parent’s collection, I couldn’t wait to hear what Mr. Watson sounded like.” ~ Andy Falco, The Infamous Stringdusters
Doc Watson, “Just one of the people” • www.themastfarminn.com/docwatson-jotp • A life-sized bronze statue of music icon Doc Watson, a native of Deep Gap, North Carolina, was installed and unveiled on Friday, June 24th, 2011 in Boone, North Carolina. The statue is the brainchild of John Cooper of The Mast General Store, and a project of the Downtown Boone Development Association.
Doc Watson & MerleFest • www.themastfarminn.com/merlefest • MerleFest was founded in 1988 in Memory of Doc Watson’s son Eddy Merle Watson as a fundraiser for Wilkes Community College and to celebrate “traditional plus” music.
Doc Watson & MusicFest n’ Sugar Grove • www.themastfarminn.com/music-fest-sugar-grove • MusicFest n’ Sugar Grove has become a favorite of bluegrass, old-time, blues and Americana music lovers. Featured artist Doc Watson calls this music “Tradition plus.” The bands appearing at the festival play to show their appreciation for Doc and his influence on their musical careers.
Doc Watson • www.acousticana.us/docwatson • “Over the past fifty years the guitar has had a very powerful influence on American music. Predominantly a rhythm instrument at the turn of the century, the guitar began to step out of the rhythm section in the 1930’s and 40’s and has maintained a dominant presence in every form of music from rock, to folk, to country, bluegrass, blues, and oldtime. While Elvis, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and other pop icons of the 50’s and 60’s certainly played a large role in bolstering the guitar’s popularity, the man who has had the deepest, most enduring, and most profound influence on the way the acoustic flat top guitar is played as a lead instrument in folk, old-time, and bluegrass music today is Arthel “Doc” Watson.” ~ Dan Miller
Doc Watson In Boone, North Carolina • www.acousticana.us/doc-watson-boone • “A life-sized bronze statue of music icon Doc Watson, a native of Deep Gap, North Carolina, is now completed and was installed and unveiled on Friday, June 24th, 2011 in Boone, North Carolina. The statue is the brainchild of John Cooper of The Mast General Store, and a project of the Downtown Boone Development Association. The bronze sculpture is located on the northeast corner of the intersection of King and Depot streets. The statue was created by noted sculptor Alex Hallmark, and features the musician seated on a bench playing his favorite guitar.”
Doc Watson • “Just One Of The People” • www.acousticana.us/doc-watson-deep-river-blues • “Doc Watson got his start in downtown Boone as a blind musician. We just thought it was a wonderful idea to have a tribute to him downtown where he really got his start.” ~ John Cooper, The Mast General Store
Doc Watson, Sugar Hill Records • http://bit.ly/Lvlr5u • In the latter half of the 20th century there were three pre-eminently influential folk/country guitar players: Merle Travis, Chet Atkins, and Arthel “Doc” Watson, a flat-picking genius from Deep Gap, NC. Unlike the other two, Watson was in middle age before gaining any attention. Since 1960, though, when Watson was recorded with his family and friends in Folkways’ Old Time Music at Clarence Ashley’s, people have remained in awe of this gentle blind man who sings and picks with a pure and emotional authenticity. The present generation, folkies and country pickers alike, including Ricky Skaggs, Vince Gill, the late Clarence White, Emmylou Harris, and literally hundreds of others, acknowledge their great debt to Watson.
Doc Watson, Folklore Productions International• www.www.folkloreproductions.com/DocWatson.html • http://bit.ly/L238FR • Recipient of the National Medal of Arts, National Heritage Fellowship and eight Grammy Awards (including Lifetime Achievement), Doc Watson is a legendary performer who blends his traditional Appalachian musical roots with bluegrass, country, gospel and blues to create a unique style and an expansive repertoire.
Doc Watson (1923-2012) • www.folkloreproductions.com/wp/in-memoriam/doc-watson-1923-2012 • Arthel Lane “Doc” Watson, recipient of the National Medal of Arts, a National Heritage Fellowship, and eight Grammy Awards (including one for Lifetime Achievement) died on Tuesday, May 29 at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC following abdominal surgery last week. He was 89.
Doc’s Guitar • www.docsguitar.com • Doc Watson has had a profound influence in traditional, folk and bluegrass music ever since coming to national attention in the early 1960’s. His recordings and performances have inspired generations of aspiring guitarists to explore the mysteries of his phenomenal playing. Here at Doc’s Guitar you will find biographical information about Doc, along with a listing of the honors and awards he has received. We also feature a complete discography of Doc’s recordings, as well as a bibliography of instruction materials and performance videos.
Doc Watson, From Wikipedia • www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doc_Watson • Arthel Lane “Doc” Watson (March 3, 1923 – May 29, 2012) was an American guitarist, songwriter and singer of bluegrass, folk, country, blues and gospel music. Watson won seven Grammy awards as well as a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Watson’s flatpicking skills and knowledge of traditional American music are highly regarded. He performed with his son Merle for over 15 years until Merle’s death in 1985, in an accident on the family farm. Watson was born in Deep Gap, North Carolina. According to Watson on his three CD biographical recording Legacy, he got the nickname “Doc” during a live radio broadcast when the announcer remarked that his given name Arthel was odd and he needed an easy nickname. A fan in the crowd shouted “Call him Doc!” presumably in reference to the literary character Sherlock Holmes’ sidekick Doctor Watson. The name had stuck ever since
“The years I’ve followed Doc and grown closer to folk and roots music have seen celebrity metastasize in American culture from a pleasant diversion to an industrial beast and a misbegotten religion. Doc’s approach to music, as a simple, joyful, spontaneous connector of human beings has become an anchor for me.” ~ Craig Havighurst, String Theory Media
Blues For Doc Watson • www.stringtheorymedia.com/2012/05/blues-for-doc-watson.html • “It feels a little harder to hold a grip on reality without him here. But it’s reassuring to know that even if they shut down the internet, cable or the power grid itself, the only thing keeping the celebritons animate, we could still make music the way Doc showed us how.” ~ Craig Havighurst
Celebrating Doc: Deep River Rising with special guest musicians Wayne Henderson and Jeff Little • http://goo.gl/MkvKB • Our Celebrating Doc symposium and concert features Doc’s longtime musical partner David Holt, known to many from UNC–TV’s Folkways series; Bryan Sutton, brilliant guitarist from Asheville and prominent Nashville session musician; Doc’s favorite bass player, T. Michael Coleman; celebrated guitar picker and instrument maker Wayne Henderson, with whom Doc visited and swapped tunes just before entering the hospital; and the amazing pianist Jeff Little, who learned to transpose fiddle tunes for the piano during Doc’s frequent visits to his family’s music store in Boone, North Carolina.
Doc Watson, Blind Guitar Wizard Who Influenced Generations, Dies at 89 • www.nytimes.com/2012/05/30/arts/music/doc-watson-folk-musician-dies-at-89.html • Doc Watson, the guitarist and folk singer whose flat-picking style elevated the acoustic guitar to solo status in bluegrass and country music, and whose interpretations of traditional American music profoundly influenced generations of folk and rock guitarists, died on Tuesday in Winston-Salem, N.C. He was 89.
Way Down Watson • www.archives.nodepression.com/1998/01/way-down-watson/ • Doc Watson was born in a rural community, was raised on music both vital and stretching back before precise history, and received the kind fortune to share his skill with the world.
Arthel Lane “Doc” Watson • www.docsguitar.com/DWObit.pdf • Arthel Lane “Doc” Watson, recipient of the National Medal of Arts, a National Heritage Fellowship, and eight Grammy Awards (including one for Lifetime Achievement) died on Tuesday, May 29, 2012 at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC following abdominal surgery last week. He was 89.
How Doc Watson Made the Guitar the Guitar • www.esquire.com/the-side/music/doc-watson-dies-9285001 • But an 82-year-old man was up on a stage, playing the guitar as if it had been invented yesterday, cramming into an hour-long show the lessons of a life lived hard and well. If you were listening at all, you couldn’t help but learn something.
Doc Watson, Folk Music Icon, Dies At 89 • http://n.pr/L22PuO • Watson was born in Deep Gap, N.C., in the Blue Ridge Mountains, in a three-room house he shared with eight brothers and sisters. He revolutionized not just how people play guitar but the way people around the world think about mountain music.
RIP Doc Watson • www.bluegrasstoday.com/42368/rip-doc-watson • How important was Doc? Dan Miller, in a superb profile in the September-October 1998 issue of Flatpicking Guitar Magazine, called him “the man who had the deepest, most enduring and most profound influence on the way the acoustic flat top guitar is played as a lead instrument in folk, old-time, and bluegrass music today.”
Watson lives on, musician says • http://bit.ly/LbiJB0 • In a memorial service laced with gentle bluegrass music that was held in a church built into the Blue Ridge hills that he so loved, Doc Watson’s family and friends celebrated his life, his music and his faith on Sunday before they laid one of North Carolina’s favorite sons to rest.
Doc was a good friend, A Humble Man • http://bit.ly/LbjrhA • Dennis Isaacs was a young man with big dreams when he discovered his talent for playing the guitar. There were several musicians out there, he said, who made an impression on him, but none so much as Doc Watson.
Remembering Doc • www.krugerbrothers.com/archives/4044 • Doc Watson was the first guitar player I remember listening to thinking “I want to learn how to play and sing like that!” Through all my playing and performing since I was a teenager, I always had someone to turn to when I got lost and questioned my own abilities as a musician. And when life was unbearable sometimes, his recordings never failed to bring me back to reality and putting a smile on my face again.
Doc Watson, innovative guitarist and ‘positive icon’ for Appalachian region • http://bit.ly/LblaU9 • Guitarist Doc Watson, who passed away Tuesday, was widely considered a true American original who deeply influenced every guitarist – folk, jazz, or rock – in the past 50 years. He was lauded not just for his technical skill but his understanding of Appalachian culture and for his model behavior as a humble man.
Doc Watson: Flatpicker, Song Stylist, Messenger • www.theledger.com/article/20120603/ENT/120609809 • Doc Watson, who died Tuesday at age 89, never had a hit record, and none of his albums ever went gold. This truth, a shame considering his talent, his influence on the guitar and the beauty of his dynamic baritone, should serve as inspiration to any musician interested in the long game, in making music that endures not because of its shock value or its keen marketplace vision but because within its measured tones lies universal truth.
To Hear Doc Watson, You Really Had to See Him • http://nyti.ms/LbnjPH • Doc Watson, who died on Tuesday at age 89, was the first truly great guitar player I ever saw up close. For me, growing up in Santa Monica, Calif., in the 1950s meant that great musicians were only manifested on records and radio, making it hard to catch a glimpse of the person behind the layers of sound and presentation. You knew people like Hank Snow and Merle Travis were great, but you couldn’t be sure how much the Nudie suits and custom boots had contributed to the sound you heard on KXLA radio.
Doc Watson, a Legendary Picker, Was Traditional Music’s Best Ambassador • http://bit.ly/LbndYj • Arthel Watson got his nickname one night in a furniture store in Lenoir, N.C., in 1951, when he was just 18 years old. He was by then sufficiently gifted on the guitar to be performing at what might be called the semi-pro level. A Lenoir radio station was doing a remote feed from the store, where Watson (PDF) and his cousin were performing, and the announcer, having decided that Arthel was not much of a handle for radio, asked the audience for suggestions. A woman in the audience said, “Call him Doc.” The name stuck, and he’s been Doc to the world ever since.
Doc Watson: He was a pilgrim • www.getreligion.org/2012/05/doc-watson-he-was-a-pilgrim/ • When you’re talking about Doc Watson, the place to start is here: He was a superstar in old-time folk music, which is the rare art form in which the word “tradition” is not a curse.
Not Just A Good Musician • http://bit.ly/LbnM4h • As the story goes, Doc Watson and Earl Scruggs were sitting backstage at MerleFest one year talking about the time that Doc had emergency surgery in a Tennessee hospital, and Scruggs, who piloted a plane when he wasn’t picking a banjo, flew him home.
Doc Watson remembered as great friend, and music legend • http://avlne.ws/LbokHi • A day after the death of 89-year-old North Carolina folk music legend Doc Watson, his friends and fans were both shaken by his passing while celebrating memories of his life and music. “I was at his bedside a half-hour before he passed away” Tuesday night, said his longtime musical partner and close friend David Holt. “It’s the ending of an era. But it’s not the end of the music by any means. The music doesn’t end.”
Watson’s death hits Gallagher hard • http://bit.ly/LboGOa • The late J.W. Gallagher and his son Don first met Doc Watson and his son Merle at a music festival in 1968. They handed Doc one of their guitars, and he liked it. They told him to keep it. From that point forward, Doc Watson played Gallagher guitars. In 1974, Gallagher Guitar Co. designed a new model especially for Watson, and the Wartrace-based company has sold a line of guitars named for Watson ever since.
Stars pay tribute to Doc Watson • http://yhoo.it/Lbp1k9 • Chely Wright, Rosanne Cash and Steve Martin are among the stars who have paid tribute to Doc Watson following his death on Tuesday. The blind folk singer and guitarist, who was a seven-time Grammy Award winner, recently suffered a fall at his home and was admitted to hospital in North Carolina.
Flat-picking master inspired generations of guitar players • www.bendbulletin.com/article/20120531/NEWS0107/205310376/ • You could hear the mountains of North Carolina in Doc Watson’s music. The rush of a mountain stream, the steady creak of a mule in leather harness plowing rows in topsoil and the echoes of ancient sounds made by a vanishing people were an intrinsic part of the folk musician’s powerful, homespun sound.
Doc Watson’s Appalachian Swing • www.tnr.com/blog/the-famous-door/103834/doc-watson-appalachian-swing • Doc Watson, the guitarist and singer who died this week at 89, seemed the embodiment of traditional American rural values. He was a handsome mountain man, solid in body and temperament, and he comported himself on stage with courtly grace and gentle humor.
Doc Watson’s Front Porch Spirit • http://bit.ly/Lbrzi9 • Just a moment after Doc Watson died, at 89, on a Tuesday in a Winston-Salem North Carolina hospital, his spirit pushed open a weathered wood frame screen door on to God’s front porch.