In Memoriam: Doc Watson

When Doc Watson started learning fiddle tunes on the guitar, ripping out the speedy riffs with a flat pick instead of the Carter Family-inspired thumb-pick method he was used to, he effectively raised the guitar bar several notches—not only for folk players, but eventually for the guitarists he'd influence in country, bluegrass, and rock, too. Put Doc's plectrum power together with his soul-slicing, lonesome moan of a voice and you've got the kind of musical artillery that legends are made of.

Arthel "Doc" Watson, who was born in 1923 in rural North Carolina and was blind most of his life, grew up with Appalachian folk traditions, church hymns and pre-WWII country music. He assimilated all this and more into his own idiosyncratic Americana, and at the start of the '60s, his sound was captured by folklorist Ralph Rinzler and released on Folkways Records.

The early '60s was the ideal time for an unadulterated roots artist like Watson to meet the wider world, as a major folk revival was sweeping the country. Watson quickly became a star of the folk scene, and in 1964 his guitar-playing son Merle made them a duo that remained a premier folk act for years. The younger Watson died in an accident on the family farm in 1985, leaving Doc behind to continue carrying the torch of traditional music into the 21st century. MerleFest, now one of America's biggest folk festivals, was established in 1988 in Merle's memory. On May 29, 2012, following colon surgery, an 89-year-old Doc finally rejoined Merle, but the incalculably influential music he made will keep guitar players on their toes for generations to come. – Jim Allen, Google Play


Anonymous said...

He was the best. A great person and musician. RIP Doc.

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