Tuesday, May 29, 2012
– Doc Watson, an acoustic guitar giant in bluegrass, country and folk music, died today at 89 after falling at his home last week. Watson was particularly known for his flatpicking style of guitar in which he would hold the pick between two or three fingers to strike the strings. he also was instrumental in making the acoustic guitar a lead instrument in country and bluegrass.
"He is single-handedly responsible for the extraordinary increase in acoustic flat-picking and fingerpicking guitar performance," said Ralph Rinzler, the folklorist who discovered Watson in 1960. "His flat-picking style has no precedent in earlier country music history."
Watson, who was blind since he was a year old due to an eye infection, was born in Deep Gap, N.C. on March 3, 1923. He bought his first guitar after chopping dead chestnut trees on his family's property, selling the wood to a tannery to make money. Watson bought a $10 Stella guitar from Sears Roebuck. He played guitar on local street corners. By the time he was 30, he played with Jack Williams country swing band on electric guitar in Johnson City, Tenn. Watson also taught himself how to play fiddle tunes on his Les Paul electric guitar.
By 1960, Watson began playing acoustic guitar and banjo exclusively with the rise of the folk revival.
That same year, Rinzler found Watson at a fiddlers' convention in Union Grove, N.C. Watson sat in with old time musician Tom Ashley, making a mark on Rinzler. He then went to Watson's home and recorded him with family members, including his father-in-law, Gaither Carlton.
Watson toured as a solo performer and recorded his first disc, "Old Time Music at Clarence Ashley's" in 1961. Two years later, he received very positive reviews at the Newport Folk Festival. In 1964, he recorded his first solo album, the same year he began playing with his son Merle.
The Watsons later performed as a trio with T. Michael Coleman on bass, recording almost 15 albums between 1973 and 1985. Merle died in a tractor accident in 1985.
In 2000, Watson was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Honor in Owensboro, Ky. In 1997, Watson received the National Medal of Arts from President Clinton.
Watson hosted the annual MerleFest concert held every April at Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, N.C., a tribute to his son. The festival drew tens of thousands of people and focused on bluegrass and country acts.
Watson won eight Grammy awards, starting in 1973 for Best Ethnic or Traditional Recording for "Then and Now' and ending in 2006 with Best Country Instrumental Performance with Bryan Sutton for Whiskey Before Breakfast from "Not Too Far From the Tree" by Sutton.