Doc Watson, 1923-2012
Arthel Lane “Doc” Watson was born on March 23, 1923 in the hills of North Carolina. Stony Fork and Deep Gap to be more specific, if you know where those places are. Blinded by an infection before he was one year old, Watson earned the money for his first guitar by chopping wood with his brother and selling it to a tannery. It wasn’t his first musical instrument. That had been a hand made string instrument that his father gave him. It featured an animal skin sounding board.
Discovering his musical talent, Watson dropped out of the North Carolina School for the Blind after the sixth grade. He and his brother took to picking and singing on the street for tips. By adulthood he was playing electric guitar for a rockabilly band. But that gave way to his true love, flat picking on acoustic guitars. Fame found him after the 1963 Newport Folk Festival where his down home style and flat picking bluegrass-inspired tunes won over the crowds.
His best years were spent playing and recording with his son, Merle. When Merle died at the age of 36 in a farming accident, Doc considered retiring. Instead he began a new folk and bluegrass festival in Merle’s honor. Merlefest is held annually in Wilksboro, North Carolina.
Watson’s career highlights included seven Grammy’s and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1997 then President Bill Clinton awarded him the National Medal of Arts.
Watson is survived by his wife of 65 years, Rosa Lee Carlton and their daughter. Watson was 89, and still living in Deep Gap, when he was taken to the hospital where he died yesterday.