James’ Brand New Blog

RIP Doc Watson (1923-2012)

- June 1st, 2012

doc watson

Musician Doc Watson poses backstage at McCabe”s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, California, in this 1986 publicity photo released to Reuters on May 25, 2012. Grammy-winning folk musician Watson died May 29, 2012 at the age of 89 after undergoing colon surgery last week at a North Carolina hospital, according to his management team. REUTERS/Peter D. Figen/Handout

Played Doc Watson’s Hicks Farewell this morning as JBNBlog’s farewell to a great American.

Accompanied only  by Gaither Carlton’s fiddle, Watson’s vocal has all the eerie stateliness & other worldly immediacy you would expect from a song written by a missionary Baptist preacher, suddenly stricken & expecting to die and wanting to create music & words to send back to his wife. Watson sang this version in 1961 and in his introduction he says it dates from before the Civil War. Hearing Watson sing, it could be 1851.

Hicks Farewell is from there is no eye: music for photographs recordings of musicians photographed by john cohen (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings), an amazing collection. Somewhere in the basement, there may be some Doc Watson guitar . . . so I’m going to look for that. I recall John Renbourn mentioning Doc Watson, reverentially & affectionately, at Aeolian Hall years ago, one guitar wizard saluting another.

Here’s an obituary from the Toronto Sun website, drawn from Reuters.

 

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - Grammy-winning U.S. guitarist and folk singer Arthel Lane “Doc” Watson died on Tuesday in a North Carolina hospital at age 89, his management company said.

Watson died at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, following abdominal surgery last week, Folklore Productions International said in a statement.

“Doc was a legendary performer who blended his traditional Appalachian musical roots with bluegrass, country, gospel and blues to create a unique style and an expansive repertoire,” the statement said. “He was a powerful singer and a tremendously influential picker who virtually invented the art of playing mountain fiddle tunes on the flattop guitar.”

Watson, who was blinded before his first birthday, won seven Grammy Awards, in addition to the Grammy for lifetime achievement he received in 2004. In 2006 he won in the category of best country instrumental performance for his playing on “Whiskey Before Breakfast.”

Watson was born on March 3, 1923, in Deep Gap, North Carolina, to a banjo-playing father, General Watson, and a mother who sang traditional secular and religious songs, Annie Watson.

Blinded by an eye infection as a toddler, he learned to play the banjo first, then taught himself the chords to “When the Roses Bloom in Dixieland” on a borrowed guitar at age 13, his managers said.

He picked up some chords from a fellow student at the Raleigh School for the Blind and began to incorporate music he heard on the radio with familiar Appalachian melodies.

Watson became a full-time professional musician in the 1960s and played everywhere from folk festivals to Carnegie Hall.

For much of his career, he toured and recorded with his son, Merle Watson, who died in a tractor accident in 1985. Doc Watson’s most popular recordings include the songs “Tom Dooley,” “Shady Grove” and “Rising Sun Blues.”

“There may not be a serious, committed baby boomer alive who didn’t at some point in his or her youth try to spend a few minutes at least trying to learn to pick a guitar like Doc Watson,” President Bill Clinton said when he awarded Watson the National Medal of the Arts in 1997.

Watson is survived by his wife, Rosa Lee Carlton Watson, and their daughter Nancy Ellen, his grandchildren Richard Watson and Karen Watson Norris, several great-grandchildren, and his brother David Watson.

 

Categories: Entertainment

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