Artist Profiles: Doc Watson

Doc Watson

Arthel L. “Doc” Watson was born in Deep Gap North Carolina in 1922 to a musical family. Blind since infancy Doc started playing harmonica and a homemade banjo as a child.

At 13, armed with a $12 Stella guitar, Doc learned both the traditional tunes passed down through his family as well as the new “pop” songs he heard on the radio and records. Yet it wasn’t until Doc was 30 that he started earning money for his music. Hooking up with a local piano player Doc played rockabilly and swing for pay and traditional tunes in his free time.

The 1960s folk revival brought Doc out of the mountains and into the spotlight. Since his “discovery,” Doc became a full time musical artist. He played concerts clubs colleges and festivals all over the country including the Newport Folk Festival the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and Carnegie Hall. His style included everything from Appalachian folk music roots to rockabilly, blues, country, gospel and bluegrass. Doc was acknowledged by fans and critics alike as one of the Unirted States’ most accomplished flat-pickers and his artistic influence cannot be overstated. Doc’s many accolades and honors included five Grammy Awards, two honorary degrees, The National Heritage Fellowship, and The National Medal of Arts.

Doc Watson was a disciple of the legendary guitarist Merle Travis. Together with Merle Travis and Chet Atkins he made up the top tier of country guitar. Doc was able to record with his hero before his death.

He recorded over 50 albums blending Appalachian folk music with bluegrass, country ,gospel and the blues. Virtuoso fiddle player Mark O’Connor believes Doc was “as progressive as anybody I’ve ever heard.” There is no skill on the guitar that Doc hadn’t mastered whether it be speed tone or feeling.

In 1985, Doc’s son, Merle,  who was 36-years old, died in a tragic tractor accident a few miles from home. A festival in his honor, Merlefest, was started in North Carolina and has become the largest and most important bluegrass and American folk music festival in the United States.

A historical meeting between Chet Atkins and Doc Watson, two of the 20th century’s most influential American guitarists, was documented in 1980. Released on CD, Reflections has become  an influential guitar album.

The Watson family musical tradition continues with yet another generation. An album called Third Generation Blues found Doc carrying the Watson legacy forward, this time with Merle’s son, Richard on 2nd guitar.

Before he died, Doc Watson was semi-retired. He died on Tuesday May 29, 2012 at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.


Discography:

Old Time Music at Clarence Ashley’s Vol. 1 live (Folkways 1961)
Old Time Music at Clarence Ashley’s Vol. 2 live (Folkways 1963)
Doc Watson (1964)
Doc Watson & Son (1965)
Southbound (Vanguard 1966)
Ballads From Deep Gap (Vanguard 1967)
Old-Timey Concert (with Clint Howard and Fred Price) (live) (Vanguard 1967)
Doc Watson in Nashville: Good Deal! (Vanguard 1968)
Doc Watson on Stage (Vanguard 1971)
The Elementary Doctor Watson! (Sugar Hill 1972)
Then and Now (Tomato 1973)
The Best of Doc Watson (1973)
Two Days in November (Poppy Records 1974)
Memories (Sugar Hill 1975)
Doc and the Boys (United Artists Records 1976)
Lonesome Road (Beat Goes On 1977)
Look Away! (United Artists Records 1978)
Live and Pickin’ (United Artists Records 1979)
Reflections with Chet Atkins (Sugar Hill SH-3896 1980)Tellulive (Flying Fish 198)
Red Rocking Chair (Flying Fish 1981)
Doc and Merle Watson’s Guitar Album (Flying Fish 1983)
Down South (Sugar Hill 1984)
Pickin’ the Blues (Flying Fish 1985)
Riding the Midnight Train (Sugar Hill 1986)
Portrait (Sugar Hill 1987)
On Praying Ground (Sugar Hill 1990)
Jean Ritchie and Doc Watson at Folk City (1990)
My Dear Old Southern Home (Sugar Hill 1991)
Remembering Merle (1992)
Live Recordings 1963-198: Off the Record Volume 2 (with Bill Monroe) (1993)
Original Folkways Recordings of Doc Watson and Clarence Ashley 196-1962 (1994)
Original Folkways Recordings: 196-1962 (1994)
Docabilly (Sugar Hill 1995)
The Vanguard Years (1995)
Watson Country (1996)
Doc & Dawg with David Grisman (Acoustic Disc 1997)
Elementary Doctor Watson! / Then and Now (1997)
Del Doc & Mac with Del McCoury and Mac Wiseman (Sugar Hill 1998)
Home Sweet Home (Sugar Hill 1998)
Third Generation Blues (Sugar Hill 1999)
The Best of Doc Watson: 1964-1968 (1999)
Foundation: Doc Watson Guitar Instrumental Collection 1964-1998 (2000)
Doc Watson at Gerdes Folk City (live) (2001)
Legacy (2002)
Then and Now/Two Days in November (2002)
The Three Pickers with Earl Scruggs and Ricky Skaggs (2003)
Trouble in Mind: Doc Watson Country Blues Collection (2003)
Sittin’ Here Pickin’ the Blues (Rounder, 2004)
Black Mountain Rag (2006)
Vanguard Visionaries (2007)
Americana Master Series: Best of Doc Watson (2008)
The Definitive Doc Watson (Sugar Hill Records 2013)
Never the Same Way Once, 7 CD boxed set with live concerts by Doc & Merle Watson made in 1974 at The Boarding House in San Francisco (Owsley Stanley Foundation, 2017)

Videos

Doc’s Guitar. Fingerpicking and Flatpicking. 9 minute DVD includes tabbooklet. Produced by Smithsonian/Folkways and Homespun Video.

Flatpicking With Doc. 8-min. video Includes music + tab book. HomespunVideo.

Doc’s Guitar. 9 Min Video Includes Music and Tab. Produced by Smithsonian/Folkways and Homespun Video

Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music and progressive music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music and electronic music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World, Lektronic Soundscapes, and Mindchild Records. Angel is currently based in Durham, North Carolina.

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