Doc Watson

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Doc Watson (2009)

Arthel Lane "Doc" Watson (born March 3, 1923 in Deep Gap , North Carolina ; † May 29, 2012 in Winston-Salem , North Carolina) was an American guitarist and singer of country , bluegrass , gospel and Folk songs .


Arthel Lane Watson got his stage name "Doc" during a public radio broadcast from a furniture store in Lenoir, North Carolina in the early 1940s. The radio host found his name Arthel too unpronounceable for the show, and a local audience member suggested calling him "Doc", possibly referring to Sherlock Holmes ' assistant. From then on he was known in public as Doc Watson.

Childhood and youth

Watson, who was blind in the first year of his life as a result of an eye infection , grew up in an extraordinarily musical family. Mother Annie was a singer of traditional and religious songs, while Father General played the banjo , which also became Watson's first stringed instrument.

Watson attended the school for the blind, where he was confronted with jazz , classical and the music of Django Reinhardt . As a result, he made far more musical experiences than others and got a wider access to music. Here he later differed significantly from other country musicians. Talent scout, musician and producer Ralph Rinzler wrote about him: "Doc is a musical hybrid, but a hybrid of a special kind."

At the age of thirteen, Watson played his father's self-taught piece When the Roses Bloom in Dixieland on a loaned guitar . He was so impressed by his son's ability that he took him to a store and bought him a $ 12 Stella guitar.

Watson subsequently developed an independent, personal style that was influenced by records by the banjo specialist Clarence Ashley , the Carter Family , Jimmie Rodgers and others through the then very influential country radio programs and also through the traditional music that his parents gave him .

Marriage and children

Watson now primarily made music with family and neighbors such as the Fiddler Gaither Carlton, whose daughter Rosa Lee he married in 1947. In 1949 Eddy Merle Watson (named after Eddy Arnold and Merle Travis ) was born. Daughter Nancy Ellen Watson was born in 1951.

Musician career

It was not until 1953 before Watson made his first paid appearances with the pianist Jack Williams and his Country and Western Swing Band. In addition to western swing , the repertoire also included rockabilly and country music adapted to commercial needs. Watson played lead guitar , using a Gibson Les Paul electric guitar as an instrument. In the 1995 album Docabilly , Watson paid tribute to this rather untypical phase of his career.

In 1960 Ralph Rinzler visited Doc's neighbor Clarence Ashley to take pictures with him. Rinzler also got to know Watson and was so impressed by his instrumental skills that he unceremoniously included him in the recording sessions with Ashley. The resulting album was Watson's first record and was released under the title Old Time Music at Clarence Ashley's.

The phase of the power-amplified guitar was over and the following year Watson took part in the Friends of Old Time Music Concert in New York , which later became legendary, with Clarence Ashley, the fiddler Fred Price and the guitarist Clint Howard . Watson subsequently gave concerts at Carnegie Hall and at the Newport Folk Festival . There the double album The Essential Doc Watson was recorded in 1963 and 1964 , on which he was accompanied by Junior Huskey (bass), Floyd Cramer (piano), Shot Jackson ( Dobro ), Buddy Harman (drums) and others. On such live albums Watson also told humorous short stories like The Preacher and the Bicycle; to be found on the double LP Doc Watson on Stage. From the mid-1960s, Watson also worked with the "Father of Bluegrass" Bill Monroe , with whom he appeared at various bluegrass and folk concerts. Their collaboration culminated in 1978 with the joint album Bill and Doc Sing Country Songs .

His appearances in Gerde's Folk City in Greenwich Village brought him into contact with musicians who criticized political and social grievances in their songs. By getting to know these artists personally, Watson, who always felt attached to the conservative attitudes of his parents, developed a more open attitude towards musicians like Joan Baez and Tom Paxton . Here, too, there was a difference to many other country musicians.

Playing technique and influences

From Maybelle Carter of the Carter Family, Watson initially took over the thumb pick technique (to pick: [guitar] "plucking"), also known as fingerstyle , which is customary in traditional "Old Time Music" . Influenced by Jimmie Rodgers, he then switched to straight pick and subsequently developed the flat picking game to a concert perfection. In addition to the great role model Django Reinhardt, other musicians such as the Delmore Brothers , Merle Travis, Chet Atkins and others also practiced. a. exerted a significant influence on Doc Watson. However, the music of his homeland in the Appalachians remained decisive for him throughout his life . This mountain region is considered to be the cradle of white American bluegrass, hillbilly and country music.

Merle Watson

Merle Watson, who over the years had developed into a first-class guitarist and banjo player and, despite his father's direct influence as well as his father, found his own style based on musicians like Mississippi John Hurt , worked with his father from the mid-1960s together in a musical as well as an administrative way. This productive collaboration led them to tour Europe and Asia; more than a dozen records were also recorded. This phase came to an abrupt end in a tractor accident in which Merle was killed in 1985.

Jack Lawrence, a friend of Merle, took his place next to Doc Watson, at least as a musician. Although he was badly hit by the loss of his son, he continued his work as a musician and released albums such as On Praying Ground, which appeared in 1990 and Legacy from 2002 , at almost regular intervals .


Doc Watson occupies a special position in his genre. In terms of speed, precision and musical expression, Watson set new standards with his guitar playing. He had a great influence not only on American folk music, but across genres on guitarists around the world. It is in large part thanks to him that the guitar became the leading instrument in folk, bluegrass, and country music. His bluegrass lead guitar style was adopted and developed by musicians such as Clarence White and Tony Rice . Dan Miller of "Flatpicking Guitar Magazine" about Watson: "Playing for the Love of Music is what has sustained Doc Watson ..."


  • 1974: Best Ethnic or Traditional Recording (Including Traditional Blues) for Then and Now
  • 1975: Best Ethnic or Traditional Recording for Two Days in November (with Merle Watson)
  • 1980: Best Country Instrumental Performance for Big Sandy / Leather Britches (with Merle Watson)
  • 1987: Best Traditional Folk Recording for Riding the Midnight Train
  • 1991: Best Traditional Folk Recording for On Praying Ground
  • 2003: Best Traditional Folk Recording for Legacy (with David Holt)

Web links

Commons : Doc Watson  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Obituary ( Memento of the original from July 5, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice.  @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /