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Doc Watson

In the latter half of the 20th century there were three pre-eminently influential folk/country guitar players: Merle Travis, Chet Atkins, and Arthel "Doc" Watson, a flat-picking genius from Deep Gap, North Carolina. Unlike the other two, Watson was in middle age before gaining any attention. After 1960, though, when Watson was recorded with his family and friends in Folkways' Old Time Music at Clarence Ashley's, people remained in awe of this gentle blind man who sang and picked with a pure and emotional authenticity. The present generation, folkies and country pickers alike, including Ricky Skaggs, Vince Gill, the late Clarence White, Emmylou Harris, and literally hundreds of others, acknowledge their great debt to Watson. Watson provided a further service to folk/country by his encyclopedic knowledge of many American traditional songs. While Travis and Atkins started on acoustic guitars and moved to electric, before Watson's "discovery" during the folk revival in the early '60s, he played electric in a local all-purpose band that played current rock, swing, country, and of course folk music. He gained recognition gradually, first from the Clarence Ashley album, which led to a rave performance at the Newport Folk Festival in 1963. Folkways soon recorded an album of Watson, followed in 1964 by a series of albums by Vanguard, nearly one a year through the decade. No sooner had interest in folk music waned than Watson was back in great demand because of the three-disc Will the Circle Be Unbroken, a watershed album in 1972 that was created by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. It featured Watson, Travis, Roy Acuff, and a who's who of country greats. Merle, Watson's son and a talent in his own right, began appearing with his father regularly. The result was good enough for them to win two Grammys for traditional music, in 1973 and 1974. Father and son played beautiful music together for over 15 years, until Merle died tragically on the family farm in 1985. Following his son's death, Doc continued with his appearances, showcasing his beautiful voice, his great instrumental talent, and his mastery of traditional material. He was an American treasure.

Early in his childhood in Deep Gap, Watson was struck by an illness that restricted the blood flow to his eyes, resulting in his blindness at an early age. As a child, he was surrounded by music and was given a new harmonica every Christmas. When he was ten, his father gave him a homemade fretless banjo, which Doc played consistently for the next three years. Around the same time he picked up the banjo, Watson began attending the School for the Blind in Raleigh, North Carolina. At the age of 13, Doc began playing guitar after being introduced to the instrument by his cousin. Six months after receiving his guitar, Doc and his older brother Linney began busking on street corners, singing traditional numbers. By his late teens, Watson had learned how to fingerpick from his neighbor Olin Miller.

In 1941, Watson joined a band that had a regular radio program in Lenoir, North Carolina. It was at this show that he earned his nickname, once one of the announcers referred to the guitarist as "Doc" during the broadcast. For the next six years he played around North Carolina. In 1947, he married Rosa Lee Carlton, the daughter of fiddler Gaither W. Carlton. Though his father-in-law taught him a number of traditional songs, Doc didn't play any traditional material publicly during the '40s, preferring to concentrate on country instead; to pay the bills, he also worked as a piano tuner. Watson joined the supporting band of a local pianist and railroad worker named Jack Williams in 1953. With Williams, Doc played electric guitar and performed a variety of music, from country to rock and pop. After staying with Jack for eight years, Watson joined the Clarence Ashley String Band and traveled with the group to New York in order to appear at a Friends of Old-Time Music concert. His performance at the concert was a resounding success, and he was invited to perform at Gerde's Folk City in Greenwich Village.

The invitation to perform in New York was an indication that the folk boom of the early '60s was beginning to gain momentum, and Doc became one of the major benefactors of the revival. Young college students began to follow his music and he soon switched to acoustic guitar on the advice of Ralph Rinzler. During 1961, Watson made his recording debut on Clarence Ashley's Old Time Music at Clarence Ashley's, a performance which earned him considerable acclaim. Two years later, his solo spot at the Newport Folk Festival stole the show; that same year he released his first solo album, Doc Watson & Family. In 1964, Doc began giving concerts accompanied by his son Merle on second guitar. From that point on, Doc and Merle were constant collaborators and one of the most popular performers on the folk and traditional music circuit. Even when the folk boom of the '60s died down toward the end of the decade, Watson retained his audience, and when he was spotlighted on the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's breakthrough 1972 album Will the Circle Be Unbroken, he earned another generation of new fans. In 1974, his album Then and Now won the Grammy for Best Ethnic or Traditional Recording; the following year, he and Merle took home the same award for their Two Days in November.

Doc and Merle continued to perform and record successfully during the early '80s, giving numerous successful concerts each year and earning many awards, including another Grammy in 1979 (Best Country Instrumental Performance for "Big Sandy"/"Leather Britches"). In 1985, Merle tragically died in a tractor accident on his home farm. Following his son's death, Doc stopped performing for a short time, yet he made a comeback supported by guitarist Jack Lawrence and bassist T. Michael Coleman, who had played with Watson since 1974. Throughout the '80s and '90s, Doc continued to perform and record to enthusiastic audiences. During that time he won two more Grammys -- Best Traditional Folk Recording for both 1986's Riding the Midnight Train and 1990's On Praying Ground -- as well as a North Carolina Award in Fine Arts. Home Sweet Home followed in 1998 and Third Generation Blues in 1999. Doc Watson continued with occasional performing and recording into the 21st century; he died in May 2012 following surgery at a hospital in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, at 89 years of age. ~ David Vinopal
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: Americana Master Series: Best Of Doc Watson

1. Slidin' Delta

2. My Dear Old Southern Home

3. Country Blues

4. You Must Come In At The Door

5. Greenville Trestle High

6. Bright Sunny South

7. Let The Church Roll On

8. My Little Woman You're So Sweet

9. Watson's Blues

10. Wreck Of The Number Nine

11. Solid Gone

12. Whiskey Before Breakfast

13. What Does The Deep Sea Say

14. Your Lone Journey

x

Track List: Trouble In Mind: The Doc Watson Country Blues Collection

1. Country Blues

2. Sitting On The Top Of World

3. Little Sadie

4. Gambler's Yodel

5. Rain Crow Bill

6. My Little Woman, You're So Sweet

8. Deep River Blues

9. Georgie Buck

11. Memphis Blues

12. Stackolee

13. Worried Blues

15. Never No More Blues

16. Honey Babe Blues

x

Track List: 'Round The Table Again

1. Lynchburg Town

2. Coo Coo Bird

3. Blues Walkin' Round My Bed

4. She's So Sweet

5. On A Monday Morning

6. Working Man's Blues

7. Jimmie's Mean Mamma Blues

8. Walking In Jerusalem

9. Show Bizness

10. Sincerely

11. Battle Of Nashville

12. You Ain't Going Nowhere

13. C.C. Rider

14. Court On High

15. Nights In White Satin

16. Sugar Babe

17. Untitled

x

Track List: The Best Of Doc Watson 1964-1968

1. Muskrat

2. Country Blues

3. Rising Sun Blues

4. Tennesse Stud

5. Down In The Valley To Pray

6. Dill Pickle Rag

7. Otto Wood The Bandit

8. Windy And Warm

9. Little Sadie

10. Blue Railroad Train

11. Omie Wise

12. Intoxicated Rat

13. Tom Dooley

14. Alberta

15. Beaumont Rag

16. Shady Grove

17. My Rough And Rowdy Ways

18. The Train That Carried My Girl From Town

19. Black Mountain Rag

20. Grandfather's Clock

21. The Cyclone Of Ryecov

22. Doc's Guitar

23. Crawdad Hole

x

Track List: My Dear Old Southern Home

1. My Dear Old Southern Home

2. Ship That Never Returned

3. Your Lone Journey

4. My Friend Jim

5. No Telephone In Heaven

6. Dream Of The Miner's Child

7. Wreck Of The Number Nine

8. Grandfather's Clock

9. Don't Say Goodbye If You Love Me

10. Sleep, Baby Sleep

11. Signal Light

12. That Silver Haired Daddy Of Mine

13. Life Is Like A River

x

Track List: The Doc Watson Family

1. Ground Hog

2. Every Day Dirt

3. Bonaparte's Retreat

4. The House Carpenter

5. I'm Troubled

6. Your Long Journey

7. When I Die

8. That Train That Carried My Girl From Town

9. Down The Road

10. The Lone Pilgrim

11. Texas Gales / Blackberry Rag (Medley)

12. Darling Corey

13. The Triplett Tragedy

14. Muddy Roads

15. The Lost Soul

16. Keep In The Middle Of The Road

17. The Old Man Below

18. Pretty Saro

19. Cousin Sally Brown

20. Look Down That Lonesome Road

21. Doodle Bug

22. Rambling Hobo

23. The Cuckoo Bird

24. Frosty Morn

25. Shady Grove

26. Southbound

x

Track List: Portrait

1. I'm Worried Now

2. Nobody Knows But Me

3. Leaving London

4. Stay In The Middle Of The Road

5. Risin' Sun Blues

6. George Gudger's Overalls

7. Tucker's Barn

8. Storms On The Ocean

9. Prayer Bells Of Heaven

10. Tough Luck Man

11. She's Gone Away

12. Country Blues

13. Blue Eyed Jane

x

Track List: Riding The Midnight Train

1. I'm Going Back To The Old Home

2. Greenville Trestle High

3. Highway Of Sorrow

4. Fill My Way With Love

5. We'll Meet Again Sweetheart

6. Riding That Midnight Train

7. Stone's Rag

8. Ramshackle Shack

9. Midnight On The Stormy Deep

10. Baby Blue Eyes

11. What Does The Deep Sea Say

12. Let The Church Roll On

13. Sweet Heaven When I Die

x

Track List: The Essential Doc Watson

1. Tom Dooley

2. Alberta

3. Froggie Went A-Courtin'

4. Beaumont Rag

5. St. James Hospital

6. Muskrat

7. Down In The Valley To Pray

8. Blue Railroad Train

9. Rising Sun Blues

10. Shady Grove

11. My Rough And Rowdy Ways

12. The Train That Carried My Girl From Town

15. Blueridge Mountain Blues

16. Country Blues

17. Groundhog

19. Blackberry Blossom

20. Going Down This Road Feeling Bad

21. Rambling Hobo (Live)

22. Little Omie Wise

23. Handsome Molly

24. Whitehouse Blues (Live)

26. Way Downtown

x

Track List: Southbound

1. Walk On Boy

2. Blue Railroad Train

3. Sweet Georgia Brown

4. Alberta

5. Southbound

6. Windy And Warm

7. Call Of The Road

8. Tennessee Stud

9. That Was The Last Thing On My Mind

10. Little Darling Pal Of Mine

11. Nothing To It

12. Riddle Song

13. Never No More Blues

14. Nashville Pickin'

x

Track List: Doc Watson

1. Nashville Blues

2. Sitting On Top Of The World

3. Intoxicated Rat

4. Country Blues

5. Talk About Suffering

6. Born About Six Thousand Years Ago

7. Black Mountain Rag

8. Little Omie Wise

9. Georgie Buck

10. Doc's Guitar

11. Deep River Blues

12. St. James' Hospital

13. Tom Dooley

x

Track List: Foundation: Doc Watson Guitar Instrumental Collection

1. Black Mountain Rag

2. Windy & Warm

3. June Apple

4. Doc's Guitar

5. Stone's Rag

6. Victory Rag

10. Rainbow

11. Dill Pickle Rag

12. Salt River/Bill Cheatham

13. Lonesome Banjo

14. Texas Gales

15. Tucker's Barn

16. Cannonball Rag

x

Track List: The Bottom Line Archive Series: 2002 (Live)

1. Shady Grove (Live)

2. Introduction (Live)

3. Dream Of The Miner's Child (Live)

4. Telephone Girl (Live)

5. Train Whistle Blues (Live)

6. Hannah (Live)

7. CC Rider (Live)

8. Freight Train (Live)

9. Doc Tells Stories (Live)

10. Daybreak Blues (Live)

11. Workin' Man Blues (Live)

12. Walk On Boy (Live)

13. South Coast (Live)

14. Summertime (Live)

15. Stand By Me (Live)

17. Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor (Live)

18. Little Sadie (Live)

19. I Am A Pilgrim (Live)

20. Corrina, Corrina (Live)

21. Nothing To It (Live)

22. Eastbound Freight Train (Live)

23. I'm A Stranger Here (Live)

24. Eight More Miles To Louisville (Live)

26. St. James Infirmary Blues (Live)

27. Intro: I'll Never See My Home Again (Live)

28. Trouble In Mind (Live)

29. I'll Never See My Home Again (Live)

30. In The Pines (Live)

31. Stony Creek (Live)

32. Movin' On (Live)

33. T For Texas (Live)

35. Ready For The Times To Get Better (Live)

36. You're Not A Drop In The Bucket (Live)

37. Nights In White Satin (Live)

38. Jimmie's Mean Mama Blues (Live)

40. Kinfolk In Carolina (Live)

41. Bye Bye Blues (Live)

42. I Got The Blues And I Can't Be Satisfied (Live)

43. Alabama Jubilee (Live)

Comments

Report as inappropriate
Saw Doc at the 2nd Fret in Philly c.1970. Awesome picker. R.I.P., Doc Watson.
Report as inappropriate
A wonderful pure musician. and David Vinopal, this a really well written biography; thanks.
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I was born right in his hometown area,Boone,N C . I love bluegrass.
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Doc Watson is cool
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mrp95020
Every bluegrass guitar player who has taken a solo in the past fifty years owes Doc Watson a huge debt of gratitude.
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mrp95020
Evert bluegrass/ac o u s t i c guitar player who has taken a solo in the last fifty years owes a huge debt of gratitude to Doc Watson.
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It's about backbreaking work, honesty and self-relianc e . Hope your kids got that part, sternga5. :)
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Not nonsense.
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dont read this you will be kissed on the nearest Friday by the love of your life. Tommorow will be the best day of your life. Now you have started reading thks dont stop or you will have bad luck. Put this on 15 different songs in 143 minutes. When you are done press the space bar and your crushes name will appear on your screen
Report as inappropriate
My favorite Doc Watson.
Report as inappropriate
One of the best pickers I ever had the chance to see live. His technique was incredible. Rest in peace, legend.
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'Jimmy Driftwood wrote this thing.' Tennessee Stud was a long-time favorite of my kids as a song before bedtime. Doc has the perfect voice to sing this loveable piece of nonsense.
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Report as inappropriate
Arthel will inspire pickers forever come too merlefest
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Wow listen to this music! This is it!
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Thanks Doc, your impressions have been left for us all to enjoy. R.I.P.
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Doc was the very best. Rip doc
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What can you say that hasn't already been said!?so I'll just add my great to all the others!!!
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The good Lord had some music to play for him. I bet the Lord is really loving his music up there. He is seeing again now thanks. Yes RIP Doc.
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Best flatpicker ever
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dagwoodblond e
I was first exposed to this beautiful music in Vietnam 1967. Gary Nicholson and Bob Fishbach kept us up many hours many days. Thank you
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Aint nobody like Doc.
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RIP, Doc.
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Inspiring man
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i love living in deep gap, The local stories about Doc walking to town to play on the streets in his young years are great. So close to home. Doc is the heavenly picker,
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Just great.
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laceybayes
Good mucic
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Rip Doc
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jamesmoses46
i love the doc!!
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He is sightless no more, the Lord took care of that and anything else wrong with him. He is playing for the lord now.
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I'll bet he is singing and playing for the Lord God Now and he is Loving it.
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Doc was a real hipster
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True American Legend
RIP Doc
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atched and listened to Doc and Merle @ UCRiverside Ca. so great
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Good Stuff
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gusry904
A True Master
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RIP Doc
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I grew up in Konnorock Virginia but 1rst heard Doc and Merle in Ca .at the Arlington Theater 1975.He sounded like heaven and if there is a forgiving God ,,,,that's the next place I'll get to hear him again.Bless all of those who let music touch their hearts and soul.....
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...wood sheding in a small town by myself, Doc was my first favorite performer. Saw him many times in the 70's-90's. Must admit I cried when he was called home....Mark Fallin
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Miss You Doc! RIP.
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ljones6780
A friend of mine, who was a true fan, told me that Doc wired his own house, even though he was blind. A man of many talents!
Report as inappropriate
Doc made music beautiful and exciting ! Very emotional singing. What more can say. Had the opportunity to see him live several times in the late 70 early 80s. Wow. Great music
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laskiblue
Doc Watson was a brilliant guitarist. I was saddened to hear of his death this year, but felt comforted in knowing that he and Merle were together again.
Report as inappropriate
i love doc's style and how he mixes it up. rest in peace doc. your reunited with your son again
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doc will always be my favorte guitar picker rest in piece
Report as inappropriate
Doc was also color blind, melding many great acoustic blues pickers into his style as well. One of the giants of finger pickin'. Great folk singer as well. RIP
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Now he's pickin with Merle...
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Open up those pearly gates-Doc is coming !
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RIP Doctor Watson , Sherlock's partner. Supposedly that is where his name came from. I saw him live at the Birchmere..
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