RIP: Influential Folk Musician Doc Watson Dies at 89Posted: May 29, 2012
Doc Watson, the guitarist and folk singer whose flat-picking style elevated the acoustic guitar to solo status in bluegrass and country music, and whose interpretations of traditional American music profoundly influenced generations of folk and rock guitarists, died on Tuesday in Winston-Salem, N.C. He was 89.
Mr. Watson, who came to national attention during the folk music revival of the early 1960s, injected a note of authenticity into a movement awash in protest songs and bland renditions of traditional tunes. In a sweetly resonant, slightly husky baritone, he sang old hymns, ballads and country blues he had learned growing up in the northwestern corner of North Carolina, which has produced fiddlers, banjo pickers and folk singers for generations.
His mountain music came as a revelation to the folk audience, as did his virtuoso guitar playing. Unlike most country and bluegrass musicians, who thought of the guitar as a secondary instrument for providing rhythmic backup, Mr. Watson executed the kind of flashy, rapid-fire melodies normally played by a fiddle or a banjo. His style influenced a generation of young musicians learning to play the guitar as folk music achieved national popularity.
“He is single-handedly responsible for the extraordinary increase in acoustic flat-picking and fingerpicking guitar performance,” said Ralph Rinzler, the folklorist who discovered Mr. Watson in 1960. “His flat-picking style has no precedent in earlier country music history.”
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Doc Watson played the acoustic guitar with such pure precision that Bob Dylan once compared his picking to “water running.”
The folk-music icon, 89, died Tuesday, after a fall last week at his home in Deep Gap, N.C., and subsequent colon surgery.
Blind from infancy, Watson grew up playing harmonica and a homemade banjo but learned guitar after his father bought him a $12 Stella acoustic when he was 13. Born Arthel Lane Watson, he picked up the nickname “Doc” at the suggestion of an audience member at a radio broadcast when he was in his teens.
Rest in Peace, Doc, and thanks for the music.