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Doc Watson (Deep Gap, March 3, 1923 – Winston-Salem, May 29, 2012) was a guitarist, singer and composer of American popular music. Throughout his professional life, he was awarded seven Grammy Awards as well as an honorary Grammy for his entire artistic career in 2004 and the National Medal of Arts, during the folk revival that occurred in the 60’s, Watson was one of the most recognized figures, becoming a reference with his style of playing the acoustic guitar, especially for the so-called flatpicking, but also highlighted in the fingerpicking (with the fingers).
Arthel Lane Watson was born in 1923 in a small town in North Carolina. Before he was a year old, he lost his vision completely because of an eye infection, and he came into contact with gospel music as a child thanks to his parents’ love for this genre. He went to The Governor Morehead School, a special school for children affected by visual impairment in the city of Raleigh. Apparently, he put on the nickname Doc improvised during a live performance on the radio, when the announcer told him his name , Arthel, it sounded strange and someone from the audience shouted “call it Doc” in homage to the famous character of Doctor Watson, from the stories of Sherlock Holmes by Conan Doyle.
The first influences of Watson were artists of country music like The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers. The first song he learned to play on guitar was When Roses Bloom in Dixieland, recorded by The Carter Family in 1930. Watson commented in an interview for American Songwriter that “Jimmie Rodgers was the first man I claimed as my favorite.” At the age of 13 he buys his first guitar and just a few months later he starts playing around the corners with his brother Linny, The Delmore Brothers, The Louvin Brothers and The Monroe Brothers.
In 1947 Watson married Rosa Lee Carlton, daughter of the popular violinist Gaither Carlton and in 1949 his son Eddy Merle was born, named after the stars of country music Eddy Arnold and Merle Travis. In 1953 he began playing the electric guitar with a country band called Jack Williams and the Country Gentlemen, while earning his living as a piano tuner. The band, which did not have a violinist, is frequently required in the popular square dance dances and Watson begins to “tap” the melodies of the violin in his Gibson Les Paul, thus beginning a technique that transferred to the acoustic guitar would characterize it and give it fame. some years later.
Doc Watson dominated both the electric guitar and the acoustic, but in 1960, at the height of the folk revival, influenced by the musicologist Ralph Rinzler, decided to dedicate himself exclusively to acoustic guitar and banjo. The February 11, 1961 was a date of vital importance for the musical career of Watson when making his presentation in the folk scene of Greenwich Village; this performance would mark the beginning of his solo stage that would take him to make an extensive tour playing in clubs and universities throughout the United States.
Watson’s career acquired a prominent upward curve after participating in the 1963 Newport Folk Festival. Excellent reviews for his performance allowed him to publish his debut album in 1964. That same year he began to act with his son Merle, who would accompany him during a good part of his musical career, until his fateful death in 1985.
At the beginning of the 70s, Watson participated in the legendary album of Will the Circle Be Unbroken that brought together the greatest figures of bluegrass and country music of the moment, playing the theme of Jimmy Driftwood, Tennessee Stud. Despite the decline of the genre, he kept his level of popularity high on international tours. In 1974, the duo formed by Doc and his son Merle became a trio by incorporating bassist Michael Coleman. With this formation they published fifteen albums and remained active until the death of Merle in an accident with a tractor in the family farm in 1985.
In the years after the death of his son, Watson reduced his schedule of performances, and a few years later began acting with his grandson Richard (son of Merle). Watson is considered an authentic legend of American popular music, with an encyclopedic knowledge of traditional sounds ranging from folk to country to bluegrass, blues and gospel. To this he combined an excellent guitar technique, based on the fingerpicking style, and a distinctive deep baritone voice as the roots of the music he played. With an affable character, his humility and wit were applauded as much as his music.
Doc Watson passed away on May 29, 2012 in Winston-Salem (North Carolina) at the age of 89 years, a few days after undergoing an operation in the womb.
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