Doc Watson, guitarist, songwriter and singer, died at 89

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Dead, Arthel Lane “Doc” Watson on May 29, 2012, he was an American guitarist, songwriter, and singer of bluegrass, folk, country, blues, and gospel music, born in Deep Gap, North Carolina on March 3, 1923, according to Watson on his three-CD biographical recording Legacy, he got the nickname “Doc” during a live radio broadcast when the announcer remarked that his given name Arthel was odd and he needed an easy nickname.

A fan in the crowd shouted “Call him Doc!” presumably in reference to the literary character Sherlock Holmes’s sidekick Doctor Watson.

In a 1989 radio interview with Terry Gross on the Fresh Air show on National Public Radio, Watson explains how he got his first guitar.

His father told him that if he and his brother David chopped down all the small dead chestnut trees along the edge of their field, he could sell the wood to a tannery.

Watson bought a $10 Stella guitar from Sears Roebuck with his earnings, while his brother bought a new suit.

Later in that same interview, Watson explained that his first high-quality guitar was a Martin D-18. In 1953, Watson joined the Johnson City,

Tennessee-based Jack Williams’ country and western swing band on electric guitar.

The band seldom had a fiddle player, but was often asked to play at square dances.

Following the example of country guitarists Grady Martin and Hank Garland, Watson taught himself to play fiddle tunes on his Les Paul electric guitar.

He later transferred the technique to acoustic guitar, and playing fiddle tunes became part of his signature sound.

During his time with Jack Williams, Doc also supported his family as a piano tuner.

In 1947, Doc married Rosa Lee Carlton, the daughter of popular fiddle player Gaither Carlton.

Watson and Rosa Lee had two children – Eddy Merle (named after country music legends Eddy Arnold and Merle Travis) in 1949 and Nancy Ellen in 1951.

Watson spent 15 years recording and performing music with his son Merle, who died tragically in a tractor accident in 1985, at 36 years old.

Watson went on to found MerleFest, an annual acoustic music gathering held in Wilkesboro, North Carolina.

The festival has become a destination event and pilgrimage for musicians as well as fans of Americana.

Watson played a Martin model D-18 guitar on his earliest recordings. In 1968, Watson began a relationship with Gallagher Guitars when he started playing their G-50 model.

His first Gallagher, which Watson refers to as “Old Hoss”, is on display at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tennessee.

In 1974, Gallagher created a customized G-50 line to meet Watson’s preferred specifications, which bears the Doc Watson name.

In 1991, Gallagher customized a personal cutaway guitar for Watson that he played until his death and which he referred to as “Donald” in honour of Gallagher guitar’s second generation proprietor and builder, Don Gallagher.

For the last few years, Doc had been playing a Dana Bourgeois dreadnought given to him by Ricky Skaggs for his 80th birthday.


 

 

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