Doc Watson, the legendary blind guitarist and folk singer, has passed away in North Carolina at the age of 89. He had been in critical condition after falling at home and undergoing abdominal surgery over the weekend.
Known for his unique high-speed flat-picking guitar style and rich baritone voice, Watson was born Arthel Lane Watson on March 3, 1923 in Deep Gap, North Carolina in the Blue Ridge Mountains. He lost his sight at the age of one. During his childhood, he shared a three-room house with eight brothers and sisters and was introduced to music when his father gave him a harmonica. By the age of 5 he was playing the banjo, and demonstrating his natural musical ability. He first gained attention after performing at the Newport Folk Festival in 1963. Shortly after, he began to tour with his son Merle. Father and son recorded 20 albums together and toured regularly until 1985, when Merle died in a tragic tractor accident on their family farm.
Watson founded MerleFest, which is held annually in Wilkesboro, NC, to honour his son. The festival offers a variety of workshops and musical performances across 14 different stages.
Doc Watson was a pioneer in blending country, folk, blues and bluegrass techniques. And he revolutionized the way that people around the world thought about mountain music. Before Watson, the guitar was often considered a backup for the mandolin, fiddle or banjo.
His effect on people's playing style and understanding of guitar music earned him a reputation as an American treasure, and he earned many honours, including the National Medal of the Arts, presented to him by President Clinton in 1997, an induction into the International Bluegrass Hall of Honour in 2000 and eight Grammys, including a 2004 'Lifetime Achievement Award' for his sixty-plus albums.
In 2003, 'The Three Pickers' aired on PBS, showcasing Watson, along with Earl Scruggs and Ricky Skaggs, celebrating bluegrass music:
Watson and Earl Scruggs plucking at Doc's house:
Sittin' On Top Of The World: