An ironic post for a site named No Depression. Doc Watson has passed away at the age of 89. Born in 1923, the North Carolina native has been blind nearly all his life. Watson often entertains fans with stories of his childhood, growing up to be a hard working, independent person.
Doc’s signature flat picking guitar style has widely influences folk, blues, bluegrass and traditional music for many generations. Doc explains that his unique flat picking came from learning fiddle tunes on the guitar to play at square dancing gigs. During the beginning of his career, Watson would travel the country by bus, playing at colleges and festivals. In 1964 he released his first solo album and also begin playing shows with his son Merle. The two would play together until Merle died in a tractor accident on the family farm. The passing of Merle would eventually spark the memorial festival known as “Merlefest”.
Founded in 1988, Merlefest is widely famous for drawing stellar regulars such as Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Peter Rowan, Tony Rice, Pete Wernick, T Michael Coleman and, of course, Doc Watson himself. Other famous performers to have played at Merlefest include: Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Steve Martin, Earl Scruggs, Alison Krauss, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Ricky Skaggs, Avett Brothers, Old Crow Medicine Show, Wayback, The Doobie Brothers and Robert Plant. The festival is held on a small community college in Wilksboro NC.
Among the frequent Merlefest performers is Watson’s most regular partner of all, David Holt. Holt and Watson met in 1971 backstage at a festival in Georgia. In their early years, they would play together on the television show “Fire on the mountain”. Hold would play with Doc and Merle Watson on an album Reel and Rock, which would be Merle’s final recording project. On the morning Merle died, Doc called David to tell him the news, and the event would help the two form a bond that would last to present day. Holt has credited Watson with making him a better musician because “[Doc and I] hardly ever practice. I asked him for just one practice at his house and we didn’t even get to it all” In reference to practicing for a TV performance “An Evening with Doc Watson”.
Doc has 7 Grammy awards as well as a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. His flatpicking style is easy recognizable as one of the most influential sounds of folk music today. His passing will leave heavy heart among many, but as Doc would say, “I won’t be dead, I just won’t be here no more.”