Arthel "Doc" Watson 1923 - 2012 Was Blind But Now Can See

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Submitted by Don Graham

Doc Watson passed away in North Carolina on May 29th, 2012 at the age of 89.

Arthel Watson was born in Deep Gap North Carolina in 1923. An eye infection caused him to lose his vision before he reached the age of one. Despite his handicap he was taught to work hard and as a boy his brother and he were told if they chopped down some old, dead chestnut trees on their property they could sell the wood to the local tannery. With his profits, Arthel bought a Stella guitar for ten dollars and a career was born. While doing a radio show , the announcer mentioned that Arthel was a difficult name to pronounce and perhaps Watson should come up with a simple nickname. An audience member yelled out “ Call him Doc.” And Doc he was for the rest of his life.

In the 1950’s he played electric guitar in various country and western bands where they got a lot of requests for fiddle tunes. The bands often didn’t have a fiddle player so Watson taught himself to play fiddle tunes on the guitar to fill the need. Watson became well known during the folk revival of the 1960’s and started playing at universities and clubs and festivals as a solo artist.  His big break came in 1963 at the Newport Folk Festival where he got great reviews. A year later in 1964, he made his first solo recording and began working with his son Merle.

In 1972 his version of Tennessee Stud on the ‘Will the Circle Be Unbroken’ album kept his momentum going as the folk crazed had waned. Doc Watson won 8 Grammy Awards including the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award.  Although he slowed down his touring in his later years he was still active and played annually at a festival he set up for his son Merle. He considered Merle who played with Doc on stage, his best friend and when Merle passed away following a tractor accident in 1985 Doc considered retirement but decided to keep his memory alive with a festival.   Last year a life size statue of Doc Watson was unveiled in Boone, North Carolina. The inscription reads, as per Doc’s request. “Just One of the People.”

In the words of Nashville legend Ricky Skaggs “An old ancient warrior has gone home.”

Rest in peace Doc, “you were blind but now you’ll see.”