DOC WATSON Biography - Musicians


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Name Arthel Lane Watson                                                                   
Born March 3, 1923 Deep Gap, North Carolina U.S.                                         
Arthel Lane "Doc" Watson (born March 3, 1923) is an American guitar player,               
songwriter and singer of bluegrass, folk, country, blues and gospel music.               
Doc Watson was born in Deep Gap, North Carolina. According to Doc 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 to go by. A fan in the crowd shouted "Call him Doc!"             
presumably in reference to the Sherlock Holmes sidekick Doctor Watson. The name           
stuck ever since.                                                                         
An eye infection caused Doc Watson to lose his vision before his first birthday.         
Despite this, he was taught by his parents to work hard and care for himself. He         
attended North Carolina's school for the visually impaired, The Governor                 
Morehead School, in Raleigh NC.                                                           
The first song Doc ever learned to play was "When Roses Bloom in Dixieland". His         
father was so proud that he took Doc to the store and bought him his first               
guitar, a $12 Stella. Doc proved to be a natural and within months he was                 
busking on local street corners playing Delmore, Louvin and Monroe Brothers'             
duets alongside his brother Linny. By the time he reached his adult years Doc             
had become a prolific acoustic and electric guitar player.                               
In 1947, Doc married Rosa Lee Carlton. Rosa Lee is the daughter of popular               
fiddle player Gaither Carlton. Doc 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.                                                                           
In 1953, Doc joined the Johnson City, Tennessee based Jack Williams' country and         
western swing band on electric guitar. He also supported his family as a piano           
In 1960 as the folk boom grew, Doc took the advice of folk musicologist Ralph             
Rinzler and began playing acoustic guitar and banjo exclusively. That move               
ignited Doc's career when he played on his first recording, Old Time Music at             
Clarence Ashley's. He also began to tour as a solo performer at popular clubs             
that featured folk music and would eventually get his big break earning rave             
reviews for his performance at the renowned Newport Folk Festival in 1963. He             
began playing with his son Merle in 1964 and the pair would perform until 1985           
when Merle was tragically killed in a tractor accident.                                   
After the "folk boom" waned during the late 1960s, Doc's career was sustained by         
his performance of "Tennessee Stud" on the 1972 live album recording Will the             
Circle Be Unbroken. As popular as ever, Doc and Merle began playing as a trio,           
with T. Michael Coleman on bass, in 1974. The trio toured the globe during the           
late seventies and early eighties, recorded nearly fifteen albums between 1973           
and 1985, and brought Doc and Merle’s unique blend of acoustic music to millions       
of new fans.                                                                             
Doc plays guitar in both flatpicking and fingerpicking style, but is best known           
for his flatpick work. His guitar playing skills combined with his authenticity           
as a mountain musician made him a highly influential figure during the folk               
music revival. He pioneered the fast and flashy bluegrass lead guitar style               
which has been adopted and extended by others such as Clarence White and Tony             
Rice. He is also an accomplished banjo player and in the past has accompanied             
himself on harmonica as well.                                                             
Doc played a Martin model D-18 guitar on his earliest recordings. In 1968 he             
began a relationship with Gallagher Guitars when he started playing their G-50           
model. His first Gallagher, which Doc 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 Doc's preferred specifications. That               
Gallagher production model bears the Doc Watson name. In 1991, Gallagher                 
customized a personal cutaway guitar for Doc that he plays to this day and               
refers to as "Donald" in honor of Gallagher guitar's second generation                   
proprietor and builder, Don Gallagher.                                                   
Known also for his distinctive and rich baritone voice, he has over the years             
developed a vast repertoire of mountain ballads which he learned via the oral             
tradition of his home area in Deep Gap, North Carolina. His affable manner,               
humble nature and delightful wit have endeared him to his fans nearly as much as         
his musical talent has.                                                                   
In 1986 he received the North Carolina Award and in 2000 he was inducted into             
the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Honor. In 1997, Doc received the               
National Medal of the Arts from President Clinton.                                       
In recent years, Doc has scaled back his touring schedule. However, he still             
plays various shows around the United States to adoring audiences. As of 2007,           
he is generally joined on stage by his grandson (Merle's son) Richard, as well           
as longtime musical partners David Holt or Jack Lawrence. Most recently on June           
19th, he was accompanied by Australian guitar legend Tommy Emmanuel at the Bass           
Performance Hall.                                                                         
He is host to the annual MerleFest music festival held every April at Wilkes             
Community College in Wilkesboro, North Carolina. The festival features a vast             
array of acoustic style music focusing on the folk, bluegrass, blues and old             
time music genres. It's named in honor of Merle Watson and is one of the most             
popular acoustic music festivals in the world, drawing over 85,000 music fans             
each year.