Although he’s not exactly known as a rockabilly star, Doc Watson certainly made his mark on American folk, traditional, and roots music. Doc Died on Tuesday after undergoing abdominal surgery after a recent fall in his home. Watson was 89 years old.
Blinded by disease at a very young age, Watson learned to play the guitar as a boy and then set about changing the very definition of flat-pick guitar playing. His amazing speed, versatility, and accuracy on the instrument he never saw was–and continues to be–an inspiration to generations of guitar players.
Watson’s life was touched with tragedy several times. In addition to losing his site, he lost his son and musical partner Merle to a farming accident in 1985 when Merle was just 36 years old. While Doc considered retirement from music as a result of his emotional struggle after Merle’s death, he instead established the Merlefest music festival to honor his son and he continued to play music throughout his life. Merlefest raises money for a community college Wilkesboro, North Carolina.
Doc won eight Grammy awards during his career, yet remained as humble as if he’d never made a record in his life. Watson once described himself as “Just as a good ol’ down-to-earth boy that didn’t think he was perfect and that loved music.” He added, “…I’d like to leave quite a few friends behind and I hope I will. Other than that, I don’t want nobody putting me on a pedestal when I leave here. I’m just one of the people … just me.”
Doc Watson did release a record called “Docabilly” on which he covered several rockabilly tunes including ”Heartbreak Hotel,” and “Shake Rattle and Roll,” so although he never went full out for rockabilly, he gave a nod to the genre.
Doc Watson’s death represents a great loss of a true American treasure. RIP Doc.