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Guitar picking master Doc Watson dies

2012-05-30 09:46
 
doc watson
Raleigh - Doc Watson, the blind Grammy-award winning folk musician whose music was embraced by generations and whose lightning-fast style of flatpicking influenced guitarists around the world, died on Tuesday at a North Carolina hospital, according to a hospital spokesperson and his manager. He was 89.

Watson died at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Centre in Winston-Salem, where he was hospitalised recently after falling at his home in Deep Gap, in the Blue Ridge Mountains. He underwent abdominal surgery while in the hospital and had been in critical condition for several days.

'An old ancient warrior'

Arthel "Doc" Watson's mastery of flatpicking helped make the case for the guitar as a lead instrument in the 1950s and 1960s, when it was often considered a backup for the mandolin, fiddle or banjo. His fast playing could intimidate other musicians, even his own grandson, who performed with him.

Richard Watson said in a 2000 interview with The Associated Press that his grandfather's playing had a humbling effect on other musicians. The ever-humble Doc Watson found it hard to believe.

"Everybody that's picked with you says you intimidate them, and that includes some of the best," Richard Watson told him.

Country and bluegrass singer Ricky Skaggs said on Tuesday, "An old ancient warrior has gone home."

"He prepared all of us to carry this on," Skaggs added. "He knew he wouldn't last forever, He did his best to carry the old mountain sounds to this generation."

Nickname

Doc Watson was born 3 March 1923, in Deep Gap. He lost his eyesight by the age of 1 when he developed an eye infection that was worsened by a congenital vascular disorder, according to a website for Merlefest, the annual musical gathering named for his late son Merle.

He came from a musical family - his father was active in the church choir and played banjo and his mother sang secular and religious songs, according to a statement from Folklore Productions, his management company since 1964.

Doc Watson's father gave him a harmonica as a young child, and by 5 he was playing the banjo, according to the Merlefest website. He learned a few guitar chords while attending the North Carolina Morehead School for the Blind in Raleigh, and his father helped him buy a Stella guitar for $12.

"My real interest in music was the old 78 records and the sound of the music," Doc Watson is quoted as saying on the website. "I loved it and began to realise that one of the main sounds on those old records I loved was the guitar."

The wavy-haired Watson got his musical start in 1953, playing electric lead guitar in a country-and-western swing band. His road to fame began in 1960 when Ralph Rinzler, a musician who also managed Bill Monroe, discovered Watson in North Carolina. That led Watson to the Newport Folk Festival in 1963 and his first recording contract a year later. He went on to record 60 albums, and wowed fans ranging from '60s hippies to fans of traditional country and folk music.

According to the Encyclopedia of Country Music, Watson took his nickname at age 19 when someone couldn't pronounce his name and a girl in the audience shouted "Call him Doc!"

Seven of his albums won Grammy awards; his eighth Grammy was a lifetime achievement award in 2004. He also received the National Medal of the Arts from President Bill Clinton in 1997.

- SAPA

Read more on:    celebrity deaths  |  music
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