Doc Watson, whose lightning-speed flatpicking style of guitar playing befuddled those who have tried to emulate it and who brought new life to folk music, died yesterday In Winston-Salem, NC, following complications from colon surgery.
Blinded when he was one, Doc Watson's first instrument was the harmonica. A few years later, at age 10, his father gave him a banjo and a neighbor gave him guitar lessons.
He eventually graduated to the electric guitar, playing with a rockabilly bind with an unreliable fiddle player. To fill the fiddle gap, Doc Watson figured out how to translate that sound to his guitar.
In the 1960s, Ralph Rinzler, a prominent folkie, encouraged Watson to go back to the acoustic guitar. Watson immediately became a hot commodity on the folk music circuit.
Toward the end of the 60s, Merle Watson, Doc's teenage son, joined his dad for a wonderfully successful run, fueled by their performance on Will the Circle Be Unbroken?, the million-plus album by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.
Doc Watson's career was nearly derailed by his grief over the death of Merle in 1985, the result of a tractor accident.
Watson, who earned eight Emmys despite his deeply ingrained modesty, was 89 years old. His was the second death to rock the North Carolina and the national music world. Beloved Earl Scruggs died in March.