Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Remembering Doc

The following is a reprint/re-post of the blog from back in March when WUMB was celebrating Doc’s 89th birthday. Sadly, as you’ve probably heard, he will not make it to his 90th. Stay tuned all day for our ongoing musical tributes to the man who was one of the pre-eminent folk/country flatpicking geniuses of all time.

-My youngest brother is a worldly type; born and raised in the Midwest, schooled in the deep south, and found his calling here in New England, eventually leading to gainful employment in such exotic places as London, England and Luxemburg. Which, in turn, has opened many a door for him both travel-wise (he regularly drives from country to country) as well as land him, shall we say, many friends and girlfriends from afar.

-Long story short: my dear Mom was celebrating her 80th in Kentucky a few years back, and my aforementioned brother wanted to show off his (then) girlfriend from Yugoslavia. Pleasant and unassuming, I couldn’t help but notice that she insisted on parading around with a beat-up old boombox, listening to nothing but…Doc Watson! On cassette no less!

-Obvious point being…the man’s music is and always has been…universal! Knows no boundaries!

-You’ve no doubt heard the story…Folkways records his family & friends in 1960 after having played in various incarnations for 20 or so years, he debuts at Gerde’s in NY in late ’62, then on to Newport, his crowning achievement being his flatpicking contributions to the groundbreaking Will the Circle Be Unbroken in the early 70’s. Despite being middle age when he was ‘discovered’, Doc continues to be active to this day, hosting the annual MerleFest music festival in honor of his late (also very talented) son Merle.

-Doc passed away quietly yesterday (5/29) leaving behind an unparalleled catalogue of  musics of all genres; join us as we pay homage to a man who’s contributions have entertained us for 50+ years, not to mention all the years to come.


  1. The coolest thing about Doc was that he loved music – not old-timey music, not folk music, not any kind of music; he loved all kinds of music. I saw him last perhaps 5 years ago. At the end of the concert he talked about driving in a car with his grandson and hearing something on the radio that he really liked and that her wanted to play for us. And then he launched into the Moody Blues “Nights in White Satin” – and his version was better than theirs. Rest in Peace, Doc.

  2. from Fiddler Darol Anger
    Doc has always presented himself as a traditionalist in public, but I think he is mostly interested in “traditional” standards of tone, timing, and intonation: the high craft of music. Beyond that, he enjoyed creativity, brevity, and sincerity. His amazing rhythmic sense and touch pretty much tied together everything he played. Given that he spent a lot of time in his youth playing western swing-style electric guitar, and pretty much invented the flat-picking lead fiddle tune style, it would be wrong to call him a stylistic traditionalist. Nobody had heard that sound before!
     He wasn’t averse to singing contemporary folk or pop songs either, if he thought was a good song and reflected his standards. It basically comes down to the fact that Doc invented his own genre, a marvel of consistency and integrity, which became the touchstone and departure point for thousands of acoustic string musicians.

    Nobody didn’t love Doc, and everyone agreed he was sort of like a spectacular natural feature of the landscape; inevitable, fully formed, iconic. He seemed ageless, and his so-called “disability’ and spectacular transcendence of that, along with his folksy manner, made him a kind of mythic character, sort of a household god.

    My old boss David Grisman was the first guy I knew who had played with Doc. Doc happened to be coming into the SF Bay Area to play, and I had been working with David for about a year and and a half by then.
    David had total respect & love for Doc and told me a great story about Doc. Doc made a habit of giving young players their first break, getting them up on stage and featuring them, empowering them and giving them infectious rhythm to play on. Doc had done it with David ten years before, and now David was going to introduce me to Doc and the same thing was going to happen... and it did!

    We went backstage and I met Doc, who was very gracious. We talked a bit about what kind of fiddling I liked, and later I was called up on stage and we played that legendary version of Salt Creek that Doc made famous all over the world, that changed everything... what a thrill. I had never played better, and Doc’s ear, rhythm and welcoming attitude I believe made the difference. I even got a favorable mention in the local paper saying how I had “arrived” as a player.

    Finally, there is no way that one article or one book or anything like that can do justice to Doc’s life. He was a great-hearted giant, to be spoken of in the same category as Earl Scruggs, Louis Armstrong, Stephane Grappelli... Who else? I can’t really say. It is stating the obvious to say that we’ll all miss him terribly.