Arthel Lane "Doc" Watson (March 3, 1923 – May 29, 2012) was an American guitarist, songwriter and singer of bluegrass, folk, country, blues and gospel music. Watson won seven Grammy awards as well as a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Watson's flatpicking skills and knowledge of traditional American music are highly regarded.
Then-President Bill Clinton presented Doc with a National Medal of Arts in 1997, and he was inducted into IBMA’s hall of honor in 2000.
Mr. Watson was the founder of MerleFest, a traditional music event in Wilkesboro, N.C., and one of the largest annual folk festivals in the South. The festival was named for his son and frequent musical partner, Merle Watson, who died in a tractor accident in 1985.
Watson perceived what his patrons wanted and had the background and repertoire to be able to provide it. His repertoire moved forward somewhat in time with his string of Vanguard and Sugar Hill albums, occasionally venturing into the field of Broadway show tunes, jazz standards, and his (and his family's) own compositions.
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!"
In 1964 Doc began giving concerts accompanied by his son Merle on second guitar. From that point on, Doc and Merle were constant collaborators and popular performers on the folk and traditional music circuit. Even when the folk boom of the '60s died down toward the end of the decade, Watson retained his audience.
For a man who would become a standard bearer of authenticity and technical wizardry in Americana music, Watson was not even discovered until 1960, approaching middle age and playing old fiddle songs on an electric guitar for a rockabilly party band. Watson rode the folk revival wave of that decade, becoming one of its most recognisable and revered figures – his name commanding the same admiration as the likes of Earl Scruggs, Merle Travis and Bill Monroe.
He would go on to record more than 50 albums, win eight Grammy awards, including a lifetime achievement award, and influence multiple generations of younger musicians.
[Ralph] Rinzler was after something a little more homespun and he asked Doc Watson to switch to an acoustic guitar. Watson had been earning money by playing in a local rockabilly dance band, and the electric guitar was the only instrument he owned. He could tell, however, that Rinzler seemed disappointed at the sight of a country boy holding a Gibson Les Paul.
Like the hymn "Amazing Grace," Doc Watson came from humble beginnings. Even as he sat on the PS 41 stage in Greenwich Village, his family still lived in poverty; Doc, his wife and two children lived off of welfare and garden vegetables. Little did he know that he was starting out on a music career that would span four continents and half a century.
He learned a few guitar chords while attending the North Carolina Morehead School for the Blind in Raleigh (he had lost his sight as an infant), and his father helped him buy a Stella guitar for $12.
The sixth of nine children, Arthel Lane "Doc" Watson was born in Stoney Fork, Watauga County, North Carolina on 3 March, 1923, to Annie Greene and General Dixon Watson. When he was born, he had a defect in the vessels that carry blood to the eyes. He later developed an eye infection which caused him to completely lose his vision.