Doc Watson, the legendary folk and bluegrass musician whose career spanned seven decades, died at the age of 89 on Tuesday. He’ll be remembered for his talent in country, blues and folk, his founding of the MerleFest music festival, and for his influence on dozens of other prominent musicians.
Wrote Terence McArdle in Watson’s obituary:
“He is single-handedly responsible for the extraordinary increase in acoustic flat-picking and finger-picking guitar performance,” the late Ralph Rinzler, an influential folklorist who first recorded Mr. Watson in the early 1960s, once wrote. “His flat-picking style has no precedent in earlier country music history.”
Mr. Watson’s repertoire included country songs, blues and contemporary folk by writers including Bob Dylan and Tom Paxton. And he was musically adventurous, once even jamming on his flat-top folk guitar with the electric soul band Booker T. and the MGs during a 1996 performance at the Wolf Trap outdoor theater in Vienna.
Watson will also be remembered through a 1988 Washington Post profile , which said, “When Doc’s pleased, he’ll lean his head back a bit and unfurl a grin that could charm a possum out of a tree. The look on his face when he knows everything is right is ecstatic.”
Listen to songs from Watson’s Grammy Award-winning albums below — and share your memories and favorite songs in the comments.
• “Bonaparte’s Retreat” is one of the tracks on Watson’s 1973 album “Then and Now,” which won a Grammy for best ethnic or traditional folk recording.
• The album “Two Days in November,” which Watson recorded with his son, Merle, won the duo another Grammy the following year in the same category. The song “Snowbird” comes from that album.
• Watson’s recording of “Big Sandy/Leather Britches” with his son won him another Grammy in 1979 for best country instrumental performance. Here he is playing “Big Sandy” live.
• In 1986 and 1990, he won the Grammy for best traditional folk recording for “Riding the Midnight Train” and “On Praying Ground, respectively. Here’s a performance of the latter:
• “Legacy,” the 2002 album that provided a career retrospective for Watson, included his hits, and popular renditions of traditional folk songs: “Deep River Blues”
... and “Tennessee Stud”
... and “Shady Grove”
• In 2004, Watson won a lifetime achievement award Grammy. In 2006, he won his final Grammy, for best country instrumental performance with guitarist Bryan Sutton, for “Whiskey Before Breakfast.”