Doc Watson, the North Carolina folk musician known for his inventive guitar picking, died yesterday at the age of 89 following abdominal surgery. Blind since he was one year old because of an eye infection, Watson took up music at age 11 with a banjo his father made him using the skin of a dead cat and went on to receive seven Grammys, a Grammy lifetime achievement award, an induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and the National Medal of the Arts from President Bill Clinton, among other honors.
"He is single-handedly responsible for the extraordinary increase in acoustic flat-picking and fingerpicking guitar performance," Smithsonian folklorist Ralph Rinzer, who discovered Watson in 1960, told Time. "His flat-picking style has no precedent in earlier country music history."
Watson's death is another tremendous loss for bluegrass and country music, still mourning the March 28 passing of legendary banjo picker Earl Scruggs. Watson and Scruggs were friends and collaborators, from 1967's "Strictly Instrumental" to their union with Ricky Skaggs for "The Three Pickers" in 2003. Take a look at this vintage performance shot at Watson's home featuring Scruggs, Watson's son Merle, and Scruggs's sons:
Since 1988, Watson has hosted the popular traditional music festival MerleFest in Wilkesboro, N.C., named after his son and former musical partner Merle, who died in 1985. Here's Watson on stage at this year's festival in April:
Watson singing "Beautiful Home" at MerleFest 2012:
And, of course, Watson's take on "Deep River Blues":
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ContributorsSarah Rodman is a staff music critic for the Boston Globe.
James Reed is a staff music critic for the Boston Globe.
Jonathan Perry is the Globe's Scene & Heard columnist, covering local music.
Michael Brodeur is the assistant arts editor for the Boston Globe, covering pop music, TV, and nightlife.
Julian Benbow is a staff writer at the Boston Globe, covering sports and music.
Katie McLeod is Boston.com's features editor.
Rachel Raczka is a producer for Lifestyle and Arts & Entertainment at Boston.com.
Emily Wright is an Arts & Entertainment producer at Boston.com.