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R.I.P. Doc Watson

Posted by Glenn Yoder  May 30, 2012 11:21 AM

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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.

(AP Photo/The Winston-Salem Journal)
Watson at MerleFest 2011.
During the folk music revival of the 1960s, Watson saw interest in his mountain music skyrocket with performances at the 1963 and 1964 Newport Folk Festivals. His flat-picking and fingerpicking acoustic guitar style, created by mimicking fiddle solos, inspired legions of guitarists. Bob Dylan once compared it to "water running."

"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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