Doc Watson Dies at 89
Arthel Lane “Doc” Watson in the 1960s.
A mountain-born treasure of American folk music, Doc Watson, died Tuesday in North Carolina at age 89.
His manager said in a statement that Watson died at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, after abdominal surgery last week.
Watson was born in Deep Gap, N.C., in the Blue Ridge Mountains, in a three-room house he shared with eight brothers and sisters. He revolutionized not just how people play guitar but the way people around the world think about mountain music.
Watson went blind when he was only about a year old, from an untreated eye infection. He told WHYY’s Fresh Air that he was only 11 when his father made him a banjo using the skin of an old dead cat.
“He brought it to me and put it in my hands, and said, ‘Son, I want you to learn to play this thing real well. One of these days we’ll get you a better one,’ he said. ‘Might help you get through the world,’ ” Watson recalled.
His parents made sure young Arthel Lane Watson had the tools he needed to face life without sight or money. His father traded a week’s worth of pay at the sawmill for a hand-cranked phonograph that came with 50 records, including country, blues and jazz. Watson incorporated those sounds into the Appalachian music surrounding him.