WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) — Doc Watson, the Grammy-award winning folk musician whose lightning-fast style of flatpicking influenced guitarists around the world for more than a half-century, died Tuesday at a hospital in Winston-Salem, according to a hospital spokeswoman and his management company. He was 89.
Watson, who was blind from age 1, recently had abdominal surgery that resulted in his hospitalization.
Arthel “Doc” Watson’s mastery of flatpicking helped make the case for the guitar as a lead instrument in the 1950s and 1960s, when it was often considered a backup for the mandolin, fiddle or banjo. His fast playing could intimidate other musicians, even his own grandson, who performed with him.
Richard Watson said in a 2000 interview with The Associated Press that his grandfather’s playing had a humbling effect on other musicians. The ever-humble Doc Watson found it hard to believe.
“Everybody that’s picked with you says you intimidate them, and that includes some of the best,” Richard Watson told him.
Doc Watson was born March 3, 1923 in what is now Deep Gap, N.C., in the Blue Ridge Mountains. He lost his eyesight by the age of 1 when he developed an eye infection that was worsened by a congenital vascular disorder, according to a website for Merlefest, the annual musical gathering named after his late son Merle.
Doc Watson’s father, who was active in the family’s church choir, gave him a harmonica as a young child, and by 5 he was playing the banjo. He learned a few guitar chords while attending the North Carolina Morehead School for the Blind in Raleigh, and then his father helped him buy a guitar for $12, the website says.