What is Doc Watson Famous For?

Doc Watson is one of the most famous artists of bluegrass music. Watson plays the guitar and sings not only bluegrass music but country, folk, gospel, and blues as well. For fifteen years, Doc Watson had shared the stage with his son, Merle, until the latter’s tragic accident on the family’s farm.

Personal Life

Doc Watson’s real name is Arthel Lane and unlike most first generation bluegrass artists, he was born outside Kentucky – Deep Gap, North Carolina to be specific – on March 3, 1923. Watson later on revealed in Legacy, his 3-CD musical biography, that he had gotten his nickname, Doc, when a radio announcer told him he needed to go by another name since his real one wasn’t easy and a listener had yelled out to call him “Doc”.

Those who are not fans of bluegrass or country music are most likely unaware that Doc Watson had lost his sight before his 1st birthday due to an eye infection. Watson nevertheless managed to live rather self-reliantly with his parents’ support and his schooling at the Governor Morehead School, an institution dedicated to aiding visually impaired students.

“When Roses Bloom in Dixieland” was the first song that Watson had learned to play and his father had been so impressed by his achievement that he had bought Watson his 1st guitar, a Stella and which cost $12. Soon after, Watson would be seen performing on the street, together with his brother, and playing songs by Monroe Brothers among others.

In 1947, Watson and Rosa Lee Carlton married. Carlton herself has a family background rooted in music, with famous fiddler Gaither Carlton as father. Their marriage has two offspring: Eddy Merle and Nancy Ellen.

In 1953, Watson came to play the electric guitar, which would serve as his primary instrument when he became a part of the western swing and country band led by Jack Williams. Due to people’s constant requests for fiddle music for square dances, Watson then decided to learn to play the fiddle. To make ends meet, Watson had also worked as a piano tuner during this time.

At the advice of Ralph Rinzler, a folk musicologist, Watson forged a solo career and exclusively played the banjo and acoustic guitar. His big break came when he performed at the Newport Folk Festival three years later.

Nowadays, Watson had greatly limited his tours and in the instances that he does perform, he would often share the stage with his grandson, Richard (son of Eddie Merle), and old-time friends Jack Lawrence or David Holt.

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