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January 8

In Memory: Doc Watson and His Country Pickin’ Guitar Playing

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Doc (Arthel Lane) Watson (March 3, 1923 – May 29, 2012) – An illustrious musician who was known for his rapid, flat-picking style of playing the guitar. This style was picked on by not a few rock and folk musicians worldwide.

In an interview by Dirty Linen magazine in 1995, Watson revealed how he got his idea from listening to Jimmie Rodger’s recordings.

He figured how to do flat picks and it worked well for him since.

His musical career started on the streets of North Carolina. He and his brother, Linney played, on street corners. Come the 1960s, the era of folk music, his talent became widely renowned. He then released his debut album Doc Watson and Family in 1963. The following year, he had his 15-year-old son Merle joined him as a guitarist. Their father-son act continued for the next twenty years until Merle’s tragic death in 1985. Having recovered a bit from grief, Doc Watson returned to playing music. He received Grammy awards for his albums Riding the Midnight Train (1987), On Praying Ground (1991) and Legacy (2003).

On May 29, 2012, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Watson died at age 89 due to complications from abdominal surgery.

“What A Friend We Have in Jesus” by Doc Watson

More than the entertainment seen in his mastery of guitar picking, let us give Doc due credit for his soulful interpretation of the hymn, “What a Friend in Jesus.” As someone who had firsthand known grief at the loss of his beloved son, the song might have meant a lot to him. Note how his voice breaks when he was singing the line,

Can we find a friend so faithful,
Who will all our sorrows share?

Jesus must have been his bosom friend in his times of sorrow. Whether we notice or not, he does the same to all of us. As Doc Watson sings in the last verse, let us not be discouraged, but ‘take everything to God in prayer.’


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  • […] Doc Watson’s songs were inspired by bluegrass, folk, country, blues, and gospel. During his music career, he got Seven Grammy Awards and received the Recording Academy’s Lifetime Award. His unique styles in playing guitar and knowledge in traditional American music played an important role in becoming one of the best stars in Country music. […]

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